Should you hire a logo designer, or use crowdsourcing?

You might be wondering how hiring just one logo designer could be better than using the services of ten, twenty or even a hundred designers. Surely ending up with as many designs as possible to choose from is a much better scenario than having only a couple. Well, this might be true if everything was equal, but it’s not.

Although they’re all logo designers (or at least claim to be), and even if we were to assume their abilities and talents are of a similar level, the issue comes down to the differences in the design process a hired logo designer can use, as opposed to those that logo designers on a crowdsourcing site can, and what effect this has on the outcome.

I’ve discussed the issue of spec work previously, which is another name for this type of crowdsourcing, also known as design contests. However, that article was focused on the pros and cons for both the designer and client, so this time I’d like to concentrate on the differences between a company hiring one designer verses the use of a crowdsourcing site.

'Crowdsourcing site logos

A small selection of the many crowdsourcing type of sites currently online.

Project managing

It can often be thought that companies choose to use crowdsourcing sites to save money, as opposed to paying perhaps a bit more, to hire a designer with a strong portfolio and testimonials. Although saving money may often be the case, it’s not always so. And even if money saving were the reason, it could end up being a false economy.

Firstly, there is the prize money to pay out, but what if you’re not happy with any of the designs? Well, perhaps you can get out of awarding any money, but what about your time, and how long you’ve spent working on the brief, checking entries, responding - how much is your time worth? And that doesn’t include the additional work you will have to do prior to and during the process, which is to figure out what your logo needs to achieve and how best it can represent your business.

This is not a personal opinion but how your customers will see it. These are things a hired logo designer would do for you, but by choosing a crowd sourcing site, you are in effect project managing the whole process.

Analysing what’s required

It’s important to remember when using a crowdsourcing site that you have the responsibility of selecting from the many designs submitted. Although you’re not having to actually create the designs, you do need to analyse the designs and what they will say about your business. This task can be tricky, especially as it’s difficult to view your own business objectively.

This again is what a hired designer would do, they have experience in viewing a business the way a potential customer would. Allowing them to research, brainstorm, create ideas and work them through and only show you ideas they believe meet all the requirements for your company. Do you think the dozens of designers on the crowdsourcing site will do this? Probably not, because how would they have the time to do all that when there’s no guarantee their design will be chosen. So it’s unlikely they could afford to put in the amount of time required to produce a successful logo design.

Legal issues

Very often the logos offered on these sites are rushed, or just recycled from an unsuccessful earlier competition. And worse still, many are highly inspired by, or even stolen, logos that are found by searching on Google. And you would have no way of knowing this until it’s too late and you launch your new logo only to find out it’s similar, or the same, as one used by another company.

This could be very costly if you’ve already had new signs made, stationery printed, your website amended and then you have to stop using the logo because you’ve been threatened with legal action. All of which would not only be costly, but also embarrassing and harmful to the reputation of your business, and leave you having to start the whole process again.

It’s all about time

I can understand the initial appeal of using a crowdsourcing site. Logic would suggest that with possibly one hundred designs submitted, there’s a good chance a few will be great. But that logic just doesn’t hold up if we look into it more closely.

Let’s say for example, that one hundred designers were to spend, on average, half an hour creating your logo design. This would give your logo 50 hours combined design time. However, that wouldn’t allow for the level of research, brainstorming, ideas and development that you would get if you were to hire one designer for those same 50 hours. One designer would have the time to really get to know you and your business and work closely with you to arrive at a design that you loved and more importantly, one that should have the right appeal for your customers. This process simply wouldn’t be available to all of the designers on the crowdsourcing site.

Working for free

And one further point to consider, and a very important one at that, is how you would feel morally about asking people to work for free. These sites may dress up the situation by calling it crowdsourcing or a design contest, and awarding a prize makes it sound fun. But consider all those designers that spend time working on your logo, only to be rejected and receive no prize. Why shouldn’t their skill and ability be rewarded as you would want yours to be? Would you be happy to work without knowing if you’ll receive payment at the end?

Regardless of any of the previous issues discussed, this process results in many designers working for free. Sure, nobody is forcing them to take part, but that doesn’t make it right. And it’s not like we’re talking about large design companies here, that are able to pitch ideas and have money allocated for that purpose.

These sites tend to attract individual designers that may have turned to these sites in desperation, only to have wasted their time and still be no better for it. And besides, they aren’t being asked to pitch an idea, they are being asked to do all of the actual work upfront, without any guarantee of making a single penny (or cent).

And finally

Of course, all this is my own personal take on the whole situation, and others may or may not agree. However, next time you need a logo designed and are considering a crowdsourcing site, please think about the points raised in this article.

I truly believe that the people who actually benefit from these sites are not the logo designers (who are unlikely to make any money), or even the businesses requiring a logo (that can end up with a weak identity), rather it’s the people running these sites (making money off the back of designers working for free) who are the true winners!

About the author

Paul Galbraith is a logo and brand identity designer, working with startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK, USA and beyond.