Can Graphic Designers Compete with Crowdsourcing?

Graphic design has always been a competitive landscape. New designers enter the industry fairly regularly; demand has increased along with the progression of digital advertising and media. This also means that the ways clients and companies hire talent have evolved as well. Crowdsourcing, as well as overseas outsourcing through online marketplaces, have made many designers uneasy, both because they increase competition, but also because many have concerns about them devaluing the craft.

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How Crowdsourcing and Outsourcing Effects the Graphic Design Industry

There are different sides to any discussion. Some designers, particularly those based in the United States and U.K., feel that crowdsource design, has many flaws and failings. On the other side (literally) are designers in developing countries, who now have an opportunity to compete on their strength, lower pricing based on their geography.

To a designer in the U.S., $70 for a logo design that might take up to 10 hours and requires multiple revisions is probably insulting since it equates to less than the average minimum wage (grocery clerks make more). A designer in the developing world would see this as a boon since they may not make those earnings in 50 hour work week.

Having a global marketplace, and easy-to-use online platforms, means that designers in the U.S. and U.K are competing at a disadvantage when it comes to clients whose primary concern or limitation may be cost.

This issue doesn’t only affect freelance graphic designers.  In-House graphic designers have to be concerned about this as well. With an abundance of affordable freelance designers abroad, and crowdsource design contests, companies have alternatives to full-time design employees.

Often designers who work in-house find themselves juggling tasks outside their job description. The reason for this usually has to do with the employer’s need to justify a designer’s salary, even it means having them do non-design work. Instead of assigning designers busy work, companies could simply outsource individual task as needed with established vendors at a fraction of the cost. This is attractive for some, but not all. Many employers still prefer the security of being able to work with their creative teams face to face, and give direct guidance and critiques.

How Can Graphic Designers Compete in a Global Economy?

Globalization isn’t embraced by everyone, and with good reason. Cost is not always the highest priority for employers and clients. This can seem counter-intuitive, but consider your own values. Sometimes you are willing to pay more for a brand, such as Apple or Adobe, because of the quality and experience of using those products, versus a cheaper competitor.

An employer or client may not want to work with a bargain-bin designer, even if they can produce quality work, due to other factors. Language and cultural barriers in communicating with a non-local designer can be an issue. There is also the concern with “ownership of the relationship”. When you utilize an outsourcing or crowdsourcing platform to hire talent, you have to operate within the constraints of that platform, or risk violating their terms of service. What this means is that as an employer you can’t necessarily Skype or pick up the phone and call a designer with an immediate change or revision, the way you could in a traditional vendor relationship.

Business owners prefer certainty and control over communication and a sense that their vendors or employees are readily available to them. That is not something that crowdsourcing and outsourcing address, and it can create unwelcome anxiety. Which is why not every company considers it a fit for their business model.

Many creative professionals mistakenly believe that what a client or employer is paying for is their time. The reality is that a client or employer is paying to buy back their own time, as well as relieve pain or anxiety. Any vendor or employee will be paid in proportion to the difficulty of the problem they are solving. Or at least the “perceived difficulty”.

Instead of selling your technical or creative skills (which have now been commoditized by technology), you could position yourself to sell the client services relationship, quality (and consistency) of communication, and a satisfying collaborative process. By doing so, you create leverage that can’t be undermined by lower pricing, assuming the stakes are high enough for the client or employer. There will, of course, be a market that always seeks the lowest cost possible. As a designer, I would encourage you to opt-out of that market.

What Are Your Thoughts on Crowdsourcing and Outsourcing of Design Work?

This is a new reality of the design profession, and for some, it is welcome, for others it is a threat to their livelihood. Where do you stand on the issue? Has this impacted your career in any way already? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section!

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Posted on: September 2, 2016

Roberto Blake

Roberto Blake is a Graphic Designer helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses improve their branding and presentations. Roberto also teaches Graphic Design and Adobe Tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. Roberto's Photoshop artwork has been featured in publications such as Advanced Photoshop and Photoshop Creative Magazine. See robertoblake.com

2 Comments on Can Graphic Designers Compete with Crowdsourcing?

  1. Well-written article! I would add our friends in Canada experience the same issues.

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