Crowdspring. Throw Your Design Away.

Haven’t heard of crowdspring yet? They call themselves a “Global marketplace for logo design, business card design, graphic design and website design”. It works like this: if you need a logo for your startup you post a brief on the site, define price and a deadline, then sit back and wait. Meanwhile, designers all over the world jump on your brief and throw something up on the site that you might like. You can give feedback as comments or star ratings before the deadline is up, and you choose the best of all the submitted designs. You get a logo, the designer you chose gets the price you defined, and you’re happy.

In the agency world we know this process well–we call it pitching. A client selects a handful of agencies, and all of them make a proposal as to how they would solve the client’s problem. An invitation to pitch from any potential client worth taking seriously includes what I call a “handshake payment”–a minimal sum which does little to offset our investment in the pitch, but proves a certain amount of seriousness and appeciation on the side of the client. The big difference between an agency pitch and crowdspring is we pitch (at most two weeks work) to get a job which will be done after the pitch and amounts to months of work and in the best cases a client relationship with follow-up work that will last for years.

The idea of crowdspring, which I’d describe as “connecting designers and clients” sounds great in theory. The designer suddenly has access to plenty of briefs and theoretically could do work for lots of clients. Which is fine is if you’re a designer keen on doing a logo for $100. Granted, that’s the lowest price they’ve got on there at the moment, but the price curve remains very flat as you look through the briefs. I can’t help but ask myself how the designers throwing their work away at these prices are earning a living. And on the client side, I can’t imagine any of them expect quality, but why would you want a crap logo? At least their price for their own site design proves that the crowdspringers have a more realistic understanding of what design costs.

In a response to my heated Tweet tonight, crowdspring responded that “we really just want to be the Threadless of everything else…”, which also sounds good but doesn’t gel–the models aren’t comparable. Threadless pays $2500 for every design that gets printed, which I consider a pretty fair price, considering what Threadless can earn from selling the shirt. If I design a shirt I accept the risk that I might not get anything for the chance of getting $2500. If I design a good logo for a crowdspring client I get $100. Thanks very much.

Crowdspring is offering designers who obviously don’t know any better a chance to bend over, and giving their potential clients the best web 2.0 tools available to screw them. A slogan that would fit better is “feeding suckers to sharks”. Of course crowdspring can’t be faulted. If designers insist on throwing their talents away for so little reward they deserve what they get.

Food for thought for designers thinking of submitting to crowdspring: if you’re not living with your parents or designing as a hobby, i.e. you are living from your good work and need the money, consider this: the clients buying your logo, web site or whatever are earning money with what you make. A logo will be their face for years, and if they’re a startup and ever earn any money, they’ll earn it through their site. Do you really want to give them so much value for so little cash? Maybe you’re just extremely big-hearted?

Rant over.

On a more positive note, how would the site and the designer/client relationship work differently if the designer set the price? Clients post briefs, and designers post designs, but they set the price they think is fair themselves? Would better designers earn more? Would clients see proof that better design does and should cost more?


  1. Pete says:


    Hey, I saw the mention on your blog and thought I might try to share some of our thoughts. While we certainly may disagree on some of these points, I respect your opinion and I want you to know that we care a lot more about the design community than I think you realize…

    At the end of the day, it sounds like your issue boils down to price: It’s OK for Threadless to pay $2500 for a t-shirt but it’s not OK for our buyers to pay, say, $100 for a logo. And I want to start by admitting that this is a fair point. Period.

    Our site is only three weeks old, believe it or not, and we’re inventing a new model so we’re working through the issues as they come. One of the things we saw very early on is that people were posting projects for very low amounts – namely the $100 minimum for logo projects like the screenshot you posted. And so one of the first things we did last week was to raise our minimums across the board. You’ll no doubt scoff at the fact that we raised them to $150 – but it’s a start. And the reason why we haven’t gone further yet is because those projects are still receiving countless entries – some of them as many as 200 or more.

    Which really leads to the question – who am I to decide what a person can or can’t sell their work for? I mean, aren’t we a free marketplace? And can’t the marketplace sort out what an appropriate price is? I understand your argument that for a designer making a living in London, this just doesn’t cut it. And I tend to agree with you. But that’s the cost/benefit that you’ve done. Not everyone lives in London. Or Chicago. Or New York. Many of them live in places we’ve never heard of and can’t find on a map. And to a lot of these guys, this is good money. And so they decide to participate. They know full well what they’re getting into – but I think that’s a decision that they get to make, not me.

    You closed your post with an interesting idea – what if designers could set their own price for their work? And we actually see this happening every day on sites like Elance. Clients post their projects and creatives around the world submit bids. It’s brutal and it makes our site look generous. It serves only to drive the price down because, at the end of the day, someone is willing to do the work at any price. I hope that we can use market pressure to do the exact opposite, to raise the price – by showing that you get what you pay for and that higher awards mean better work – but ultimately it’s not for me to decide.

    For the 500,000 small businesses that start in the US every year (most in basements and garages), we think this model is helpful. They don’t have big budgets to spends thousands on identity design – and to imply otherwise is unrealistic. But they do want something better than clip art in Word. And for the millions of creative people around the world who are just looking to get started, or to get noticed, or to just have fun doing what they love – like the student in the Netherlands who we never would have hired but who proved the best designer in our project – this is a good thing.

    Again, I don’t expect that we’ll agree on these things but I did just want to give you an open, honest response so that you know the issues aren’t lost on us…


  2. Matt Balara says:

    Pete: it’s not really that we disagree. To be fair to you and your site, seeing designers underestimate their own worth and thereby undermine the worth of the industry they work in makes me mad. And when I’m mad I write mad things. But I hope that the main point (*think* about what you’re doing designers!) came across, more than the ranty stuff.

    I do believe your intentions are good. But I think you’re giving your small business clients too much leeway. Do they buy computers for more than $100 or even $150? Do they spend more than $150 on their rent? Sure. Do they try and lure their computer salesmen or landlord into lower prices by promising mythical “follow-up jobs” in the future? Hell no; they’d be laughed out of the shop. I’m not saying they need to spend $20 million on a logo, but $150 is an insult. The problem isn’t their lack of cash, the problem is their lack of respect and understanding for what designers do and its worth.

    Of course there are examples of a true “can you help me out?” mentality, my favourite being a lady on your pseudo-competitor’s site, Pixish, who’s looking for a cool tattoo design for her boyfriend. I’ve no problem with that kind of thing at all, but a company who’s going to earn money from your work should pay what it’s worth. The tatto lady won’t earn anything (except maybe affection) and she’s at least offering $100.

  3. Matt Balara says:

    By the way, for a more level-headed examination of design pricing, check out:

    Why logo design does not cost $5.00“, “The Costs of Under Pricing Your Design Services” and the lively discussion about spec work and Pixish, which even seems to have changed how Pixish works (read to the end). And for the motherload of analysis and explanation of what the big deal is, check out the somewhat alarming-looking NO!SPEC.

  4. Pete says:

    I see what you’re saying – I really do…

    But here’s the point I’m trying to make, if someone is willing to sell me their computer for $150 then how can I be evil for buying it. That’s all. I really do hear what you’re saying – that there still needs to be some standard of decency. Nobody should get to be an asshole and just bottom feed. And I guess it’s our job to play referee and try to find out where the ‘bottom’ is so that we can keep our community above that. But man is that going to be easier said than done. Because if we post a logo project for $150 and get 200+ entries then that says that there are a heckuva lot of people out there that are OK with that tradeoff. They’re not you and me – sure – but they’re allowed to have their opinion as much as I’m allowed to have mine.

    At the end of all this, I don’t want to be known as ‘the site for shite design’. I don’t. And so I know we’ve got challenges that we need to step up to. None of my responses here are meant to be an attempt to avoid that. I just think there needs to be a little more discussion around contradictions like all spec work=bad and Threadless=good. What? Threadless make MILLIONS off those designs – come on. And it’s ok to design a tattoo for $100 (or better yet, for free) for someone but if they want a theme for their blog (which they won’t make money on, by the way) for $200 then that’s wrong.

    There’s a lot of grey here, that’s all. I appreciate you being willing to hear me out on all this and I think I’ve officially now countered your rant with one of my own! But I’m glad we can have an open discussion about it and I respect you a lot for letting me air my thoughts on your home turf…


  5. Matt Balara says:


    I wrote the post in a bit of a rage. I’ve calmed down a bit, and thought a bit too.

    I reckon (hope) that your “suppliers” are mostly beginners or students. Designers who’re looking to get their foot in somebody’s door and looking to earn a few stripes, or hobbyists who don’t care what or if they earn anything for their efforts. And in that career-stage I can fully understand pumping out something for almost nothing, because the potential rewards, no matter how small, are something you need, and will hopefully lead to bigger and better things. I’d still say that any serious designer with experience should steer clear of, considering the jobs and prices on offer.

    What still gets my back up are the “demanders”, the companies who’re posting logo jobs for $150. But of course, as long as there’s someone willing to supply something too cheap, there will always be someone there willing to pay too little for it. You’re not to fault there. You’re just providing the platform. Others who don’t fully appreciate what a good design can bring them (and what it’s worth) are the ones taking advantage of it.

    As I said in the post: I’m primarily speaking to the good designers who are selling themselves far too cheaply on your site, and to the clients who, because design can’t be quantified in atoms, assume it’s worth almost nothing. My critique isn’t for you and your site, it’s for my colleagues and their clients who both seem to think design’s worthless.

    As for the Threadless comparison, I’d drop that as a defense if I were you. Threadless pays $2500 (which is more than 20 times what many of your clients are paying for their corporate identity) for a printed t-shirt, which is a clearly defined a unit of work. There’s little if any comparison bteen crowdspring and Threadless.

  6. Terz says:

    This post seems rather old but Ill post anyways. I just ran across crowdspring the other day and took a serious look at it today. I saw quite a few projects on there offering $1000 plus for a rebrand or logo. I just graduated with a BFA in the worst economic climate since the 30’s it seems like, so I gotta say that price seems fair to me. Hey, I cant find a full time job as a designer anywhere (trust me, ive LOOOOOKED) so doing a bit of freelance will hopefully pay off my student debt.

    Oh, and yes I am only a junior designer (technically) that just moved back home if that says anything about the people probably using crowdspring.

  7. abass says:

    With Facebook and Twitter being among the leaders of the Social networks, marketing as a small business is being transformed..
    Respondents according to the Vertical Response survey appear to need some differentiation with the use of SE marketing and Social media Marketing

  8. Sean Coleman says:

    99 Designs should be called 99% Crap. The prices are low and attractive, but if you’re on a budget (e.g. $300 for a logo) there are much better alternatives than doing spec work with inexperienced “designers”.

    I posted a project on once to get my logo designed. It’s all college student designers, so the cost is low like 99Designs/CrowdSpring but I was able to work with one girl over a week with several iterations (she was quite patient with me).

    I’m all for supporting students starting their careers, and since they are looking to build their portfolios, they’ll bend over backwards for your design, and aren’t looking for a quick buck.

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