Is crowd-sourcing your next design a risk worth taking?

With the ever increasing pressure on marketing departments to “do more with less” some marketers have taken to using crowdsourcing design platforms like 99designs and DesignCrowd to cut the costs of their packaging design.  Whilst on the surface putting a design project out to the crowd may seem like a cost effective way to get tons of ideas and design concepts. In reality, crowd sourcing your packaging and brand work can be very risky business. So yes whilst there are risks of crowd-sourced design, lets understand what crowd-sourced design is…


Speculative design websites operate by offering clients the ability to post a design project brief to a pool of registered designers. These freelancer platforms have hundreds of thousands of creative designers listed and ready to pitch for your work. Traditionally marketers and brand stewards invite packaging design firms to pitch for their work. In the crowdsource model, multiple designers submit finished products in response to a posted design brief.


 Crowd-source design platforms readily publicise that an average project brief receives over 100 submissions from designers. Customarily designers pitching their work will have only a 1 in 100 shot of being remunerated for their creative work. This leaves a long tail of unpaid for designs out there in the cloud which risk being used and abused as the rejected designer sees fit. Rejected designs being used in design portfolios and available for competitors to access.


The crowd-sourced design risks and pitfalls for brands using crowd platforms:

Crowd-sourced design risks #1 -Restricted creative innovation

In contrast to a professional design agency, which invests time researching a brands audience requirements and competitors, the unpaid designer’s focus is on winning the work and not what the client really needs. To develop pack designs that sell products from the retail shelf, designs must be founded on consumer insights, innovative and creatively bespoke. Marketers tend not to get the most effective designs due to the lack of an appropriate consultation, language and cultural gaps and a lack of research process which professional designer agencies require to produce effective work that delivers results.

Crowd-sourced design risks #2 – Pretty isn’t strategic

While crowdsourcing can produce aesthetically beautiful work, effective work, designs that will sell off the shelf, rarely come from a one-off interaction. Pretty on its own doesn’t translate into shelf-sales. To design a pack that will sell requires a strategic approach including clearly understanding:

  • the end in mind.
  • the brand and the product
  • the targeted consumer.
  • the competitive landscape
  • the intersection between the brand/product and the targeted consumer insights.

Crowd-sourced design risks #3 – Mediocre work

The pool of crowd based designers is largely made up of inexperienced and unknown designers. As a result, marketers often end up having double back and hire an experienced packaging design professional to complete the project and bring it up to standard.

NOTE: In some instances, cloud based designers will simply re-outsource your work to other, even less experienced and cheaper designers. This results in Chinese whispers and a dilution of your message and your requirements.

 Crowd-sourced design risks #4 –  Insufficient project briefs

An accurate project brief can be an art-form in itself. Marketers and brand managers have come to rely on their design agencies expertise to ‘reverse brief’ extracting the true nature of the project. Unfortunately, because of the ineffective briefing process with crowd-based platforms and the cultural and language barriers, over-seas designers will often struggle to deliver client expectations.

Crowd-sourced design risks #5 – The Legal risks of crowd-sourced design

As a marketer or brand manager using the crowd to source designs, you’ll need to be hyper vigilant in checking the originality of submitted works. It is a well know that crowd-sourced designs can be a potential legal minefield. Roberta Draper of Kingsley Napley law firm warns, “using a design where rights belong to a party that has not consented, you may face claims for damages, fines and even prison sentences.”[1]

Also see our post  – The legal risks of crowd-sourcing packaging designs

Crowd-sourced design risks -A case in point

Recently Jam and Co had a client who was legally forced to completely re-brand their entire product range. It seems that when they were starting out, they had used a crowd sourcing platform to design their logo and product labeling. As it turned out the crowd sourced designer had simply modified the lock-up and basic logo design of another company within the category. Unfortunately, much of the loyalty to the brand, patiently developed over the last three years, had to be flushed away with the requirement to revolutionise the brand and its packaging.


Are Crowd-sourced design risks for everyone? – Even CEO of 99 Designs, Patrick Llewellyn’s says crowdsourcing design is not for everyone!

Crowd sourcing design platforms hurts the design and graphics industry because it devalues designers’ work. Designers and graphic artists have to spend their time and resources to produce work regardless of whether or not they get paid for it. When you can get designs for pennies why should you pay big money? Well the risks alone make crowd-sourcing design worth well considering before you dive in.

That all said, whether or not the trend of crowd-sourcing design will come full circle remains to be seen but in the meantime it pays to be aware of the risks and pitfalls of using speculative, crowd-sourced designers.