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Buyer Beware! The Dangers of Design “Crowdsourcing”

One of the most common challenges in our work when rebranding companies is cleaning up an inconsistent brand voice and image. When companies are first starting off and growing, they often use multiple creative agencies or designers for different tasks, with no creative director or brand strategist overseeing the complete brand expression. Understandably, many do this in hopes of saving money as they are growing their business, but in reality this approach ends up being much more costly in the long run sorting out these inconsistencies.

More recently, we have had new business prospects calling us asking for help after they had hired cheap online services that offered branding products such as logos for pennies on the dollar compared to a real branding agency. Many of these online services use “crowdsourcing,” or spec work where designers contribute work for free in hopes their entry will be picked and sold to the company. For the client, there is no interfacing with the talent, brand strategy, feedback process, or unique thinking that one would get when going with a real branding agency – it’s very similar to a “flash wall” where just like the tattoo, the logo is picked out from a wall of eye candy. It’s no secret that a designer spends less time on work submitted on spec than paid work… would any artist want to put their energy and passion into a commercial project for free?

Online logo service design and stock image side-by-side comparison. 
Image from Logofactory.com blog.

Most clients are savvy and understand the “you get what you pay for” concept, but aside from the quality issue there have been some very interesting (and scary) developments on this subject. There is a great recent blog article that points out multiple clear examples of pirated images from stock websites used in logos from one particular spec work driven website. In fact, one of the designers is currently caught up in a copyright case for lifting a stock image from the Stockart.com website. So not only is this dangerous from a brand point of view (stock images can be purchased and used by multiple users), but could potentially end up costing a company millions if a rip-off logo was to be implemented throughout a comprehensive brand campaign that could include the production of printed catalogs, packaging, store signage, etc. Not to mention the immeasurable damage a law suit could cause to a company’s reputation.

So buyer… please beware!

The same stock flag used in two distinct logo designs for two companies. 
Image from Logofactory.com blog.