crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Crowdsourcing logo design (Getting literal for little.)

brand credibility from branding expertsCrowdsourcing logo design is a sore subject in the graphic design community. I could easily write 10,000 words and show 1,000 examples of why crowdsourcing is a bad idea. But I’m just going to focus on two practical reasons that you probably haven’t considered… These two ought to be deal breakers for many people who are trying to save a few bucks on their brand identity:

1. Managing the crowdsourcing process is a time-consuming pain in the butt. If your time is valuable, it could actually cost you more than hiring a local designer.

2. The finished product usually falls flat. Branding firms and graphic designers spend a lot of their time “re-branding” companies that originally crowdsourced their logo design.


First, let’s address the managerial issues of crowdsourcing logo design.

I recently coordinated a crowdsourcing project for a client. (Against my most adamant advice.) The client believed that his money would be better spent “outsourcing” the design work and using me as the Creative Director/Project Manager.

crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Fair enough… I’ve played that part in my company for more than 25 years, so it should be easy, right?


Managing a herd of young, unproven designers from far-away lands is far harder than managing the designers who I know and trust. It was a valuable experiment, and a bit of an eye-opener for me.

My first task was to provide an insightful, tightly-written creative brief that would provide all the inspiration the designers would need. No problem, that’s right in my wheelhouse. Plus, I had already devised a brand platform for that particular client, so the brief was relatively easy. In this case, my creative brief even included specific graphic concepts that I wanted the designers to explore.

Too bad nobody read it.

The first 50 design submissions were obvious throw-aways — A complete waste of time from designers who didn’t take even five minutes to read the creative brief. It was ridiculous. Using the handy “comment” tool on the crowdsourcing platform, I strongly suggested that they start over. “Don’t submit anything until you’ve thoroughly studied the creative brief,” I told them.

The next batch wasn’t any better. The designers were obviously submitting old designs that had been sitting around from past crowdsourcing “contests.” They just changed the name of the company, and voila!

Back to the comment tool: “We will entertain original designs only… no recycled designs please. “

I also loaded up more background material for the designers who actually choose to read. But as more designs rolled in it was painfully clear that many were just derivatives of earlier submissions. That’s one of the worst things about crowdsourcing… the designers see all of the submissions and what the client has “liked.” This system inevitably leads to copy-cat design.

“The client said he likes that font, so I’m going to use that font.”

crowdsourcing logo design“The client liked that purple color, so I’m going to do some purple versions.”

“The client commented favorably about that mark, so I’m going to do something like that.”

At one point a cat fight erupted between two of the designers, with one accusing the other of stealing her designs. Never mind. They were both terrible. I saw more crummy designs in that month than I had in the last 10 years. Back and forth and back and forth we went until we finally selected the “winning” designer.

That’s when the real work started.

After looking at more than 250 designs we finally had one that was, at least, a mediocre solution. Again, I went back to the “comments” tool and began the fine-tuning process. Unfortunately, the winning designer had no experience producing a simple bundle of materials like letterhead, business cards and an email signature, so there was a painful back-and-forth process on the simplest little production details. Stuff than any junior designer should have known.

For accomplished creative teams, every new design assignment is a learning process. The work is driven by insight and spurred on by a thorough understanding of the product or service.

We thrive on the challenge of that and there’s a disciplined process that we follow. We do the research, study the market, live with the products and pour our heart and soul into helping clients succeed. Because that’s how we succeed. We have to learn about the business before we can design anything.

crowdsourcing logos Brand Insight BlogCrowdsourcing logo design eliminates that process. It skips the insight phase and jumps right to execution with no business thinking involved. No listening. No collaboration. It also leaves the client in the unenviable position of  Project Manager and Creative Director…  A tough dual role to play if you’ve never been in the design business.

Professional managers know the danger in this. They don’t choose to manage projects when they have no experience or expertise in the activity they’re managing. So if you have no experience managing freelance designers, don’t choose crowdsourcing. Hire a design firm to manage the process for you.

Now for a discussion about subjective quality…

The finished product of my one crowdsourcing experience was mediocre, at best. Even though I served up ideas on a silver platter, and provided tons of insight on the market and the business model, the designs were weak. Most were just too darn literal.

Advice on crowd sourcing logo designs on the Brand Insight BlogIf you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Nothing is left to the imagination. And there seems to be an assumption that all prospects are idiots.

Well guess what. If you dumb down your logo design, and pound people over the head with visual clichés and literal redundancies, you will not make the connection you’re hoping for. Your brand will not become iconic.

Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route…  Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have a an illustration of a shoe. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.

If the I.O.C. had chosen the literal, quick-n-dirty design there would be no Olympic rings.

There would be no Golden Arches.

If Starbucks had chosen crowdsourcing there would be no mermaid.

There would be no crocodile for Lacoste.

See, logos are supposed to be symbolic. They are symbols of something, or the graphic interpretation of the idea behind your brand. Not literal descriptions of your service or product.

So stop trying so darn hard to get a literal logo. Let a good graphic designer apply a little creative license, and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming an iconic brand.

When it comes to crowdsourcing logo design, it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”

For more on designing a great brand identity, try THIS post.

If you want to see what real, professional brand identity design looks like, check this out.


6 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing logo design (Getting literal for little.)”

  1. John, you hit the nail on the head with this one. I am a designer running a solo business and focus a lot on Logo Identity. I have been trying to write this post for a good while and i always end up rambling, because it is definitely a hot issue so I end up dropping it. While there is comoditizing in almost everything, It is a frustrating topic. especially when you get a prospect who say, “Wow, your proposal is high, I can get a logo online for 200 bucks” They want top shelf design/with strategy for cheap. Like you said. you get what you pay for.

  2. Hi John, Re: ‘Cheap logo designs – Getting literal for little.’
    I read – I absorb – I approve – because for the most part – I agree. Particularly the line – “Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route… Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have an illustration of a runner. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.” Nicely expressed.
    BUT, then I look at your own logo – the thing at the top of your blog – on the header – if “logo” is what you call it? – “Bless” – yet another Internet guru – or (visual evidence) hypocrite.
    If you can draw your logo design in the sand, with your finger – then it probably “works” as a “logo” – remember KISS ? – ‘Nike’ it is not!

    1. You’re right… the Brand Insight Blog logo is weak. We’re migrating away from that… I think you’d agree that I practice what I preach with our BNBranding logo though:-)

  3. Quote from: ‘Cheap logo designs – Getting literal for little.’

    “See, logos are supposed to be symbolic! They are symbols of something, not literal descriptions of your service or product. That’s what taglines are for.”

    Definition: Taglines, tag lines, or tags are American terms for short advertising slogans.

    Here’s some popular taglines – Spot the distinctively ‘literal’ product or service description:

    1. Just do it
    2. I’m lovin’ it
    3. It’s the real thing.
    4. Finger-lickin’ good!
    5. The best a man can get
    6. Probably the best lager in the world
    7. Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach
    8. Because you’re worth it
    9. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands
    10. The happiest place on earth
    11. Does exactly what it says on the tin
    12. Always Low Prices / Save money. Live better

    Oh, in case you’ve forgotten, here’s the product or service they’re (literally) advertising:
    1. Nike – 2. McDonalds – 3. Coca-Cola – 4. KFC – 5. Gillette – 6. Carlsberg – 7. Heineken – 8. L’Oreal – 9. M&M’s – 10. Disneyland – 11. Ronseal – 12. Wal-Mart

  4. blank
    multi level marketing

    I’m also the one who thinks that logo don’t needs to be a direct slogan: “read who am I and what I do”. In the other hand it shouldn’t be a state of art, which no one understands. Making a logo which is clever and says what should about the company is hard, but “makeble”.

    It depends from profile of company, “Nike” can have logo not understandable without contecst, but small shops don’t. Glad that out there are companies which helps to achive such effects 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Take your next agency for a spin.

You wouldn’t buy a BMW without getting behind the wheel. You have no idea what it can do. Same with BN Branding. So let’s go for a test drive… just one small assignment to prove how well we handle whatever you throw at us.

Scroll to Top