Crowdsourcing the logo for Altimeter

I've had good success setting up my own business at Altimeter Group but one thing I never got around to doing was getting a logo done. Last summer, I was briefed crowdSPRING, which is a marketplace for creative projects. So I've decided to put my logo up as a project there, where designers can submit their ideas.

Why put my brand logo design in the hands of complete strangers? Well, I figured that anything is better than the simple font-based brand identity I have now! I also looked at some of the existing projects that are on the site, like the logo design for Zodiac Tea — which has 360 submissions as of this post. Not only are the designs excellent, but there's an excellent dialog taking place on the projects, not only between the project owner and individual designers, but also between the designers themselves. This is truly a collaborate effort to design the best logo for the company.

And as a believer in social media, I wanted to see what happens. crowdSPRING built in feedback from the community, so I'm looking forward to having you, my community, give feedback on the submitted designs.

So please come and view the submissions to my project, encourage your designer friends to give it a go, and by all means, give me your feedback on which logo you think best suits me and my new firm.

And I'm curious to know — how comfortable would you be to do a creative project like this? A logo is one thing, but would you use this process for a marketing piece or even your Website, as this author did?

UPDATE: I'm getting some feedback in comments below, on Twitter, and in blog posts about my use of crowdSPRING.

As an independent consultant just starting out, I don't have the budget to engage a design agency to do a logo design for me — believe me, I wish I did! As such, my logo design options were to work with organizations like LogoWorks, find someone willing to work at my budget through a referral and cross my fingers, or give crowdSPRING a try to tap into the market for new, unknown talent. 

Given my choices, I decided to use crowdSPRING. Creatives submit designs but in the end, I choose only one design and pay only one designer. I plan to give feedback on every design that's been submitted, and am also encouraging my extended community to also provide feedback to these designers, so that they can get as much out of the process as possible. And hopefully, the designers will get their work exposed to an even greater audience.

My hope is that I'll work with the designer that I choose on other design projects in the future, and that the relationship will grow as my business grows.

There are also two blog posts that look into the issue of crowdsourcing design. The first post was written by Chris Miller, a SVP at the DRAFTfcb agency, where he talks about the potential use of crowdsourcing by agencies. The second post was written by Ross Kimbarovsky, one of the co-founders of crowdSPRING. The post is long and detailed, but there's a comment from Keith that captures my thinking:

"People/Companies who use CrowdSpring know they are not getting a full service design firm. You’re not going to walk into CrowdSpring and get something that’s as high in quality as SimpleBits or AdaptivePath for your UI.

However, CrowdSpring isn’t in that market space. The ESPNs, MTVs, etc. of the world can go out and hire world class design firms to revolutionize their brand. People and companies going to CrowdSpring are looking for “just in time design” on a budget. It appeals to the local small business market that has limited budget, but knows enough to put up something visually appealing.

I think CrowdSpring, in that sense, is serving a great need and isn’t threatening the world of design. I fail to see how or why world class developers/designers would feel threatened by a group of Speculative designers serving a market that, quite honestly, a large design firm wouldn’t want to touch with a 10 foot pole."

I welcome the comments from the No!Spec community, but please also understand my particular situation and goals — after all, isn't that the first step in building a design relationship?


  1. Hi :) I’m a graphic designer. This type of thing is called ‘spec work’. It devalues the creative process and the design business in general. It is also a disservice to you as a client.
    You can learn more here:
    thank you.

  2. Charlene, that’s like saying poor people can steal food from a grocery store.
    Call me, I’ll put you on a payment plan that works for you. We’ll work strategically and you’ll get a logo that delivers your true brand identity. I won’t lower my price but I’ll work with you. Most agencies wouldn’t but I hate to see smart people make dumb mistakes.
    Don’t go this route though because it makes you look small and cheap. Is that the brand image you want to portray?
    You have an open invitation to call me and get it done right: 617-504-2305.

  3. I think it is a great idea. In an age when we are co-creating ads, commercials, content…why should the logo also not be co-created? Although i strongly believe that the onus of brand definition, identity, personality still falls very much in the domain of the organization.

  4. The NO!Spec movement is an interesting contradiction. The internet has generated an incredible amount of business for graphic designers, which they of course embrace. However the innovation that damages the traditional design business model – such as what crowdSPRING and 99designs – is fiercely opposed.
    I have nothing against people refusing to embrace change when it hurts their pockets – I can only say that experience proves it usually to be an ultimately futile effort. What bothers me immensely is the type of argument that these people use — they fling around accusations of unethical behavior based on a made-up ethical standard to suit their interests.
    In the past I have tried to engage in debate some designers in the NO!Spec movement hoping for a better understanding of the issues, but I ended up finding their arguments hollow and insulting to me as a client.

  5. Hi Charlene, and hello to everyone who is adding their thoughts on this topic.
    We do appreciate the dialog on the subject and have spent a great deal of time considering the various points of view competing here. While we obviously see things differently from many, we certainly recognize that our site and our model aren’t for everyone, and we do respect other opinions. That said, I think we owe more of a response than that. Feel free to keep reading if you’re interested…
    It’s certainly not our intention to devalue design or the outstanding job that talented designers do. In fact, just the opposite. Just as iStockPhoto has helped bring about a change in the industry, we’d like to do the same. They’ve opened the door to millions of people who previously had no way to get noticed in the creative community. These folks are more than willing to upload their work and hope that it gets chosen because, at the end of the day, it’s what they love doing – and that’s why they do it. It’s not for the money – it’s because (as all artists know) creative people can’t stop being creative and they look for any outlet they can.
    The same goes for Threadless, really. It’s a community of creatives who love to create. They upload their submissions with a hope of being chosen but, at the end of the day, knowing full well that only one will be selected. They do it because they love to be creative. The do it because it’s fun. They do it because they like to be a part of a community.
    We like to think that we’re following the path that these other models have blazed. Again, we know it won’t be for everyone. That’s OK. We understand that there are plenty of established creative professionals who are too busy or uninterested in participating – we respect that. However, for all of the established creative professionals who’ve made it, there’s a groundswell of untapped creative talent around the world just looking for a way to express themselves and get noticed. This is who we built crowdSPRING for.
    Thanks again for the conversation. We really do welcome it – and I just thought we owed it a more thoughtful response, instead of just a stock “yeah, thanks for your input”…
    Mike Samson

  6. Mike, I appreciate the time you took to respond to this issue.
    Assuming that creatives are different from other professionals is foolish though. Other professionals can enjoy what they do just as much as I do. That doesn’t mean that they should work for free. It takes time to mock-up a logo. It would be ridiculous to ask Charlene Li to do a slew of consultations, and only pay her a very nominal amount for one.
    Yes, most of us love what we do. We also want to get paid. Professional organizations like the AIGA set standards in place so that we can educate the public on the standards of our industry.
    I would assume someone with enough clout as Charlene Li would take the high-road.
    Again, I strongly urge everyone to read the resources I linked to above. It is not just the No spec site that is against this practice. Please notice that the AIGA is also against it as well. Encouraging people to work for free is not fair.

  7. Charlene, to respond to your question,”I welcome the comments from the No!Spec community, but please also understand my particular situation and goals — after all, isn’t that the first step in building a design relationship?”
    Try looking on craigslist. There are graphic designers who are just starting out who do not charge as much as others. You can also ask for recommendations from your friends and colleagues.
    Look at a designer’s portfolio, and if you like their work, hire them.
    Just don’t ask them to work for free.

  8. I just spent a good hour following links and thinking about this issue and I think both sides have real merit. Bu the reality is, spec work has always been done by those who are trying to establish themselves in a creative endeavor. The analogies to plumbers and surgeons just don’t hold water (so to speak). If someone ruins my plumbing (that of my house or my body), I’m in big, big trouble. If someone sends me a crappy design or an article I don’t care to publish, well, I think I can live with that.

  9. @Verity – When we started working on crowdSPRING, we specifically looked at why AIGA and NO!SPEC objected to work on spec. There are reasons why the AIGA has expressed concerns about spec work. Many of those reasons are perfectly legitimate – which is one reason we’ve invested so much time in developing real responses to those reasons (based on the way our marketplace works). We developed policies, procedures, and features that would directly address each of those objections (among other things: escrow required in every project and customized legal agreements governing intellectual property transfer in every project). It’s also important that we (and our community) value intellectual property rights (I spent 13+ years practicing law, focusing on Intellectual Property – so this is an issue near and dear to us). In many REAL ways, crowdSPRING is very different from other marketplaces – including other marketplaces that may rely on spec work. Our buyers come from nearly 40 countries. Almost 10,000 designers (including many design firms) from over 130 countries around the world work on crowdSPRING. Some of our desighners are current AIGA members, others are former AIGA members, and yet others are future AIGA members.
    It’s true that some of the designers who work on crowdsPRING earn nothing or very little. For them, the learning process appears to be sufficient to keep them engaged (I didn’t believe this myself at first, but if you read our forums or the 37signals’ blog discussion that Charlene cites in her post, you’ll begin to appreciate this). Others are earning thousands of dollars, month after month, for part time work. They are doing their very best to compete on a level playing field where only their talent, not how fancy their office, matters. And because the competition is fair, they are doing quite well. Our own logo was designed by a janitor. Our site design was by a graphic design student.
    Ross Kimbarovsky

  10. Thanks for responding Ross.
    Just because there are many people who do work on crowdSPRING, or that they may be AIGA members does not legitimize spec work.
    My aim is to convince Charlene Li that creative professionals deserve respect and and that by requesting spec work on her logo, she is making a poor decision. There are more ethical ways to work.
    Here’s another good article:
    To quote the AIGA:
    “AIGA believes that doing speculative work seriously compromises the quality of work that clients are entitled to and also violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide. AIGA strongly discourages the practice of requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a speculative basis in order to be considered for acceptance on a project.”

  11. Hi again Verity,
    Thanks for the thoughtful and respectful response. This is one of those cases where we just seem to disagree. Our business and others that use a similar model have shown that there are large numbers of creatives across the globe who want to participate and are hungry for outlets that allow them to do so. These folks cross demographics of age, gender, geography, and economic circumstance – what they share is a desire to take part and celebrate their creativity. Some are members of AIGA and many are not, but they all have ideas, energy, and a willingness to participate. We welcome any and all who wish to do so and respect those who do not.
    I am sorry that we have different perspectives on this issue, but I am also certain that by making good design available to many small and mid-size businesses that, in many cases, can not afford these services or do not have access to quality creative, we are actually expanding the market. We feel that there is plenty of work to go around and wish all designers success!
    BTW – we are going to be discussing this as part of a panel this winter at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival: “Is Spec Work Evil? The Online Creative Community Speaks.” ( If you’re in Austin this coming March, be sure to put it on your schedule to attend. It should be a wonderful debate!
    Mike Samson

  12. The debate sounds awesome Mike! I hope to make it. Disagreement keeps things interesting!
    Cheers :)

  13. Hi Charlene,
    Here is my take: As someone who has lead marketing and creative teams for over 20 years it is always nice to have multiple options and perspectives – particularly because we live in a visual world. I can also tell you in my experience – spec creative has on several occassions built many long-term profitable relationships. The fact is we all make investments to win business and/or to get better at our craft. It seems to me this is also an opportunity for the creative folks who choose to participate — they get to practice their craft, hone their client interaction and communication skills, be part of a support community and receive valuable feedback. I recently came across a great quote in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Outliers: “practices isn’t something you do until you are good. It is something that makes you good.” If you want to be a great or better designer…this can be a terrific venue.

  14. CreativeGuy (alter ego) says:

    The no-spec movement is the ‘loyal opposition’ as the world changes. As a long time designer, I find such speculative sites irritating – I imagine that clients are giddy with the ‘something for nothing’ rush, dangling little or no money in front of young designers.
    We professionals need to continue to provide excellent products that raise awareness of our expertise and to educate the business community about the benefits design brings.
    All that said, there are plenty of clients who will never pay our rates, and there are plenty of clients who we as designer regret getting involved with. There will certainly be abuses of talent, and sub-par (subjective, I know) work as a result, but there’ll also be gems created and ‘open-source’ creativity generated.
    The design business landscape is changing but is also the same as it ever was. There will be high paying gigs, excellent work, low paying gigs and not so good work out there – in every combination possible!
    Despite my initial objection, I actually decided to participate in a Crowdspring competition yesterday. But not because I need 200.00. I let myself do it for fun actually. Creativity for its own sake. Sure, I hope I win… but nobody’s forcing me to play.

  15. Very interesting post and the debate after it:) It’s good to see so many opinions on the subject!

  16. Charlene,
    You have some nice designs there to choose from. I voted on a few. I actually found your logo project on Crowdspring before I saw this blog post. Small world. I hope all is going well with you. We need to talk.

  17. I very clever idea.
    A well crafted logo can be a good start for the new era of your business.
    The price seems reasonable too.

  18. neal sample says:

    Totally off topic… but I saw you cooking with garlic last night on PBS! ;-)

  19. A few thoughts about “professionalism”:
    We live in a world where the design community has given us, now even in print, grey text (small size) on a pale blue background, floating on white, with rounded corners (still!!!) and by this behaviour, called style, totally changed the world for everyone 45+ that need reading glasses. (Boy, do we need reading glasses now!)
    This indicates two things, as I see it.
    One: Designers, as everybody else, tend to run in the same direction at the same time, thus not using the competence existing within the group.
    Two: Buyers often lack knowledge about what they are buying.
    The second point is a good argument for working with professional people. And the new and upcoming.
    For an amateur, though, it might not be easy to decide what constitutes “professional” within an area.
    Kind of “Catch 22″…

  20. Resisting the inevitable says:

    I have worked on the client side and run a small agency for over seven years. To resist Charlene’s approach is not only small minded, it’s resisting the inevitable. Making rocket science out of the branding “process.” devalues the goal and leads to the eye-rolling, “here we go again…” If Charlene were launching a consumer product to audiences she didn’t understand, maybe she would need more help. But I imagine Charlene understands her audience pretty well,and I imagine she has good gut instincts.
    Further, what is the harm in having designers who want to design practice the thing that they love. As stated in a post above practice does make perfect.

  21. Charlene, I love this creative process. I love having a variety of ideas to choose from, having open dialogue, and having the option for a lower budget design. Having worked with top-notch designers on high-budget projects in Corporate America, I know how expense design can be. Sometimes, hiring an agency or contractor just isn’t a possibility and doesn’t make sense. I love crowdSpring and other such companies in that they provide options when budget IS an issue!
    BTW: I can’t begin to tell you how much I love Groundswell. I have notes nearly on every page! Am excited to see your next ventures.

  22. I just read this blog. It is sad that people think it is okay for people to work for FREE. Crowdspring is available for anyone with free time that doesn’t need to make money … I have no respect for this company now.
    Transparency is also important in the branding world and this is a company that doesn’t respect honest workers and their time. And with a company like Crowdspring, she was a made a logo in a matter of minutes because no one will spend a lot of time on something they might not be paid for.
    They also will not have gathered enough information about this brand, it’s values, personality, and dreams to really relay what it means.
    No respect …

  23. You probably own factories in China where you don’t pay people enough to eat but make your money and stick it in your pocket.
    Ethically speaking, you will have enough college students coming out every year to keep you afloat. I hope your dreams come true.

  24. alex villegas says:

    To think that Ms. Li considers herself a “thought leader in social and emerging technologies” is laughable. How can someone with such a misunderstanding of branding claim to understands social communications?
    It makes me sick to see things like this. Our “thought leaders” still think that a logo is nothing more than a little doodle and that can it be conceived without any in-depth research and strategy. They think that branding is confined within the realm of graphics and completely ignore its psychological and behavioral aspects. The very fact that Mr. Li has approached her branding in this way, that she considers anything to be better than her “font-based” identity – IS branding. This forum is an extension of her brand. Her words and her actions are an extension of her brand. As of now, I am SO turned off by her brand that I will not be purchasing any books or attending any lectures by her any time soon.
    Next time, it would be in her benefit to do some research on the role of brands across social media and emerging technologies. It would also be in her benefit to save up her pennies and treat her own company with love and respect.

  25. Alex Villegas
    I know Charlene pretty well, both professionally and personally. Charlene has an extreme sense of brand strategy and marketing strategy.
    I spoke on a panel at SXSW about Specwork a few days ago, and made it clear that specwork is a tactical process, and is not substitute for design strategy.
    Having spoken with Charlene, I know first hand, that she does indeed have a brand strategy –and she knows tactics. Lastly, she’s a social media thought leader, and doing is often the best way to learn.
    Hope this sheds some light.

  26. Personally, I am quite on the fence regarding the use of a crowdsourcing site for a logo design. It is still a touchy issue for most designers who said that crowdsourcing is a no-no for obtaining a logo design. I have tried crowdsourcing before and I know the risks involved but it comes within the territory. But there are other no-frills logo design websites online such as,,, etc. which are actually great in getting a professional logo design at a fraction of the price and minus the risks of crowdsourcing (plagiarism is one of them). Seeing that there are no consultation services, the price is significantly lower than that of conventional design firms. For instance, I have tried and the experience was indeed a positive one. I managed to get my business logo design at an affordable price and the turnaround time was great as well. Highly recommended. Although crowdsourcing for logo designs could be a bane for some, many find it to be a viable alternative to get a fast logo on the cheap. It all depends on the individual actually.