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Fast food graphic design

Are crowdsourcing sites killing graphic design as we’ve known it?

Designer artifacts

PUBLISHED MAY 26, 2021

I WILL SOMETIMES pick up jobs from Upwork.com during slow periods or between other assignments.

Unlike many of the other crowdsourcing sites, Upwork doesn’t expect designers to submit ideas to online contests hoping that prospective clients select them. Few serious designers would agree to work without a guarantee of payment, but those less-than-reputable sites still exist and make money — at least for their owners and stockholders.

Upwork has a more ethical model that connects clients with freelancers. Upwork insists on contracts and that all work is paid work.

This more ethical model is good, and it might seem an excellent way for clients to connect with talented designers. Often, that is the case, but there are downsides to the system.

“A designer’s primary skills center around problem-solving.”

Most Upwork clients have never worked with designers — at least outside of Upwork. They have no way of knowing who to look for, what skills they should have, or how much they should pay.

Prospective clients post jobs describing the basics — usually one-off projects. They price their jobs at similar rates to other listed projects. When they get responses, they look through those designers’ portfolios to make their choices.

Unfortunately, most inexperienced clients don’t know how to choose good designers or work with those they hire. A common assumption among Upwork clients is that they’re mainly renting a pair of artsy, software-proficient hands to bring their ideas to life.

These clients fail to realize that a designer’s primary skills center around problem-solving — exploring client objectives then designing solutions specifically tailored to accomplish those objectives.

Onion rings

Upwork does little to educate clients on how to select and work with design professionals. As a result, many successful Upwork freelancers tend to be hobbyists, amateurs, and overseas beginners whose work style is more like a short-order cook than a designer.

As I mentioned, I take on jobs here and there through UpWork, but I’m fussy about it. Even then, my UpWork rates — even for the best clients — tend to be 50–75 percent lower than usual. Sometimes I’ll take these jobs to fill gaps in my schedule, and sometimes the jobs sound interesting enough to get my attention, but it’s becoming increasingly rare.

If you’re one of my Upwork clients and you’re reading this, rest assured that I chose to work with you because I wanted to. You passed my personal criteria of appreciating good work and knowing enough to realize that good work isn’t synonymous with cheap work from hobbyists and amateurs. I want to thank you. I wish there were more like you.

Cory Maylett

Cory Maylett

I'm a proponent of developing practical solutions to communication problems through good design. My career has included newspapers, magazines, books, websites, corporate branding and typefaces.