10/30/2013 08:27 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Crowdsourcing Design: An Interview with DesignCrowd Founder Alec Lynch

I've written extensively on this site and in my books about crowdsourcing. These days, you can use the wisdom of crowds to do just about anything--including design. To this end, I recently sat down with DesignCrowd founder Alec Lynch. We talked about crowdsourcing, the problem it tries to solve, and the history of the company.

PS: What's your definition of crowdsourcing?
AL: Crowdsourcing is a type of outsourcing that involves using many people often from around the world ('the crowd') to get something done. You can think of crowdsourcing like cloud computing but with people instead of computers. When done well and applied to the right task, crowdsourcing is basically outsourcing on steroids--it is faster, better, and often cheaper.

Crowdsourcing is particularly powerful for creative tasks or projects (such as design, video or photography) and this is one of the most common applications. Crowdsourcing is also used for non-creative tasks. Examples include research, basic writing, quality control, particularly when a high volume of tasks is required.

In saying that, since the term crowdsourcing was coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe, its definition has evolved to become quite broad and is often used to describe anything that involves a crowd. Today, everyone seems to be crowdsourcing and you can crowdsource just about anything--Obama is crowdsourcing, Google is crowdsourcing, NASA crowdsourced poetry for Mars and (apparently) Marissa Mayer crowdsourced her baby's name.

PS: I used the site to design a logo for my publishing company and was very pleased with the results and the service. For others, explain how DesignCrowd works. What problems are you trying to solve?

AL: We started the company in 2007 with the goal of helping people crowdsource logo, web, and graphic design ideas from designers around the world. Businesses post a brief on DesignCrowd requesting a design and we then publish the brief on the site and invite our 100,000 designers (and 'the world') to respond. Over the course of five to ten days a typical logo project receives over 100 designs.

I started DesignCrowd because I could see a number of problems and opportunities within the traditional design industry.

These problems fell into two buckets. First, for businesses buying design, I could see they faced three key problems: it was expensive, it was slow, and it was risky when buying design (there was no certainty they would get a good result). Second, for designers, I could see it was difficult to find work or get a job---even if you were qualified or talented.

In summary, I could see the global design industry was large--at least $44B--and ripe for disruption. DesignCrowd fixes the problems for businesses buying design and aims to discover and provide opportunity the best designers in the world using crowdsourcing.

PS: How did you start DesignCrowd? How have you grown the company?
AL: DesignCrowd started 'out of the garage' in Sydney Australia. My co-founder Adam Arbolino built a prototype while we were both working full-time. I then quit my job as a strategy consultant at Booz & Co, took the prototype, $10,000 in savings, and 3 credit cards, moved back home to live with my mom, and started working on the business full time in 2007.

Since then, the business has had three phases of growth. The first phase was bootstrapped. For the first two years I worked from home--funding the business with credit cards and eventually $30,000 of loans from friends and family. In 2009, we received $300,000 in angel investment and we used that money to get our first office and start marketing the business more outside Australia. In 2011, we received a $3M investment from Starfish Ventures--Australia's largest VC.

PS: What tips would you give people looking to crowdsource?
AL: If you're looking to crowdsource a creative project (whether that be logo design or photography or video), my advice is: 1) write a strong brief 2) offer a fair amount of money (the more you offer, the better your result) 3) provide a lot of feedback to the crowd; and 4) use a crowdsourcing marketplace with a large community of sellers and creatives.

PS: What does the future hold for crowdsourcing?
AL: Crowdsourcing is still relatively new and the opportunity for it to disrupt multiple billion dollar industries is huge.

Crowdsourcing is being powered by a number of huge macro trends enabled by the Internet. Firstly, the Internet is providing access to millions of talented workers in emerging economies. For example, many crowdsourcing sites are powered by users from Asia. While there are 1 billion Internet users in Asia, this is only 25% of the population in the region and as the rest of the population in Asia (3 billion people) connects to the Internet, crowdsourcing will become an even more powerful tool. In addition to this, crowdsourcing also taps in to a powerful freelancing, work-from-home and small business trends in the North America, Australia, the UK, and Europe.

Within creative industries, the opportunity for crowdsourcing is particularly big. For example, the global design industry is at least $44B but crowdsourcing (while disruptive and gaining tremendous traction) still has around 0.1% market share. The opportunity to grow and take share from traditional players remains huge. In saying that, crowdsourcing won't kill traditional design agencies. As the crowdsourcing model and design industry evolves, we will see more and more traditional agencies working with and adopting crowdsourcing as part of their business model--combining the power of crowdsourcing with the strengths of the traditional business models. Either way, the future for crowdsourcing is bright and it will continue to grow, evolve and, ultimately, change the way the world works.