Like many other industries, the internet has changed the landscape of graphic design. During the beginning of my tenure with a small advertising agency back in 1999, I handled branding projects that averaged $1500 on the low side and web site projects that started at around $3000. Today those projects can be had for a fraction of those amounts, if one is willing to compromise... but more about that in a moment. This "game change" has come about as the result of a confluence of a number of factors.
1) An Increase in the Number of Designers Being Churned Out by an Increased Number of Design Programs
Of course as supply increases, price decreases. It is not hard to find an ad on Craig's List offering $50 for a logo design, which I suspect are answered by design students who are happy just to add a new design to their portfolio and perhaps one day actually get a job.
2) Proliferation of "Plug and Play" Design Applications
There are a number of programs and online services that offer template-based design solutions that can be good for a quick newsletter, business card etc. This of course takes those important service offerings out of the hands of design professionals, thereby eradicating customization, proper branding considerations and an overall quality.
3) Crowd Sourcing
Crowd Sourcing is not a new idea. It is essentially and most often an open call to designers to produce a given design on spec. The winning design gets a pre-set fee. Crowd Sourcing has been used to great success in some cases. Toyota used this model to obtain a logo and it seems to have worked out pretty well for them but crowdsourcing does not sit well with many designers. It is somewhat analogous to hiring several restaurants to cook a gourmet meal for you. After eating 23 full course meals, you choose your favourite and pay them the agreed amount. The others go away worse for the wear. What may sound like a win for the company sponsoring the project, is lacking so many of the essential elements of a good design campaign.
Gourmet... Not Buffet
Great design is a process that includes research, consultation, some trial and error and an ongoing discussion that, if done correctly, results in a design that meets clearly established goals and offers the confidence that comes with knowing all other options have been explored, therefore the resulting design is the right design for the right purpose. Crowdsourcing too often operates more like a commodity trade. There is little consultation, often murky goals/parameters and budgets that do not allow the crucial research and development time to "get it right". "Gimme a brochure by Friday and use lots of blue" is actually a common directive.
Finally, I have seen crowdsourcing projects whereby the winning design was simply the WRONG design. Without the consultative relationship that a good design house offers, a design is often chosen by one or two people who have no design or marketing background and may choose based on simple personal taste without giving the designer an opportunity to explain the all-important "raison d'etre".
While faster cheaper methods of obtaining designs can be a good short-term or budget-constrained solution, businesses that think long-term, will greatly benefit from securing a long-term relationship with a design studio that fits with their corporate culture. This design studio will appreciate the opportunity to really dive into a project in order to produce something really fantastic and really productive... and then continue to work with you to see your marketing goals come to reality.