It’s basically undeniable: crowdsourcing has only managed to soar in popularity ever since Jeff Howe of Wired Magazine coined the term in 2006. However, a closer look at the details of this seemingly relatively recently developed form of employment/project base will reveal that crowdsourcing really isn’t a new phenomenom at all; it has roots dating all the way back to 1714! Despite this unexpected history, the widespread use of crowdsourcing has definitely changed (and will continue to change) the way the graphic design market functions today. Because of the significance of this topic for graphic designers, it is important to know a bit about the history of crowdsourcing, as well as why it has succeeded so greatly in today’s world.



Many date “crowdsourcing” back to 1714 when the British government offered the equivalent of $4.7million (in today’s dollars) to anyone who could come up with a viable solution to the “The Longitude Problem,” an issue which up until then had made sailing extremely perilous. The solution to this original crowdsourcing call took some time and was brought by a commoner by the name of John Harrison who invented the marine chronometer. Fast forwarding through time to the 20th century reveals corporations such as Toyota employing crowdsourcing tactics to develop a new logo; the call for a design for what would eventually become the famous Sidney Opera House was also developed through crowdsourcing, and more recently graphic design developments like the t-shirt company Threadless have built up the current market’s demands. The latter of these developments, made easily possible through the inventions of personal computers and the internet, is more along the lines of what most people think of “crowdsourcing” as a term means today.

Why Crowdsourcing? Why Now?

There are easily several reasons why crowdsourcing has soared in popularity within the past ten years. First of all, the way the internet has basically “globalized” the world has made such a project development tool much more useful; employers in Britain can throw out the call for their need for a specific design and graphic designers in Brazil can fulfill their demands, without ever needing to actual travel in person. Additionally, the current state of the economy has also driven many companies to turn to crowdsourcing to supply their needs. Crowdsourcing “employees” can often be hired for much less than what an actual full time employee would cost, with none of the usual employment benefit packages added. On the employees’ end of the deal, crowdsourcing allows them to work at home, thus eliminating the cost of travel expenses (and with gas at its current price, this is definitely a huge perk!). This form of “employment” also makes it possible for many people to work their “crowdsourcing job” at night while they work a different job during the day—a financial blessing for many families during these currently less-than-ideal economic times. Finally, crowdsourcing actually gives hobbyists and other nonprofessionals the chance to put their foot in the door of industries that they would never otherwise become professionally involved with.