Wine & Graphic Design: A Crowded Undertaking

Graphic Design has changed!

When I entered the wine industry in 1990 at a small PR firm dedicated to serving wine clients, my first graphic design project was a newsletter for a client. I was pointed to a particular designer whose work was outstanding. Like most others, he did not use computers, laid out the design on a board, had film of the mock up made then passed it to the printer. It was a fairly long and detailed and expensive proposition.

It is now more than 20 years later. I recently oversaw the design of a new logo for a wine-related client. More than 60 designers from around the world submitted over 300 designs. Those 300 were narrowed down to 100, then to 6 then to 1. The cost was $500 and the entire process took just over 1 week.

Welcome to the world of Crowd Sourced Graphic Design.

I’m not the first to discover this. There are numerous sites that allow you to create a “design contest”, have multiple designers submit designs, then choose the one you want. I used But there are other Graphic Design Crowd Sourcing Sites including and

But here’s the thing. Despite being extraordinarily happy with the results of this graphic design project, I feel a little bit like I had crossed a picket line where my brothers and sisters were involved in the strike. Let me explain.

Crowed Sourcing is extremely controversial in the graphic design world. It is believed by many that by getting numerous graphic designers to work on speculation (Spec), you devalue the craft, as well as drag down fees and likely don’t get the high quality results you would get by working back and forth with a single, dedicated designer.

I can promise the last objection simply is not true. However, there is no question that crowd sourcing graphic design DOES drag down overall fees for graphic designers and in its own way does devalue the craft. And yet, the combination of new technology, easy to use graphic design software, access to millions of inspirational graphic design on the web and a proliferation of folks trying to make a living in graphic design in the U.S. and around the world creating one big pool of accessible designers makes this method of purchasing graphic design services seem practically inevitable.

I do sympathize with that contingent of graphic designers that despise crowd sourcing (and believe me when I tell you that “despise” is the correct word here). Yet I see indication that the trend will abate. Where wine is concerned, I would in no way be surprised to see a larger and larger percentage of new labels be developed in this manner.


14 Responses

  1. johng - December 6, 2012

    Why not have your client get 60 PR firms to write a press release for the new wine and then give $100 to the one they like best?

  2. Tom Wark - December 6, 2012


    You read my mind.

  3. Molly - December 6, 2012

    Film of the mockup? He must have *really* been good. I think you mean paste-up?

  4. Tom Wark - December 6, 2012

    Molly….it’s been a while…so, the lingo has alluded me.

  5. Randy Hall - December 6, 2012


    WBR’s logo was created using this method. While I’m cognizant of the effect that it has on designers as a trade, I didn’t know any designers when I needed the logo developed, and LogoTournament was a good deal.

    Subsequent logo projects for me have been developed with a local designer, mostly because I now know some designers that I trust and who have a good eye.

  6. Tom Wark - December 6, 2012

    Randy, It seems that crowdsourcing is a GREAT way for young designers to break in. And frankly, I was very impressed with much of the work that was submitted. So, while I do feel a bit dirty, I am a happy dirt bag.

  7. L - December 6, 2012

    Tom, I am a graphic designer, and I find fault with this post (you knew this was coming, I’m sure). I’d like to start by saying, in a sort of informal introduction, that I work mostly with wine and hospitality clients — some of which are internationally distributed — so I have some experience in this area.

    My first point of contention, and the obvious one, is this statement: “[ …don’t get the high quality results you would get by working back and forth with a single, dedicated designer.] I can promise the last objection simply is not true.”

    I’ll be the very first to point out that many crowd sourced logos are attractive. Hell, I could develop a great looking logo for a hypothetical client and keep it on file until a real client comes along (hint: that’s where a lot of those crowd sourced logos come from). The thing is, a good logo has to be more than good looking. Like a spouse, a logo needs to be meant to last, and it can’t be all about looks. There’s demographics to consider, user perception, how the logo will work on different marketing materials and media, how the logo will translate into different cultures and languages, whether or not the logo will look dated in ten years (web 2.0, anyone?)… I could go on, but you get the drift. There’s more than the client ‘liking’ how it looks to consider.

    My next issue is with this bit, “Where wine is concerned, I would in no way be surprised to see a larger and larger percentage of new labels be developed in this manner.” And I suppose it’s not as much an issue to me because I disagree.

    I’m not worried about losing my gig, because another designer educated me in this regard long ago: The clients who don’t want to pay me are not the clients I want. If someone really thinks their brand should be built on a $500 logo designed by someone with very limited brand and market knowledge, than OK. That’s their prerogative. They’re not my ideal client the same way I’m not their ideal designer. I don’t mean this bitterly, it’s just something I’ve accepted. I’d love to provide them with something better than “pretty”, but I can’t force anyone to make an investment they don’t want to make.

    It’s almost like someone assuming that the only thing they need to make great wine is the raw ingredients — grapes, yeast, maybe some acid and sugar — and there you go! As good as any wine, and cheap too!

    I jest. We all know the intricacies of our own craft.

    • Tom Wark - December 6, 2012


      You said:

      ” I could go on, but you get the drift. There’s more than the client ‘liking’ how it looks to consider.”

      Why do you assume many of the important things you cited that go into grand identity were not taken into consideration from the outset as well as in feedback to various designers? You shouldn’t assume that.

      Finally, you cannot assume that someone that crowd sources a logo for their wine brand, and eventually their packaging isn’t serious about branding, marketing, nor of course having something more than just “pretty to work with”.

      And on another note, I have numerous files from the winning designer that completely satisfy the needs for various uses in various mediums.

      What I’ll grant you is this: the average quality of 300 designs is lower than what the average quality would be from a single designer with whom I work particularly close. But don’t forget, among those 300 designs, I saw some tremendous talent and outstanding designs. Not from all 300, but from more than enough. And believe me when I tell you, I’ve worked extraordinarily closely with graphic design professionals on a myriad of projects and art directed more than I can count.

      • L - December 6, 2012


        I know that those designers aren’t taking the same considerations because I actually know those designers (I, for shame, even once came close to being one of those designers years ago when crowd sourcing really *was* cutting edge and I wasn’t yet sure how I felt about it). There’s just no time. Time is money, and if you’re only making so much per project than there isn’t time to devote to R&D. It’s that simple. And for the designer, being paid less isn’t even the issue — it’s that you don’t know you’re getting paid at all. There’s no way a designer can afford to spend more than a couple hours for “free” on a project and make ends meet — so they don’t. On the off chance you found the needle in the haystack who is independently wealthy and wants to work for peanuts and so doesn’t count his/her hours, that’s quite lucky for you. I guess that happens sometimes.

        I think you mis-read my tone when you say “grand identity.” Obviously, a brand identity is much more than a well-designed logo. It’s the brand voice, the texture, the color, the style of — everything. It’s definitely not defined by a single project. I do think though, that as projects go, a bad logo is so hard to overcome, and a great logo can become indispensable (think FedEx).

        I didn’t mean file types (per “…numerous files from the winning designer that completely satisfy the needs for various uses in various mediums”); I was referring to the considerations of print reproduction during the design phase. Number of colors, cost of metallics, use of hairlines (will we ever want to emboss or cut this out?), things of that nature. Things people often don’t bother with when designing ‘on the fly’.

        Like I said, I completely believe you that you saw some tremendous talent. Absolutely. A lot of talented young designers (I also believe misguided) go the crowd-sourcing route because they feel like it’s the only way they’ll get work. I just don’t think raw talent alone is the answer to most design problems.

        Lastly — and I realize this is a bit out of order — I didn’t mean to infer “that someone that crowd sources a logo for their wine brand, and eventually their packaging, isn’t serious about branding, marketing, nor of course having something more than just ‘pretty to work with’.” Of course they’re serious. But they may not have the resources or the interest to invest in certain areas of brand development, or they may have heard that there’s a much cheaper, just-as-good option available.

        That’s actually a large part of why I’m sitting here, having this conversation in a public forum with you. It’s very easy, if a person is inexperienced with design (and us pesky designers), to assume that a logo should be done the way they heard on this blog. For some people that may work, they might be lucky and get exactly what they want. I’d hazard to guess though that getting exactly what they want might not be what best sells their product, even in a best case scenario.

  8. James Arnold - December 6, 2012

    Tom, in last graph, next to last sentence , you wrote “I see indication ….” But the sense is you meant “no indication.” Very nice, thoughtful post. Thanks for the pleasure.

  9. Tom Kruse - December 7, 2012

    When you realize how important a label is, maybe, you will appreciate what the value of a good one can be. Duiring the time I’m taking to write this I’m certain that somewhere in America an artisit, winery principal, printer and maybe a cinsumer psychologist are trying to fugure out what will make a woman’s hand leave her side and take a bottle off the shelf. The challenge and also the constraints are enormous. It’s why we love the business.

  10. Dan Wilson - December 7, 2012

    As someone who has been called in later to “fix” crowdsourced logos, and even participated in the judging process on certain occasions, I can attest to the fact that it’s a cost-effective means of generating a lot of concepts quickly.
    However, I wouldn’t recommend it for a luxury brand. The logo has to hold up in multiple media – whether that’s printed across a banner, the side of a case, or as an avatar thumbnail on a social-media site. It has to be attractive whether printed in black and white or color, and in many cases will only look its best on a printed label – complete with embossing, metal foils, custom trim considerations, etc. A lot of the “crowd-sourced” logos I’ve seen are attractive at first blush, but don’t hold up to being the foundation of a growing visual brand. That actually takes a lot of work. If you take a crowdsourced logo to a designer and tell them to “make my brand match this” then most of them will do their best to do just that. Your packaging, web site, brochure, printed materials, sales sheets, branded apparel, ads, etc. will generally all take their cues as to color, typography, and general style from the logo, or at least strive not to come into conflict with it. And that’s where I’ve seen crowdsourced logos fall short. By contrast, a designer who is trying to build a brand takes into account the overall brand vision, with the logo simply being one aspect of a much larger expression of the personality of the product or company that the brand represents.
    I don’t participate in crowd-sourced design for the same reason I don’t do spec work: it’s not fair to the clients paying me at my (relatively high) hourly rate to subsidize me spending time doing work for clients that may or may not end up paying for it (and if you think people won’t just take the ideas you’ve come up with for a spec assignment and use them without hiring you, I have a bridge to sell you).
    Crowd-sourced design will probably be around for a while, but in my experience you will find the top talent elsewhere. If that’s what your brand deserves.

  11. doug wilder - December 7, 2012

    When I used to work at one of the most extensive selections of wines in napa valley, designers would bring their clients by to troll our shelves and sometimes I would offer my opinion on what constituted a great label from the standpoint of shelf appeal. What I learned is there are no absolutes. If you end up creating something that is so iconic that it looks as fresh 30 – 50 years later, you’ve succeeded. World-class design is a special, intuitive skill that is worth every penny you pay for it. I can recognize and appreciate a label that has ‘ it’ but I would be in a world of hurt if I needed to design one, even though I am considered visually creative.

    Think about those that have been around for a while. Mayacamas, Montelena, Shafer, Frog’s Leap, Keenan, Hanzell, Chappellet, Beringer, BV, Spottswoode, Ridge, Ravenswood, Togni. What do they have that recent wines like Vine Hill Ranch, Morlet and Buccella have? Professional designers who are expensive but go through exhaustive concepts to arrive at something that communicates beyond just a label, it encompasses the brand philosophy, and they become icons. In a lot of the tasting I do, I will come across a brand that has labels that look like they were designed on a home printer. Some are so pixelated that they are hard to take seriously. I keep a loupe on my desk if I want to check something closer.

    Once a brand has committed to something it is difficult to switch. I remember an episode walking the aisles with a designer and her client explaining what worked or didn’t. After a few minutes the designer pleaded, “those are great, but what should my client do?” I thought about it for a second realizing her fee was probably in the low five figures AND she is asking ME? I simply replied ‘”don’t make any mistakes”, and walked away.

    I’ve confronted a lot of these ‘you know it when you see it’ issues when designing my own online and print publication deciding margin width, choice of font mix, size and color, composing images and creating layout, even where I put the page numbers. The challenge was to make sure that it was clearly obvious what the magazine is about,, without it looking like anything else out there and ensure it doesn’t become un-recognizable as content presentation and technology evolves. Online publishing is still a lot easier than creating a label. Those who do it well have my eternal respect.

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