Maybe I’m a bit slow, more about but I just came across the term “crowdsourcing” – the process of solving business problems using social media (not to be confused with another term I recently picked up: “FLASHMOB” – the process of creating absurd but strangely compelling YouTube videos with your friends).
The image above is from my experiment with one of the early commercial applications of the concept. 99Designs.com allows businesses to design their logo / business card / Web site by posting a prize, a creative brief, and holding an online contest.
In this case, I’ve challenged designers to tackle a logo for the BEGtoDIFFER brand. The results are mixed, but while there are no obvious winners in the pack yet, the results are really creative and certainly better than a lot of professional designers I’ve worked with for a lot more money. But is it an ethical way to secure creative content? I have two minds about it: 1) the client mind: great! Bring it on, and 2) the agency / freelancer mind: whoa, that’s undercutting and devaluing the industry!
As if to underline the difficulty of the issue, one interesting sideline came up in the process that illustrates both the risks and some of the issues involved in this process. One entry, quite a strong one, which contained a sheep similar to the one in the graphic on this page, struck me as oddly familiar, and upon some reading, sure enough, it is very similar to the sheep icon used by a 1.5 Billion dollar British ad agency: http://www.bartleboglehegarty.com. That’s not to say there was any plagiarism involved – far from it. It’s just to say that the onus is still on the owner of the “marque” to ensure that the final product isn’t going to get you into any trouble.
As a further cross-current, I found to my surprise – that the “research” arm of BBH, called BBH Labs recently commissioned its own crowdsourced logo from another site called crowdspring.com. Well, can you imagine the indignation from the “serious” design community when a big firm offers *only* $1500 for a logo…
Some industry commentary:
Reflection from BBH Labs on their own blog:
So how about you? What do you think?
I’m looking for comments on both the ethics of crowdsourcing professional services and on the logo options I’ve got in the hopper right now.
Dennis Van Staalduinen says
Launched today: a contest to crowdsource a Canadian book industry blog: http://www.bookninja.com/?p=5521
There are countless problems with the ethics of spec work. The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario takes a firm stand on the issue, forbidding any members from working on spec. They have produced some fabulous documents geared to both clients and designers, putting things very clearly. You can read the articles for yourself here http://www.rgdontario.com/bestPractices/specWork/default.asp
What do you get from a professional designer (and a higher price)? Research, strategic problem solving, direction regarding identity/brand standards, and a logo that does more than just look good. All of this service takes time … and time = money.
Look at it this way … the average billing rate of Intermediate Graphic Designers in Canada is $101/hr (according to the ARGDO). If you are paying less that $500 for your logo, someone is spending less (MUCH less) than 5 hours creating THE MOST CRUCIAL PART OF YOUR BUSINESS. Your brand identity. I think if more businesses understood the implications of this, they would realize why professional designers charge what they do.
As far as the crappy work from expensive designers go, well … that problem will sort itself out, as they surely won’t be in business for long.
Dennis Van Staalduinen says
Joel, thanks for the thoughtful response. I’ve worked with many of your RGD bretheren over the years and have always had great results from those with that designation. And as you say, the service goes far beyond the pictures on the screen or paper.
I also have to say that I’m not totally sold on the open crowdsourcing model as it stands now. In the past, after I have helped a client with naming / positioning / messaging, I’ve set up logo design processes for them where several designers receive a fair fee for one pass – no revisions – with the best of the lot receiving the right to do the production art and stationery / Web site / brochure / etc. But it’s a painful process, and I’d love to see a site that manages that process for me…
But on the other hand I’d be shooting myself in the foot if I didn’t recognize that this tidal wave IS happening and it’s an awfully attractive option for smaller clients with smaller budgets who aren’t interested in searching for one good designer amid all the wannabes who hang out shingles (or paying me to do it for them),
I’m suspecting that the industry is in phase 1 of a shake-up like the recording, movie, and performing talent industries have experienced. And the choice for professional certification bodies may boil down to fight it (which will probably fail) or find ways to work with the new technologies to make sure no one gets screwed…
Lynda Partner says
I really like the idea of crowdsourcing. I think its in its infancy right now and the risk/reward equation certainly favors the client at this time given the number of designers investing time for a chance to win, no sure thing that!.
I am guessing that the next phase of this form of crowdsourcing design (if its not already in place) will be ratings for designers, and then different clubs of designers you can tap into, (for different prices of course) and then the option to contract with one designer you like, which in the end will be back to where we started – the only difference is that they will have worked their way up, there will be tons of options in a single place and the small businesses with small budgets will still have an option to get something better than what their neighbor or brother could produce.
Lauren Hughes says
An interesting scenario Lynda, and I don’t doubt it. In effect, crowdsourcing could become the facebook of the industry – the user-created database of talent. The problem of course is how this will affect an already undervalued industry.
A question: what if the same crowdsourcing competitions were strictly pro bono? Designers could contribute free of charge either for their reputation or to help a worthy “client” (likely a not-for-profit). Would the same ethical implications apply?
Dennis Van Staalduinen says
And to put another fly in the ointment: what about this? I sell my expertise for a living, so should I really be giving it away for free here? After all I get paid to think, write, and offer my perspectives…
Is this – solicitng written responses for a commercial blog – really just another form of the same crowdsourcing phenomena?
Lynda Partner says
Sadly at the end of the day supply and demand rules.
In a service industry in particular, reputation means everything, reputation is what allows you to be paid for your thoughts, written words and creations. Until you have reputation you will find it tough to tip the risk/reward balance in your favor.
My point (not so well communicated) was that crowdsourcing for these designers is a way to build a reputation so they can command payment (from people who are happy to pay because they are then trusted to produce something of value out of thin air). They certainly aren’t doing it for $$, the odds are against ever making money at it.
Soliciting responses for a commercial blog could be considered crowdsourcing but in this case I am thinking it’s the desire to connect with smart people like Joel and Lauren more than anything!