The practice of crowdsourcing has become a heated topic in the business and graphic design world in the last few years, and the continued flood of new sites launched to capitalize on the buzz shows that it isn’t going away anytime soon. Businesses seemingly love it, because they get more options for less money increasing their ROI in theory. Graphic designers hate it, because it makes it hard to compete while targeting the small business owner. While it is true that crowdsourcing can potentially save a company money in the short-term, it’s important to understand that it comes at a cost which often effects the long-term success of your brand.
For those not familiar with the term, dictionary.com defines crowdsourcing as utilizing (labor, information, etc.) contributed by the general public to (a project), often via the Internet and without compensation. A lot of times this is done under the guise of a contest to raise awareness for a product, service or even a brand. Companies post the parameters of the contest, and get to chose from hundreds of entries from around the world. It’s true that some contests have prizes for the winning solution, but it’s extremely below the revenue that the solution could generate for the company and negates the fact that 99% of the contestants receive no compensation for their efforts. While this seem like a winning solution from a marketing budget perspective, the fact is that your long-term ROI will suffer.
Crowdsourcing work is the cheap Chinese food buffet of the design world. Anyone that goes to a buffet isn’t looking for a quality dining experience, and crowdsourcing design follows the same model. They don’t want the expertise that comes from having a chef prepare a signature dish, or a wait staff that can recommend the best beer paring for their meal. They’re looking for a lot of food for the smallest price, as well as, the bloating that often comes after. Practice this enough, and your brand will need a by-pass just to reconnect with your target audience and realign with your goals.
Successful design solutions will never be created in a crowdsourcing format. Successful design only comes from the partnership formed with the design team and the client. The constant push and pull between all of the stakeholders is what drives creative solutions that speak to a focused audience. Out of great strategy comes great solutions, and crowdsourcing doesn’t allow an opportunity to develop strategy first. Without strategy you’re spending your budget on creating a good looking piece of art that is flimsy, that appeals to no one.
Plagiarism is a major problem with crowdsourcing, and always will be. Without working with your design team, or even meeting them, you might just be buying a nice knock-off leaving you with a logo that can’t be trademarked, and a lawsuit from from the one that was. When you work with a design team, you’re actually paying for their process, expertise and insight to alleviate your fears in implementing a differentiated brand element. You’re not buying what gets produced, and you certainly shouldn’t be buying someone’s leftovers.
Most companies that resort to crowdsourcing are probably not clients that a professional designer would want to work with. Lots of work for little money is never a model that works for long-term success, and that’s at the heart of the crowdsourcing industry. If you think the buffet is great then there is no amount of explanation that can convince you to explore a healthier approach to building your brand. However, if you’ve only experienced graphic design through crowdsourcing, then engaging a professional designer may be the Pepto Bismal that your brand needs.
I’m not advocating that crowdsourcing shouldn’t be a source for businesses owners needing to cut costs, however it’s important to understand the difference in working with a designer and working with a crowd. Unbeknownst to me, I had a client try a crowdsourcing site for logo design. When they had a horrible experience, they brought the project to me and told me that they were shocked at how bad the designs were. In the long run, they learned the value of working with a dedicated professional, and I have since made it a part of my practice to discuss crowdsourcing with a client before we begin an engagement. Crowdsourcing sites do have a place in design. It’s just on the outer edge of the design community, and it’s important that you understand what you’re not getting for that price.