Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Some Businesses Crowdsource Design

Some businesses believe there are benefits in crowdsourcing design. In their minds there at least three clear advantages over hiring a designer.

First, they feel they will save a lot of money. For instance, they may decide to pay no more than $300 for a brochure or no more than $500 for a logo. And they can get hundreds of independent designers, all over the world, to contribute design ideas for free. They only need to spend that money on the "winning" design.

Second, they feel they are given the power of choice. They often feel that with one designer, you only get the benefit of that one designer's vision and ideas. But with crowdsourcing they will get hundreds of designers with a wide variety of ideas to choose from. And with all the choices surely there must be a diamond in there somewhere. And for up-and-coming designers they are giving them a break and helping thembuild their portfolios.

Third, they feel it's an effective use of time. Managing the design process with a designer can be time-consuming, when all they want is a product. They don't care about research or consideration of their brand and audience. They want results (i.e. a pretty design), and they want it NOW. In crowdsourcing they can get a lot of designers throwing their ideas at them, and they feel empowered to just pick a design and go.

But what's often overlooked is that most successful brand initiatives are rarely crowdsourced or done without risks.

Getting 100 designers to generate ideas for the opportunity to win money is basically spec work and exploitation. They are not being paid to generate ideas, which is what designers do. The winner only gets paid for their product execution. And that not only devalues the designer's time and labor, it reduces design to a collection of goods rather than a service.

This is like creating a sweatshop. Seasoned and excellent designers will not want to work under those conditions. Companies who crowdsource design will not only gain a bad reputation but begin to cannibalize their pool quality design.

Then there's the idea that a bunch of ideas will generate one good one. Not necessarily so. Good design is thoughtful, takes experience and knowledge, and is purposeful. Just because anyone can bang on a piano doesn't mean you'll get a great performance. Even if you get a whole bunch of people banging on the piano, you just get a bunch of noise. If a talented person is in there, how would you know? How would you distinguish from all the noise. You can take a guess by who doesn't suck as much. But this isn't a good way to determine good work.

It's like a crap shoot. Businesses that go this route are basing their business strategy on blind luck. I wonder why some companies pay thousands of dollars for market research and business plans when they could just spend a few dollars holding contests for all sorts of services? Why doesn't that make sense?

Photo courtesy Grafixar of

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