What is crowdsourcing and how does it work?
Crowdsourcing has been around for a while now and has been used to gather all types of services, opinions and ideas. Increasingly it is being used to harvest ideas and designs for logos and corporate identities. Instead of a company employing the services of a freelance designer or agency, it throws the brief open to the masses and invites designers to submit designs for free, in the hope that their design is the chosen ‘winning’ design. If successful the winning designer will be rewarded with a ‘prize’ (usually a nominal sum of money) whilst the masses walk away empty handed.
Crowdsourcing design is essentially bad for designers and clients
Some people may argue that crowdsourcing is good. For example, it allows freelance designers and smaller agencies a chance of competing on a level playing field against larger, more well known agencies. It also gives the client a much wider selection of ideas to choose from. In certain environments and situations crowdsourcing may be beneficial – the realm of design is not one of them.
Crowdsourcing lacks the processes that allows both client and designer to explore routes and fully interrogate the brief. This is an essential element of any design project. To ignore this stage means both client and designer are working blinkered and potentially missing valuable opportunities to expand the thinking of the project.
I’ve been involved in hundreds of pitches over the years. A small number of parties are invited to pitch for a project. Designs are produced and presented to the potential client and there is a reasonable chance of being successful. The odds may be 25%, 33% or even as good as a 50% chance of being appointed. Often the pitch process is used to gauge how a designer or agency thinks and works and the concepts produced during the process are used to demonstrate this – they are not the answer to the brief. However, crowdsourcing is breeding a culture where clients choose from a selection of ‘instant solutions’ – this approach rarely leads to great design.
Crowdsourcing opens the doors to every man and his dog. This hugely reduces the chances of being successful – often to just a fraction of a percentage. It becomes a numbers game meaning that hundreds, even thousands of designers are essentially working for free with little or no chance of remuneration. This is not a sustainable situation for most people.
I’ve previously written about how important the role of the designer is when managing a project and a client: ‘Choosing what’s right (not just what you like)’ and ‘Sometime we lead, other times we follow’. These two articles highlight how important it is for a designer to keep the client on brief and to lead projects – the designer is, after all, the design professional. Again, crowdsourcing lacks the stages essential to the design process.
Like kids in a sweet shop
So, imagine you are the owner of a sweet shop. Potential customers come in and each person samples one of your sweets and then leaves without paying. Every now and then, someone may decide you have the best sweets in town and decides to pay you. This is unlikely to compensate for the fact that you’ve had to give so much away. It’s not sustainable, it’s not good for clients, designers or the design process. Whilst no one is forcing designers to invest their own time into such projects there is a risk that as more clients jump on this bandwagon it becomes their preferred route, limits the regular opportunities for designers and ultimately produces weak design because of the poorly made, uninformed choices.
It would appear some designers regularly enter crowdsourcing competitions, submitting the same generic designs over and over again in the hope of beating the numbers game. Firstly, clients are unlikely to end up with something unique and secondly there have been instances of plagiarism where old or existing designs have been regurgitated in the hope of an unscrupulous designer making a quick buck.
Design needs to be valued by designers and clients alike. Only by designers choosing to ignore crowdsourcing will the trend eventually die out.