[Ed: Apart from Kirsten Wright, Adam also responded on Twitter to my original MycroBurst post. Here is his guest post.]
Those words jumped out of my mouth when I learned what crowdsourcing was. Despite being relatively unknown at the time, I knew this trend was going to pose a threat to businesses like mine.
How could it not? With crowdsourcing you could simply log on to a website and get work from incredibly talented designers from all over the world, with different styles and approaches. You then got to keep the best one and only pay that person. Why wouldn’t small businesses jump at that opportunity? Like a lot of designers I was scared.
Image: JD Hancock via Flickr, CC 2.0
There are two things that all design professionals hate: competing for your business, and doing spec work. Crowdsourcing forces them to do both and they resent it. Who can blame them? As a designer, I refuse to get into a bidding war over jobs and I don’t do spec work. My design software won’t even power on unless the clock is running and your deposit check is processing in my bank account.
That attitude just doesn’t cut it in a crowdsourcing world.
Turning the corner
A year or so after the “oh, crap” incident, I made a decision that would drastically change my opinion. I was starting a non-profit organization and needed to develop a logo. Usually this meant surfing the web and flipping through my art books for a few days in order to soak up some inspiration, followed by a long time spent in front of a blank computer screen. This time, however, it was different.
Yours truly, a professional graphic designer, decided to crowdsource the logo. Why?
I was coming off of four months of logo design and couldn’t stand the thought of turning on Adobe Illustrator one more time. I was preparing myself for my new non-profit role where I’d be anything but “the design guy.” I wanted to see what it was like for companies who didn’t have in-house designers. For all these reasons, I decided to visit the “dark side.”
Shortly after posting my project I received logo options from designers all over the world who took the little information I provided and created some amazing concepts.
We had so many variations and options that one member of our team told me to stop emailing him because he couldn’t stand to look at any more designs.
In the end we were so overwhelmed that we closed our search a day early … and in just days, I had more choices than I would have had after weeks of doing it myself. We had a great logo that served our purposes and not just “the best one I could come up with.”
Most important, I experienced what it was like to be a client.
There are two reasons why crowdsourcing is actually a good thing for the design industry:
1. Crowdsourcing reminds us of what is most important to clients, results.
I wasn’t looking for design theory. I didn’t need someone to tell me that what I liked was wrong. I didn’t want up-sells. I didn’t want excuses for blown deadlines. I just wanted a logo. It was as simple as that.
Clients don’t always want the extra baggage that often accompanies the design process. They just want results.
Sure it’s great that you’re an expert in color theory but, in the end, they want a design their friends think is cool. Crowdsourcing gives customers a simple, and often enjoyable, buying experience while providing them with a final product they are proud of. The design companies that can do the same will, no doubt, continue to compete.
2. Crowdsourcing forces us to refine our businesses.
Remember when music downloading became popular? The music industry cried bloody murder saying it was the end of the music business, but organizations started to adapt.
It’s no different for design businesses. We should always be looking at our own companies to see how we can adapt to new opportunities. Even more, we should always be looking to see how we could position ourselves as “different.”
Adapting to survive
I hated competing with designers who were forcing me to lower my prices, so I looked at my company and found ways to package my services in ways my competitors couldn’t. This opened doors to new markets that I had never anticipated. I adapted and I’m stronger because of it.
Crowdsourcing will never replace the personal relationship between a designer and client. I ordered a logo but our website and marketing materials are all in-house … because some stranger isn’t going to be able to tell our story better than us.
Your prospects aren’t going to get the same service from crowdsourcing that they can get from you so it’s time you started marketing yourself that way.
The design and marketing professionals I know, and admire, have nothing to worry about with crowdsourcing. They have far more to offer than crowdsourcing ever could. The hacks on Craigslist who undercut your estimate forcing you to give your prospect the “comparing apples to oranges” speech might lose some business but believe me, they deserve it.
It doesn’t matter how much you scream, crowdsourcing isn’t going anywhere. So how are you going to position yourself in order to beat it?
If crowdsourcing is the “boxed wine” of the design world, then you should start building relationships with more sophisticated pallets that can appreciate you.
Crowdsourcing hasn’t lowered the bar; it’s just given us pros an opportunity to raise it.
Adam Weitz is a graphic and web designer, marketing consultant and social entrepreneur. He is the founder of GiveBag.org, an exciting non-profit startup with a very unique approach to feeding the homeless. To learn more, please visit www.AdamWeitz.com or connect with him on Twitter.
[…] Is Crowdsourcing Really the Industry’s Dark Side? (Waxing Unlyrical)JD Lasica works with nonprofits, social change organizations and businesses on […]
@blckjckballoons Thanks. Glad you liked it.
@adamweitz nice article on crowdsourcing. it is a great tool for many companies and those outside of “traditional designing”.
It seems that from being a hot topic, crowdsourcing has suddenly become the industry bad guy, but used properly it should rise above all this and deliver benefits to both sides of the equation – the person wanting, and the creative delivering, the creative. Hope you don’t mind a quick link to something I’ve just written on the evolution – introducing Crowdsourcing 2.0. The good guys win, and crowdsourcing is part of that story.
Almost anything is going to live or die depending on the marketplace. I think that’s the point wittejoe made earlier, and I think that’s the point you’re making as well, @adamweitz . For me, as a consultant, crowdsourcing is not the way I get my business, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for others… after all, these sites are thriving, so there’s a reason for that, right?
@HowieSPM it will be interesting to see if it becomes SOP. I don’t think it will, though, for all the reasons Adam points out. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a viable alternatie for some people. Just yesterday I was talking to alexandrafunfit about something totally unrelated, and she mentioned that they are looking for someone to freshen up their site; they don’t want a new design or anything, just update it a bit – so they need someone with the technical knowhow to do that. For someone like her, crowdsourcing that person might work just fine.
“it didn’t work for all the designers except for one.” True, but that’s pretty much the story anywhere – whether for other designers, other projects, or when you and I go out to bid on projects (though we may do it in a different way). Only one person/firm is going to walk away with the business. If the designers, or participants in the marketplace, don’t have a problem submitting their work via contests, I don’t see why I should stand in judgement over them.
When I got my website done, I didn’t crowdsource it because I just wasn’t aware of the option at the time. I’m happy with they way it worked out. But if I’m looking for something simple, and fairly confident that I don’t need the additional “stuff” that a designer might want me to sign on for, then I might very well consider crowdsourcing. Btw, my web designer is techsocialite – she does great stuff! – and I’d love to know what she thinks of this.
I agree that people do tend to attack the sourcer and, like everything, it is a two way street. I do feel that ELance and your multiple bid analogy speaks more toward outsourcing than crowdsourcing. Outsourcing is primarily price driven and, while people are attracted to crowdsourcing’s prices, the work is what is voted on.
I too have had to provide a bid that I knew was just so that the prospect could “get extra bids” and have also been the one required to get multiple estimates even though I knew who I was going to hire. It’s very flawed.
I feel you should hire based on your connection to someone and not some idea that 5 estimates equals due diligence. ELance is very frustrating unless you’re at the head of an off-shore labor force. Like you, I gave up on bidding through there. It’s a crap shoot and not for those of us who value relationships with our clients.
This post speaks more to the people who seem to throw out the whole concept because it throws a wrench in their ideal business scenerio. The fact is that designers should not blame crowdsourcing any more than they should blame the designer down the street who got the new client. We should all be evolving our businesses regardless of who our competitor is.
I don’t think crowdsourcing is the ultimate solution and I don’t advocate it for every scenario. I’m not going to crowdsource my roofer or plumber and I don’t crowdsource the projects my clients pay me good money to complete. I just want people to get off the ropes and stop blaming crowdsourcing for the state of the industry because that is a lazy way of thinking.
What I see here is it worked for you. But it didn’t work for all the designers except for one. The question is always asked the wrong way. People attack crowdsourcing by attacking the sourcer. You will get what you pay for. Why do you want cheap etc. But what if the crowd supplies labor and ideas and doesn’t win awards. They stop participating. I stopped participating on ELance for Marketing projects. My proposals always took a few hours just for a basic overview and a price. After winning just 1 in 23 I quit and said I will not participate anymore. What if you crowd sourced your logo and go zero or just one response and you hated it?
No different than when I sold industrial parts. Often we knew an incumbent was keeping a contract. But the customer often Government contractor or Public Corp had to get multiple bids. We would turn down such bids which was a form of crowd sourcing because we knew we wouldn’t win even if we had btter product or price.
I definitely see value in the concept but how it works in real life I see problems with it as a standard operating procedure.