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.
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.