A couple weeks ago I had an impromptu meeting with a company who approached me through a digital marketing and recruitment agency I’ve been working with here in Toronto for several years now. The company, which will remain confidential for obvious reasons, liked my portfolio and were keen to retain my creative services to help revamp their digital presence.
Normally when I meet with a potential client for the first time I’ll take a step back and look at their existing brand and communication collateral to find out where things stand. In this case I wanted to begin with several fairly routine questions to better understand the overall scope of what they were looking for and also gauge the business objectives on the table that would ultimately influence the creative strategy and design approach undertaken.
But before I could go down this path I was quickly railroaded into 2 rather revealing questions:
“How long is this going to take?”
“How much is this [new Web site] going to cost us?”
Naturally these are legitimate concerns, but when a potential client leads the initial meeting with these 2 questions before discussing anything else it sends mixed messages. Regardless, I was all too happy to frame a few possible scenarios but careful not to throw out any specific numbers at this point. After all, I wanted to know more about the company’s brand, their products, services, history—the usual background information, before delving into specific deliverables.
I managed to steer the conversation back to their brand. I asked about their existing digital and print collateral in circulation. One of the company’s senior stakeholders quickly jumped in and said that they had recently gone through a “rebranding” exercise and that they were ready to start thinking about applying their new and improved logo and brand positioning to specific pieces of marketing collateral. First on their hit list was a complete ground-up redesign of their flagship Web site.
Perfect, I thought, they were on-track with a solid approach.
Then one of the company stakeholders said something that literally stopped me dead in my tracks. He said, rather proudly:
“We had the design of our company logo crowdsourced on that site something-something-dot-something.”
(I can’t remember the URL —it doesn’t really matter).
He went on to say, almost boastfully:
“We received hundreds and hundreds of logo submissions from people in over 150 countries from all around the world, (ehem) and we only paid $$$”
Hearing those words, “we crowdsourced our brand design”, sent a cold chill up my spine. I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be a good fit.
Following our meeting one of the company stakeholders emailed me a copy of their new logoform. My initial reaction, to be perfectly frank …well, let’s just say it’s what you’d expect from a crowdsourcing site: a thoroughly unfocused mediocre solution.
While I can’t speak for other professions, crowdsourcing creative services completely undermines one of the basic tenets that drive our field forward: relationship building.
You see, in a typical crowdsourced project the client / designer relationship is basically nonexistent. There’s no sense of collaboration or trust and the process itself is reduced down to a contest —a contest in which participants compete to win the project with no real guarantee of compensation for their submitted creative work.
The traditional advertising pitch process on the other hand is very different. Usually a limited number of agencies (typically 3 or 4 at most) are invited to pitch ideas and there’s almost certainly a level of rapport established between client and agency before the pitch process begins.
Crowdsourcing sites by contrast can involve an infinite number of participants and, comparatively speaking, deal with miniscule budgets with very little—if any—chance for ongoing or follow-up work.
I recently came across an excellent post written by James Archer on this very topic. In Crowdsourcing your brand design: the math just doesn’t work out Archer points out that companies who use crowdsourcing resources for their branding and design are only getting a fraction of what they’re paying for —usually generic, or worse, plagiarized work from hordes of strangers with questionable motivations and credentials.
Archer uses the example of a $1000 logo design contest in which a company might receive on average 100+ logo variations from different designers. The designers submitting concepts almost certainly know they have a 1-in-100 chance of getting that $1,000. With that in mind the effort put forth will be fairly consistent with the odds: about 12 minutes of effort.
Contrast this approach with the same $1000 commissioned to an individual or small design team who will gladly focus 20+ hours of their creative problem solving abilities on research, ideation and concept development and the results start to look very different. This is where the real investment in design and creative thinking deliver the best possible results.
There really are no shortcuts.
Crowdsourcing Web sites are, to say the very least, a colossal waste of time for everyone involved and only lead to mediocre design solutions.
Image source: Trent Strohm