Category Archives: creativity & design

Would You Really Crowdsource Your Brand Design?

art installation by Sophie Cave (2009), Kelvingrove Art Museum, Glasgow Scotland - photo by Trent Strohm

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?”

followed by:

“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

Tell Your Clients To Differentiate


I’ve had a recurring thought of late.

It’s the concept of differentiationOver the past couple weeks the idea has methodically found its way into my daily dose of design evangelism. Design and differentiation in one breath —yes, I feel the two are synonymous, like success and happiness.

In strategy meetings with colleagues and in a few proposals written for clients, lately, I find myself using that very word more and more often. Not as a mild prescription, but like it’s an imperative. Differentiate or die. There it is again. I said it in an email (no, not the ‘or die’ part) then in a Skype call yesterday when talking about what we could do to help one of our clients build their business in the digital space.

It’s always been my mantra to extol the virtues of design —not in the form of frilly add-ons, but perhaps as the one strategic approach you’re probably not using or exploiting to the fullest potential in the context of your overall business and marketing plan. Do you even have a plan?

Tell your clients to think about design as an investment in their future. I do.

Design is one of the best ways to separate one product from the next, certainly when all other variables appear to be equal. And to those who feel compelled to differentiate on price, well, that’s just a cesspool of broken dreams and diminishing returns. Instead, differentiate on design. That’s a more viable path to success and happiness.

Start with the crux of the client’s existence. What’s their story? What gets them out of bed in the morning? Do they have a wish list? What resonates with their audience? Then, invariably, the question surfaces: what’s unique or different about their company, people, products or services?

Many clients will struggle to answer this last question.

Do an audit of existing collateral; find out what’s working and not working; research competitors; find opportunities, understand what threatens to undermine their success.

Help answer the differentiation question.

Next, start the process of differentiating: establish brand and style guidelines, create a roadmap for design, communication standards, and user engagement; build prototypes, mock-ups and concepts that build on these and other inspirational ideas that are relevant to the problems at hand. Iterate, test, sketch, chart and discuss, throw away the crappy ideas, then iterate again (this is what I’m talking about). This approach pays dividends down the road.

Those of us who are keenly aware of the power of design to differentiate also know it can be one of the most elusive tactics to deliver on for our clients. Differentiating something —be it a product, service, brand, or user experience has become one of the most challenging aspects of creating products for the digital economy. I am reminded of the heaps of useless apps vying for our attention in a quick re-read of Chris Cunningham’s spot-on 2009 post for Ad Age.

Just take a look around. Hardware is a prime example, the lack of differentiation in devices is becoming more obvious and, shall we say, monotonous.
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, and television monitors are all beginning to look and function exactly the same. A thin rectangular plane, glass surfaces with radiused edges. The recent patent infringement cases fought between Apple and Samsung only underscore this lack of design differentiation.
Software is also noteworthy. Multi-touch and mobile applications with the same general UX; cookie-cutter Web CMS platforms perpetuating the ‘template mindset’. Don’t get me wrong, things like Web standards and SEO best practices are important considerations, but when everything starts looking and feeling the same, the results are largely forgettable.

Just One Thought

Just one thought for today.

It’s the end of the week and I haven’t the energy to write anything, so I’ll instead share a passage from Liz Danzico’s latest blog post (well worth a read):

Make Practice Spaces
Design is only as meaningful as the way it is communicated. Think not of design reviews and presentations as the only opportunity to talk about your work. Consider every day an opportunity to talk about the thing you believe in. Look at the exchange with your barista, the dog walker, the phone call with your great aunt, the family dinner table all as opportunity to test out your idea in the wild. Life offers a practice space for an idea. Use it to practice live.

(via Bobulate)