Are you thinking of using a crowdsourcing or spec-work platform for your branding or design project? Here’s some food for thought.

Recently, a friend and colleague asked us what our thoughts were on crowdsourcing for design work. For some time now, it has been a very controversial topic in the community for designers and businesses alike. In the end though, the old saying holds true: You get what you pay for.

What is it?
Crowdsourcing is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers,” (Merriam-Webster.com).

What is the appeal?
Websites like 99designs and crowdspring use a crowdsourcing model for design (especially branding), promoting it as the easiest and most affordable way to get professional design results. With such sites, the client will submit a short design brief that outlines their expectations, where they can name a price for the project, typically a few hundred dollars. Anyone can submit a design, and the client will get to choose from the hundreds of entries all vying to win the project. In the end, the client will review all of their options and choose a winner, paying only for that one design. On the surface, this sounds like a great option for the business. So what are the negatives?

Branding is not generic.
Designing a company’s branding is much more than illustrating a quick graphic—that’s just a small part of a larger brand strategy. To properly brand a company, the design team delves into a detailed research process to better understand the company, its personality, its values, its consumer, and its competitive landscape. The team then uses these findings to create an informed design strategy that is authentic and engaging. This process is invaluable to a brand’s livelihood but it does take a lot of time.

The products of crowdsourcing are never built upon strategy and are often created with haste. When you think about it, if a designer has a 1 in 100 shot at earning a few hundred dollars on a website, they are not going to invest the same time and effort into your brand that you would find with an agency. Quantity takes precedent over quality and you end up choosing from a handful of generic and ineffective options.

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Graphic Credit: Logo Design Love

Crowdsource designers are apt to recycle.
How awful would it be to have purchased your shiny new logo, ready to put a new face on your livelihood, just to realize that the design has been ripped off from another source? Plagiarism is just as big of a no-no in branding as in any other product, and can result in lawsuits and hefty fines. Unfortunately it is very common in such spec-work settings where designers are urged to create as many concepts as possible in a short time to better their odds of winning. Using stock illustrations for logo designs is actually so mainstream that Crowdspring chose to address it on their own blog. Not only does this create a lot of common options for the business at hand, but it is very risky and can lead to legal trouble down the road.

A is for effort.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well—You get out what you put in—There is no substitute for hard work—The difference between try and triumph is a little umph. We all know that these sayings are as true as they are popular, so why settle for less with your company’s most valuable asset? In a logo design competition, designers only have a slight chance to earn any money, and thus are less invested in their work, whereas a branding agency’s reputation relies on its capability to create work that delivers results. Why would a designer put their all into a competition where odds are, they are undervalued and unpaid? Furthermore, an agency can provide feedback, revisions, and a lasting relationship with the brands they work with. Spec work design doesn’t offer the capability for feedback, discussion or review, and the final results end up just as impersonal.

In the end, the pitfalls and risks of crowdsourcing outweigh any potential benefit. Design is an investment, which when done with care by an experienced team will have a great return for your business. Choose the best option for the long haul—a valuable brand identity and strategy founded on solid research, originality, relevancy and heart.

August 4, 2013
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