At this year’s SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, dubbed “The Brightest Minds in Emerging Technology,” one panel session in particular got tons of attention.
It was called “Spec Work Is Evil” and it started a firestorm. The topic was crowdsourcing, which most professional graphic
designers call “working on spec.” Meaning delivering a creative
product on speculation, without any guarantee of payment—unless the client chooses to purchase.
Now, whether this is fair to designers or not is a hot topic for
another blog post. But I’ve become curious enough about this whole crowdsourcing thing to try to figure out what it means to you, my small business readers.
What crowdsourcing is—and isn’t
Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call.”
That’s right, an open call. Kind of like an audition. You know, where lots of people perform and only one gets chosen. Picture the Broadway show, A Chorus Line.
Call it an audition, call it a contest. Call it whatever you like.
But it is not a normal relationship with one service provider who is contracted to provide a solution to a problem. It’s a bunch of unknown people, all raising their hands, each one hoping you’ll select them for the job—and the paycheck.
I’m not saying that’s good or bad. Just what it is.
How crowdsourcing works
More and more businesses are going to crowdsourcing websites, especially when they are looking for creative services. Take graphic design, which was the subject of the heated debate at SXSW.
Design-focused crowdsourcing companies, like 99 designs and crowdSPRING, are popping up everywhere. The premise is simple: a business owner or startup needing a logo posts their project, sits back and waits for all the designs to come in, then chooses the one she likes.
99 designs has a $39 registration fee and crowdSPRING charges a 15 percent commission on the price you settle on with the designer. All good.
Okay, let’s pretend you are looking for a new logo. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Crowdsourcing is good
You get at least 25 designs—often scores more—from a diverse and global pool of designers. You might get a headache just going through all of them.
Because you are not stuck with just one designer, you have more of a chance of finding the perfect one for your needs. There’s comfort in numbers, right?
You can name your price. Well, almost.
Businesses typically pay just $200-$350 for a completed logo, sometimes less. For cash-strapped solopreneurs and startups, that’s practically a gift.
You determine the length of the process.
No more designers going on vacation or putting your project on the back burner because they got busy. You choose the time frame you want to work in.
You are in the driver’s seat.
No more getting talked into a cutting edge design by an over-the-top designer who has won lots of awards but doesn’t understand your plainer, more humble image and brand.
Crowdsourcing is bad
You cannot change your mind.
With most of these firms, you are committed once you post your project, unless you do not get enough design submissions (in most cases at least 25). You must choose and pay for one.
You must know something about good design.
You need to know enough to say clearly what it is you need—and what you don’t want. The more specific direction you give to the ”creatives,” the more their submissions will match your interests.
It takes more of your time.
Unless you provide specific and detailed feedback, you’ll be in an infinite loop of mediocrity. While the single designer you contract with is skilled at pulling the right feedback out of you, the responsibility rests with you in crowdsourcing.
Any disputes will slow you down.
Most websites have a dispute resolution policy if for some reason you are unhappy or feel you were treated unfairly. But that process can be a time-eater.
Your logo design process is there for all the world to see.
Your logo is designed step-by-step, in a public forum. If you don’t want the world to see it yet, you may have a problem with that.
It’s your choice
Many of the experts say that crowdsourcing is here to stay. Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang thinks that a new “lower tier” of design needs has emerged—people with blogs, small businesses, etc.—and that crowdsourcing and spec work will meet these new needs. But he also says that, in the end, you get what you pay for.
What about you?
Have you had any experience, with purchasing services through crowdsourcing, or providing them?
How did it go for you?