Crowdsourcing: healthy competitions, or unethical contests?

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  • June 17, 2011
Felicity Crouch

Felicity Crouch

Marketing Manager

Crowdsourcing has industry opinion dividedTypically associated with design, crowdsourcing has industry opinion divided; with the perpetrators seeing it as a fast and cheap option; and the majority of designers brandishing the method unethical.

But now it seems the approach is branching out into other areas of the digital industry; challenging agencies and professionals to ‘win’ work. It’s a concept which traditionally splits agencies from clients; but in an increasingly competitive environment, it’s beginning to divide those within the agencies too.

Branded3’s experience:

After recently being asked to partake in some speculative social media work ourselves, we were left questioning whether this would be a violation of our talents; or an excellent opportunity to show off our social media skills.

Propositioned to drive a certain amount of visitors to a company’s site, we would have to put in hours and days of work to even come close to their goal, and at the end of it; we’ve either won ourselves a nice bit of work; or we’ve wasted a huge amount of time marketing a company which wasn’t going to pay us a penny.

Asked whether we agreed with crowdsourcing before this proposal, and we’d have categorically condemned it, labelling it an immoral and corrupt process. But when a huge opportunity from a worldwide brand comes knocking at your door, you find yourself defending the practice, concluding “oh it won’t take long” and “there’s no harm in trying”.

What does crowdsourcing involve?

The crowdsourcing industry within the design profession is flourishing, and whether against the idea or not; it’s the designers that are helping it accelerate. Popular amongst students and struggling designers; crowdsourcing is seen as an opportunity to gain work and build a portfolio.

Helping the industry thrive are sites such as crowdSpring and 99designs, where customers post creative briefs to the site’s community, who then compete to create a design which fits these needs.

So who wins? Well, essentially the only winner is the customer. They receive a logo or website design at a significantly lower cost than if they’d used a professional agency. The designer receives a fractional fee, and the losers receive nothing for their time and effort.

In response to crowdsourcing sites, designers have formed protest groups such as No!Spec to persuade their colleagues to say no to these design contests.

What does crowdsourcing mean for designers?

The silver lining for those who lose out in these design contests, is that they’ve produced work which can be added to a growing portfolio; an essential tool for any budding designer.

It’s also a chance for designers to build upon their skills, and try their hand at a range of techniques to adhere to the various requests of the customer.

However, there is no denying that crowdsourcing is contributing to devaluation of the design profession; with more and more people investing in the affordable graphic design software and declaring themselves professional designers with no training or experience.

Meeting the demands of anyone who offers an opportunity for exposure, these experienced designers often undermine each other, desperate for a chance to get their work in the public eye.

The whole process makes a mockery of the skilled and qualified designers, who have worked to become accomplished experts in their industry, only to be asked to offer their services for free.

So what’s the solution?

It’s no wonder companies see crowdsourcing as financially appealing; they get hundreds – sometimes thousands – of ideas for free, and all for less effort than having to review individual agencies.

So what does the alternative option offer them? In essence, an ethical and high-quality solution. And at a much lower cost than people would believe.

Professional designers will be able to present samples of their work, allowing companies to view the quality of design they can expect to receive, and they can then make a more informed choice when deciding which agency they want to work with.

If money is an issue, this can be discussed with the designer, they’ll be able to work to a budget and confirm from the start what work they can complete within that budget.

The result is a refreshingly simple and focused design process, which produces an exceptional and distinguished design solution which is geared specifically towards the client’s goals and budget.

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