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December 15, 2012

Don’t Be Like Jimmy – Don’t Crowdsource Designs

Gather ‘round and I’ll tell you a story about a man named James; a middle-aged, emotionally bankrupt man who only cares about finding a great deal. James is the owner of a medium-sized business and, if not entirely respected, was at least thought to possess a some aesthetic judgment—he did manage to dress himself every day, after all. One day he found a crowdsourcing design website called 99terribledesigns.com and knew it could save his company a ton of money. Poor James.

His marketing team wanted to re-brand their image so he directed them to run a logo design contest at the crowdsourcing design website he found. He loved the idea that 99terribledesigns.com would sponsor and provide administrative support for a logo design competition between a legion of designers of questionable origin and limited skill for only 250 bucks. The submissions were a dubious lot, but James, who couldn’t tell the difference felt he had gotten the bargain of his life. Imagine, logos galore—and he only had to pay for one of them!

James’s marketing team was horrified by the choices. None of the designers knew anything about their company culture or the demographic they wanted to serve, nor did they particularly care. Many of the designers just flung together a design without really giving it a thought because, let’s be honest, there was a 1 in 50 chance that the work would even be selected. The winning design that James picked fused a hammer, sickle and what appeared to be a fertility doll in an unsavory union. Apparently, James used the term “make it awesome” on the intake form he submitted to describe his dream logo.  Sweet!

James’s new allegiance with crowdsourcing design work was a source of contention for his marketing team. They preferred to work with designers that take the time to understand their company directly. Designers with a high talent level and one-to-one communications.  They wanted to look through their portfolios, check their credentials, and be reasonably certain that they were capable of transforming the company’s ideals into an aesthetically pleasing yet evocative logo. They wanted to convey strength, elegance and cultural diversity. What they most certainly didn’t want was a logo that would make potential clients say in unison, “What the…?”

Crowdsourcing does offer a plethora of designs from a legion of mediocre designers who submit their work knowing that there is a fairly high likelihood that their submission will neither be chosen nor paid for. To some people it might like the perfect method for outsourcing your design work. The term competition and contest conjures up images of healthy and vigorous capitalism. It’s a contest! Open to all!  In your head it’s a pool of designers creating notebooks full of sketches and amazing logo concept work for your company or brand.

Unfortunately, that’s just in your head. Crowdsourcing design work devalues the work of the designers and fails to raise the profile of the companies. Small to medium sized businesses almost always suffer from crowdsourcing, since designers have no idea about the company’s goals and the talent level of designers is usually very “green” to say the least.  Submissions are often of poor quality because the prize stakes are considerably lower, both monetarily and in terms of prestige. And the designers? Designers find themselves in an increasingly economically unstable industry, relegated to entering mostly fruitless contests for a corporate culture that no longer really respects what they do.

So what happened to James? Well, the launch of the new brand image didn’t attract new clients. James lost substantial revenue that quarter, and nursed a team of upset marketing employees that had a grudge against crowdsourced design and fertility dolls for the rest of their life.  Don’t be like James, don’t crowdsource your design work. It’s like playing the lottery, your probably not going to win.

author

by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

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