What is crowdsourcing?
“Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline. The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific body, such as paid employees.” – Wikipedia
So, what’s wrong with that?
In theory, crowdsourcing sounds pretty good for a client. You have a brief, you put it up online, and you return later to find a whole bunch of concepts in your inbox – and only pay your nominated fee. But it’s not quite that simple.
Crowdsourcing hurts designers and the design industry. The core premise behind crowdsourcing is that clients can get their design work completed on the cheap. Ultimately, this involves a myriad of designers doing work on spec (i.e.: for no pay), and only the designer whose work is selected ends up being paid. In the marketing material for a leading design crowdsourcing site, they offer clients the opportunity to hold a “design contest” to get designs “at a fraction of the price” to “spend less and get more” – implicit in this is that designers must scramble to get less and give more.
When you order a meal, you don’t order five and only pay for the best one. No-one should have to work for free or enter a “contest” just to get paid for work they have already completed – plumbers don’t do it, shops don’t just let you walk in and take merchandise, so why should design be any different?
There is no reason that you should get free or cheap ideas or designs just because you are “floating an idea” or a “startup” and there is no excuse for not paying someone for the work they do. Just like you, our jobs are our livelihood; it’s what we do to put food on the table. Crowdsourcing is tantamount to exploitation and it’s audacious to suggest that there is any legitimacy in the practice.
Graphic design is a skilled occupation and as such it is a service that should be paid for. Crowdsourcing is in many ways similar to free pitching, a practice that is frowned upon in the design industry. The AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Association) code of ethics “discourages members from predatory pricing practices such as free pitching, loss leading and other pricing below break-even. Members should be aware that such practices will damage the economic viability of their business.”
Additionally, AGDA stress that they are “unequivocally opposed to the unfair manipulation of designers with the aim of garnering unpaid work.” In a creative industry, ideas are our business and there is potential for crowdsourcing (and free pitching) to be misused as a means of a client accessing a multitude of ideas for minimal or no spend.
There are downsides for clients too. When you use a studio or freelance designer, a key determiner in getting a good outcome for your business is in the collaboration between client and designer. Effective design achieves results via research, concept development, design and refinement. The whole process requires your designer to have an intimate understanding of your business and its needs; this can only be achieved through a strong relationship with you, the client. Users on crowdsourcing sites are not given the opportunity nor the budget to get to know you or your business, and as such you get what you pay for.
Additionally, when joining forces with a flesh and blood designer, you are able to verify their skills and qualifications. Online, you have no way of telling who anyone really is or to ensure the work they upload is their own. Is it worth risking that the ‘unique’ design created for your business could be plastered all over another brand’s building, collateral and website?
Crowdsourcing devalues what we do – design is not simply a logo or a brochure, it’s the bespoke result of an involved process of hard work and informed research. Clients using crowdsourcing for their design demonstrate a lack of respect for and understanding of the design process, designers and our industry. Designers also ought to consider the ramifications of using these sites to earn a bit of cash on the side; it makes them complicit in perpetuating the idea that design is not a valuable service and encourages clients to seek out these services in favour of paying appropriate rates for design work.