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Croutsourcing Design

Marketing podcast with crowdSPRING cofounders Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson – click to listen or right click and Save As to download

crowdI know, I know – another goofy made-up word, but hey, it’s Friday so outsourcing design to the crowd became croutsourcing.

The point is that the web has certainly made it much easier to find great design from around the world and on the flip side created an unlimited market for those wishing to sell their design services.

Some smart folks have built businesses around corralling and managing the introduction and design process and made buying and selling graphic design a snap. As with most innovations, these services have their detractors. The most vocal being some in the design community that feel this drives the price of quality design down and cheapens the value of great design. Whether this is true or not, the web has impacted most industries in a similar fashion. The ultimate answer usually comes from the market’s assessment of the greatest value.

The process in croutsourced design is that you describe a project (in the greatest, brand oriented way you can) and designers in your chosen platform’s community compete for your project. In some cases the designers bid on your work, in others they submit designs in an effort to win a set award. Usually, you, the client, get multiple designs and alterations to work with on the way to a finished project.

The true strength, and possibly longevity, of these organizations lies in the professionalism of their design community. The one that keeps the designers the happiest wins.

The latest innovation in the industry is that your design competition can be open to public view if you choose. Some high profile brands have started to look to this model to get a design done in public view as a PR opportunity. Here’s an example of a public logo contest at 99 Designs and here’s a competition at crowdSPRING for a Tony Robbins web site design.

Here’s a run down of some of the croutsourcing design players that I’ve worked with:

LogoWorks – Actually LogoWorks, an HP company, wouldn’t really qualify as crowd driven in the same manner as these other three as they do offer your design project out for a bit of competition, but it’s a closed process with a fixed price.

99Designs – This was one of the first compete for an award players and has done a nice job putting designers and clients together at very affordable prices.

Elance – The first and biggest of the crowd sourcing community. Elance’s model is a bid for project model and certainly not just focused on design.

crowdSPRING – This is one of the newest players, but they seem to be capturing a lot of buzz and some pretty high profile projects. (I interviewed crowdSPRING cofounders Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson for an episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast – click to listen or right click and Save As to download.)

Image credit: maraie

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  • lauraclick

    I'm still not sure what I think about crowdsourced design. I tend to agree with designers that this concept cheapens their work, especially when you see “prizes” of $100 for a logo design. I think this concept can work well for larger brands as the winning designer would have a great item for his/her portfolio, but for smaller clients, I think it's just an attempt to get something designed on the cheap.

    A blog I follow, Just Creative Design, wrote a great post called “Why Logo Design Doesn't Cost $5″ (http://su.pr/1KFZgF). He makes some great points as to why contests and spec work isn't the way to go.

    I agree that there is some potential with some of theses companies. However, I just hope that the expectation is that a good logo or brand can be developed through a $200 contest. I think companies that truly want a well-thought out brand identity or Web site, will partner with a designer or company that will work closely with the client to create something truly memorable.

  • http://www.mariareyesmcdavis.com Maria Reyes-McDavis

    I love this idea of public view crowdsourced design as a PR opportunity. It's a great benefit to the company and the designers and a great way to involve the greater community. Great idea :-)

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Maria – this really could for more than graphic design – imagine doing industrial design of your new widget.

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Laura – I think to some degree that's the old perception, get the $5 logo from someone working in a hut. As this process gets better I've seen tremendous designs at prices that were fair to both parties and relationships for long term work develop as a result. You get what you pay for is true to some degree, but I've also seen design houses charge thousands for work that was no better than the work from a hut.

  • billy565

    Boo. I spent years and money to get an education on the visual transfer of information. I'm in a different league than the yahoo who taught himself Photoshop and calls himself a designer, but these cattle-calls put everyone on the same level to be judged by unqualified cheapskates.

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    What makes you think that there aren't any people in these design communities that spent years and money to get an education on the visual transfer of information – it's just this kind of snob thinking that's given rise to these platforms. I've worked with very talented designers – the trick is that both appreciate and respect the process and what it entails – you don't have to work with cheapskates, there are plenty of folks that value design using these platforms.

  • billy565

    I never said that there weren't quality designers that participate. What I said was that it puts everyone on the same level to be judged by unqualified cheapskates.

    I realize that a broad statement like that can't possibly be accurate for every situation so let me clarify my point: The value of the design is in the process, so putting a low-ball dollar amount on, say, a logo design without factoring in the process will often lead to random, trendy work that gets chosen because the unqualified client liked the particular filter the designer used.

  • http://redcort.com/timeclock Keith DeLong

    I don't think of innovative new ideas 99 Designs is so much crowtsourcing as simply bringing good old fashion competition to an arena that desperately needs some peer review.

    I love the concept of 99 Designs and wish they'd been around when we were getting started. As a software business startup in the 90's, one of our greatest struggles was finding someone who was interested in helping us figure out how we wanted to brand our business and software products. All to often I felt captive to expensive designers with tender egos.

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Keith – I think a lot of people share this view, there may be great designers in their town but it can be hard to find them.

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Okay, maybe I was a bit harsh in my response and I agree this can make the process of sorting tough. And you are so correct that the design process is ultra important. The good news is that you don't really want to work with cheapskates anyway so let them drag the untrained down with them – and by the way I really dig that filter impressionist filter. :)

  • http://www.IndyLeafPickUP.com/ Joe

    I've had some success with Odesk, like elance but for me has simpler interface, and easy way to keep track of what your subcontractor is doing. Made me a little bolder on doing stuff when I felt I was too much of a newbie in technical areas.

  • lauraclick

    Like most things, there's a happy medium. We certainly want to avoid the $5 logo from a designer in a hut. I also agree that paying thousands upon thousands for a simple logo from a design shop is also ridiculous.

    The options you mention are definitely viable for smaller businesses. They can't afford the budgets that big corporations can and they also don't need the same kind of logo, Web site, etc. However, I do agree with Billy that these options may lend itself to uneducated clients picking something that won't serve them well in the long term. However, if they do, I suppose that's their loss. I do think that good designers deserve to be paid fairly for their work. So, as long as that's happening, then this is fine in my book.

    Thanks for the discussion and debate!

  • lauraclick

    Like most things, there's a happy medium. We certainly want to avoid the $5 logo from a designer in a hut. I also agree that paying thousands upon thousands for a simple logo from a design shop is also ridiculous.

    The options you mention are definitely viable for smaller businesses. They can't afford the budgets that big corporations can and they also don't need the same kind of logo, Web site, etc. However, I do agree with Billy that these options can lis option may lend itself to clients picking something

  • billy565

    See, there's the crux of the problem: uneducated clients picking something that ultimately leads to their loss. Sites like this drive down the value of good design—not pretty pictures but well thought out, creative communicating—and make it harder for design professionals to sell honest hours.

    If the attraction is the final bill, then quality will suffer.

  • richardhooker

    Buyer beware. Before you use any crowdsource design resource, you need to school yourself in many of the rudiments of logo design. A well-trained designer knows how to expertly handle issues of type, kerning, color, and the application requirements of a logo, and a Photoshop-trained yahoo does not. I have seen literally dozens of clients use crowdsourced or amateur designers for their logo and ended up with what would later become unusable logos (unkerned type, logo does not fit all applications, color stupidity) and have to redo their logo. Worse, because they're “cheap,” they end up with no or with unusable original artwork (the “designer” simply fobs off a GIF or JPG on them), so they can't make changes or use the logo for signage or print applications. Unless you know what you're doing (you know about kerning, color, use of type, vertical/horizontal requirements, print/ink costs, and how logos have to fit applications from business cards to signage to waybills to Web sites to fax sheets) and you know enough about the process to make sure you receive ALL necessary deliverables for all specified logo applications in the proper final format as well as all original materials, you'll probably end up with a bank account one or two hundred dollars lower and a pretty useless logo taking up storage space on your hard drive. Check out all the people with ads on Craigslist that need their logo “redone” and all they have is a JPEG. A real professional could end up costing you a few hundred dollars more, but, if you choose a designer wisely, they will make sure you are covered. I have a rule for logo designers that I spell out in my book The Startup Bible: One of the first questions a logo designer should ask you is to spell out all the conceivable applications of the logo. If that question never comes up, then say thank you and move on to the next candidate. Finally, most crowdsourcing resources do not allow for the detailed Q&A that's often necessary to really nail down the design/marketing communications requirements and make sure the logo meets those goals and requirements. Sure, you might get a logo that you “like,” but your personal “likes” and “dislikes” are fatal if that's all you have to rely on. These crowdsource folks? They're simply regenerating the same dozen logos over and over again without any attempt to communicate what differentiates you from other companies. That's how even the most amateurish designers can participate in crowdsourcing.

  • billy565

    I couldn't have said it better. Shorter, maybe, but not better.

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Of course you're also leaving no room for the possibility that the marketer or buyer of the design knows far more about what their brand needs than any designer could and simply needs someone to execute.

  • richardhooker

    Ummmm, actually . . . that is exactly what I seem to be saying in my comment: that the marketer or buyer of the design really needs to know what they're doing (in terms of branding and visual identity strategy) because the low-end designer may not (usually does not). Typically, however, most marketers and business owners do not know or understand visual identity (they're not designers) as it relates to their brand objectives . . . beyond, of course, their “likes” and “dislikes.” And few really know or appreciate how the logo design relates to the visual identity of all the applications that are required of it. I would also stress that, in addition, the buyer needs to know objectively good execution from bad execution (beyond their or others' subjective responses) and, more importantly, EXACTLY what needs to be delivered in terms of files, formats, colors, specs, the full range of logo applications, and so on. Or they'll get screwed.

    All I'm saying really is that you can save money on logos (and design) from crowdsourcing and “industrial” shops like this, but to get the BEST product, you need to compensate for those savings with your own legwork, self-training, and sweat.

    You can also hire someone who has read a few books on programming to design an entire ERP software package for you. But you better be pretty good at coding . . .

    But, really, logos and visual identity can be a very distant tenth or twentieth to all other business issues for most ventures. Don't waste your time. Make money. Then hire a pro to redesign your logo when you're rich.

  • EmilyBrackett

    I agree with a lot of what RichardHooker is saying. Yes, the client has the deep understanding of their own brand and position, but they don't have the knowledge of everything that goes into a well-designed brand identity. I wrote a blog post about this. http://www.visiblelogic.com/blog/index.php/2009

    Basically, it's probably what you don't know that you should know, that will be the problem.

  • http://dealzbydesign.com Web Design Lexington

    Actually, these design players are showcasing talents with differing styles from different places. And it is in this regard that price / rate varies. Those offering a $5 price doesn't mean he is a lowly “designer”. It might just be his own way of advertising himself.

  • miguelbuckenmeyer

    Hi John,

    One of the problems with sites like 99designs and crowdspring, in particular, is that they ask designers to work for free — or “bid” in their parlance on very small projects.

    As some comments note, this contest or auction approach works for very large and publicly funded projects where large studios with resources compete for lucrative contracts.

    This model breaks down for freelancers though. It is simply not sustainable for freelancers to earn a living working for these sites. The risk of not winning well outweight the benefits of winning, in my mind.

    Let's say a typical project-contest pays $1,000 and there are 10 submissions from 10 freelancers each having worked 20 hours. One freelancer wins the contest and is paid 1,000 for those 20 hours or $50/hr.

    To begin with, $50 is not a stellar rate, particularly if the freelancer is working less than 100% of the hours available in a given workweek/month/year.

    Second, the chance of losing out on a project in many cases, as in the example, is very large (90% in my example) thus making the expected return (a concept borrowed from on basic finance) only $100 (10% x $1000).

    Thus is this average freelancer devotes 200 hours to 10 different contests, winning 1 contest, then his or her expected return is only $1000, or $5/hour.

    This is a lousy situation for the freelance designer and comes close to exploitation or thinly disguised slavery.

    What this means is that good designers will simply not work under these conditions.

    What's left over are a cohort of designers that either don't think about their work in order to do it more quickly or plagiarize work in order to do it more quickly, and neophytes trying to gain experience. There might also be a number of designers from foreign countries where the exchange rate makes the expected payoff much greater.

    If I am a company and am entrusting my brand to someone, I am not sure that any of these make me feel very confident and the best option seems to be the foreign based designer who has the greater incentive to do good work.

    I recently saw one of these sites boasting that their top earner was a Romanian that had netted all of $25,000. That is probably a handsome salary in Bucharest but will not pay the bills for more than one person in Cleveland.

    In design, as in life, we get what we pay for.

  • miguelbuckenmeyer

    Hi John,

    One of the problems with sites like 99designs and crowdspring, in particular, is that they ask designers to work for free — or “bid” in their parlance on very small projects.

    As some comments note, this contest or auction approach works for very large and publicly funded projects where large studios with resources compete for lucrative contracts.

    This model breaks down for freelancers though. It is simply not sustainable for freelancers to earn a living working for these sites. The risk of not winning well outweight the benefits of winning, in my mind.

    Let's say a typical project-contest pays $1,000 and there are 10 submissions from 10 freelancers each having worked 20 hours. One freelancer wins the contest and is paid 1,000 for those 20 hours or $50/hr.

    To begin with, $50 is not a stellar rate, particularly if the freelancer is working less than 100% of the hours available in a given workweek/month/year.

    Second, the chance of losing out on a project in many cases, as in the example, is very large (90% in my example) thus making the expected return (a concept borrowed from on basic finance) only $100 (10% x $1000).

    Thus is this average freelancer devotes 200 hours to 10 different contests, winning 1 contest, then his or her expected return is only $1000, or $5/hour.

    This is a lousy situation for the freelance designer and comes close to exploitation or thinly disguised slavery.

    What this means is that good designers will simply not work under these conditions.

    What's left over are a cohort of designers that either don't think about their work in order to do it more quickly or plagiarize work in order to do it more quickly, and neophytes trying to gain experience. There might also be a number of designers from foreign countries where the exchange rate makes the expected payoff much greater.

    If I am a company and am entrusting my brand to someone, I am not sure that any of these make me feel very confident and the best option seems to be the foreign based designer who has the greater incentive to do good work.

    I recently saw one of these sites boasting that their top earner was a Romanian that had netted all of $25,000. That is probably a handsome salary in Bucharest but will not pay the bills for more than one person in Cleveland.

    In design, as in life, we get what we pay for.

    http://www.miguelbuckenmeyer.com