Monday, August 1, 2011

Crowdsourcing in My Face

I recently had an experience that brought home the crowdsourcing nightmare currently infecting the design world. For those unfamiliar with this plague, crowdsourcing design is where you go to a site advertising logos or web sites for ridiculously low prices by setting up a “bidding” or “contest” situation. It’s the latest form of working on spec, something no self-respecting designer does. A client who had hired me to create a logo stumbled on a crowdsourcing site and sent a very unhappy email. I have been asked to share the experience on my blog. It’s going to be long - sorry. Here's a shortened version of the initial email, abridged to protect the client’s privacy:
Sorry that I haven't gotten back to you sooner. I'm in quite the conundrum over this and have been trying to settle on a solution . . . Within a few weeks after we began the logo process, I stumbled upon (crowdsourcing site) and thought it a great opportunity to give (another) logo a whirl to see what they came up with. I guaranteed the contest, wrote the creative brief and within one week received 47 logo designs based upon my brief, ten of which were so great that it made it nearly impossible to pick the best! For $200, I received a package of 17 different variations on the design I selected in every conceivable format. During the contest, they contacted me to talk about my product and I asked them how they were making a living at these prices, given what I was paying for the [original that LBD did) logo. The exec told me that for $2500 in this economy, I should have received both companies’ logos, all their marketing materials, plus two fully designed separate websites which included blogs, a shopping cart and SEO optimization. In fact, in the end they did end up doing all of this but the [original LBD] logo for $1800 and I am thrilled with their work and attention to my needs and damn it, why didn't I know this before?
So I am going to sit down and sort this out over the weekend . . . Once I do, I will send you the remaining balance of what I owe you. I made a commitment to you and intend to follow it through, but had this been my business, damn, I clearly would want to know this was happening.
- The client
Here is my response:
I am very sorry about your dissatisfaction with our work on your (original) logo. Because of your experience with (crowdsourcing site), you sound as though you feel that you paid too much for it.
(Crowdsourcing site) is a design crowdsourcing site, of which there are many. They broker hundreds of design projects and their process is fairly typical. Customers post projects and designers bid on them. Usually (but not always) the lowest price wins.
They make money by treating the profession of design as a commodity. It’s a volume game – if they post enough jobs, the little they make from each one adds up. This is possible because the designers who created your other 46 designs and whose work wasn’t chosen received nothing for their efforts. That happens far more often than getting an award . . . and is why crowdsourcing is considered by many to be exploitative.
A consequence of crowdsourcing is that quality suffers, not only in the final logo but in the thought that goes into it. If a designer’s odds of making any money is fairly low, there is little incentive to put much craft and originality into the entries. It becomes a numbers game for the designer, too – many keep folders of different kinds of logos and use them repeatedly, changing small aspects to refresh the work. Some users will even scrape design content from the web, change a color or a font, and put it up as an entry. There have been an increasing number of copyright infringements due to logos from crowdsourcing sites that were knock-offs of other people’s logos. (Crowdsourcing site), in their Terms and Conditions, makes it very clear that they have no responsibility for that occurrence: (3. ORIGINAL DESIGNS AND INFRINGEMENT ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS. (Crowdsourcing site) is not responsible for the Content of any Design and has no obligation to screen, edit or review Designs for patent, trademark, service or copyright infringement.
So if someone claims that your design work infringes on theirs, you are on your own, even though (crowdsourcing site) makes a big point of saying that they require their designers to guarantee that their work is original. They have no means of ensuring compliance other than to ban an offending designer from their site.
It also happens that many of the designer participants are from countries like Pakistan and Romania. In those economies, $100 is big money, if they are lucky enough to win, and therefore more of an incentive to take the chance of ending up with nothing. There are good designers in those countries just as anywhere, but their cost of living is a lot lower than here. The reality is that globalization has come to the professions. This isn’t just happening to designers – it is also happening to attorneys, psychologists, and various healthcare providers.
For example: suppose I consulted with you on a medical issue, got some good advice, and then stumbled onto the same advice at webmd.com. I might feel as frustrated as you are now – why did I pay all that money? Here’s why: you spent many years acquiring your degree and decades of experience in delivering quality professional services (as did I). When I get counseling from you, I am working with a known quantity focused solely on me, who brings all her education and experience to bear on my problem. I am dealing with a person who is completely accountable for her work, and the fact that I could have dug up the information on the web is irrelevant. I could just as easily have dug up wrong information, but how would I know?
The other reality is, when any service becomes commoditized, standards inevitably diminish. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the top professional organization for designers, posts their stance on crowdsourcing here.
(Client:) The exec told me that for $2500 in this economy, I should have received both companies’ logos, all their marketing materials, plus two fully designed separate websites which included blogs, a shopping cart and SEO optimization.
That sounds a bit self-serving. You would not get those prices from an experienced independent professional, but you would from another crowdsourcing site. If you want to check that out, here is the FAQ page for David Airey, a well-known logo designer. See #1 for his prices.  And here are some other crowdsourcing sites so you can compare your price from (crowdsourcing site): 99designsdesigncrowd, the logo factory.
(Client:) In fact, in the end they did end up doing all of this . . . for $1800 and I am thrilled with their work and attention to my needs and damn it, why didn't I know this before?
Apparently up to now you were unaware of crowdsourcing. If you are thrilled with their work, then it was a good experience for you.
You will need to be the final arbiter of what logo you use, based on your own criteria, preferences and business goals. It is not possible to create a logo that everyone likes, so the most important judge of your logo is you. The one I designed for you is very good and completely unique to the business. We both put a lot of effort and thought into it. You own all rights, you have a complete set of files and you have no copyright fears. The only way you might see it elsewhere is if someone steals the image off the web. It was created using a thorough and professional process, and I believe it will add considerable value to your business.
I appreciate your frankness and I am sorry that you are not happy. I hope I have given you some useful information. I appreciate your integrity in keeping your commitment. Please let me know what you decide to do over the weekend.
Regards, Laurel
Whew! I sent it off with little hope of a happy outcome. Her response, however, was excellent – she got it! An excerpt: “. . . What I find interesting in reading these articles you were so kind to take the time to send is EXACTLY what we are fighting against in (her) profession, similar to what you pointed out. In this economy, many customers are looking for "value" and (practitioners) are constantly operating from a somewhat losing framework in that information is abundant, and a dime a dozen . . . There are good designers crowd sourcing, I'm sure, and then similar to (her) profession, there are A LOT of bad ones.
It is vital that you know that I love your work and this had nothing to do with your quality or the time we've had together on this project. I really needed a further explanation, as you were gracious enough to give me, for what this crap was all about.
Let's get this project done and out of your hair! Can you invoice me this week? Thanks for taking the time to offer me a short course!
Clearly she is a great client. I am grateful that she gave me the opportunity to tell my side of the story. This has taught me that a good way to push back when crowdsourcing rears its ugly head is to make an analogy with the client’s business. No one likes to have their work devalued and their ability to make a reasonable living degraded. It is also clear that this will continue and that it will affect all the professions. I encourage you to craft your own response for the inevitable time when you, too, will find crowdsourcing in your face.

91 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. good job! People can be so stooopid about paying for design. It's become a real thorn in my side lately, even after 19 years in the business. I have never tried to haggle anything in my life. It is understandable why you would do it at a yardsale or when buying a vehicle or house, but anything else? Every client seems to haggle the price in the beginning and then again AT THE END! WTF is this world coming to? I think I will just start doing this at the dentist office, etc. People don't haggle with the cable company or the phone company, but for some reason, they always think they can get away with nickel & diming a designer.

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  3. Thank you Laurel for sharing this dialogue with the rest of us struggling to fight this monster! I had a client who I was doing a website for, do the same thing to get a logo design, instead of asking me about it. Very clever to use the client's profession as an analogy!

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  4. Phew! What a relief that she got it. Great story (nightmare), thank you for sharing it. The commoditization of our business is definitely making things crazy. I made this little video in hopes of helping to educate people of the value of graphic design. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJg1F9BXRm4

    Great job with your letter and handling it positively!

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  5. Thanks for the comments, folks - I appreciate you reading the post through to the end! And I highly recommend that you check out Jessi's video - it's extremely well done. Thanks for sharing it, Jessi.

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  6. Here's another possible solution to this problem: you can crowd-soure you pricing at http://www.pricingprophets.com

    Its a website where you can ask a crowd, in this case, a panel of global pricing experts, how much you should charge for a product or service, and why.

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  7. A good client knows the value design brings to business, appreciates good design, knows the price, values experience and expertise, etc. It's our job to attract them and work with them. We shouldn't be surprised that there are clients out there who want everything for $5. We also shouldn't waste time explaining that, to put it in a different design context, Old Navy clothes are bad quality. Instead of educating we should spend time marketing our services to businesses that appreciate the value of design. Just sayin'.

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  8. BRILLIANT!! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  9. WOW! Congrats for your answer.

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  10. Thanks so much for your explanation. I have had to go through the same process of explaining why they should pay the already low rate I am giving them for several ideally suited designs after much discussion with them. That personal touch is so important and the results are usually excellent. I also remind them that this is an investment which is going to represent their company for a very long time. The internet has affected so much business -- some ways for the good; in our case, for the worst.

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  11. Well handled, Laurel. Thanks for sharing your experience. Let's also remember that crowdsourcing services can't build a relationship and knowledge of a client, their industry and their business. As with any professional service, the trust, insight and awareness that a designer and client build up over time cannot be replaced by a commoditized, single-project exchange.

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. I've been in this situation just recently with a client who just refused to get it. Since we'd not even begun the project, I refunded her deposit and considered myself lucky to have avoided working with someone who obviously did not value my services.

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  13. Thank you for sharing! I have been in similar situations right when I got out of design school and was so thrilled to have my first "real clients" that I unfortunately let them talk me down, out of ignorance. This article gave me chills, your response is fantastic.

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  14. Fantastic job. I love the way you explained it -- it feels much warmer and friendlier (but still firm and professional) in comparison to the boilerplate text provided by AIGA. So glad to hear that everything worked out.

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  15. Hi Laurel,
    You run a graphic design business, so you are in business. You are a business person. So the first rule of business is to make money. Is this correct?

    Last Tuesday Terry called me and said we needed to produce a 'quick' TV Ad. I thought I could do the creative in a few days, I knew the kind of thing that should work. But I needed an After Effects person. So I spoke to two contacts. One was experienced, 20 years in the business. The other guy said he was too busy but he knew a guy in India who was very fast and would cost pennies. So I thought about it. I called up Mr 20 years and discussed cost. He said he'd been in the business for 20 years and it would cost that much. I told him I could get it for much less. He wouldn't budge. So I thought about the job. I thought about where the bang needed to be and I thought about making $1500. So I called the guy in India. I have made a load of money and made sure the creative sold off the TV.

    If you believe you can make people money you will be rewarded. Will your logo make your client thousands and thousands of dollars. No. The world has turned. You cannot make money doing logos and letter heads. You can get a logo and letter head for pennies. Do something no one else can do.

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  16. Thanks for sharing this. It was really a good read and good info. I like the analogy that you used. I will surly keep that in mind.

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  17. Great outcome! you were really professional and your client was unaware of this terrible sites that are killing our profession. Well done!!!!

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  18. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  19. Excellent piece, Laurel. Thanks for sharing it.

    I'm a copywriter, and several of my clients have turned to 99designs when developing their visual materials. Your eloquently reasoned argument has given me the ammunition I need to more effectively discourage them from trying to piece together a coherent visual identity using a crowdsourcing platform.

    Until now, we writers didn't have to worry about the effects of crowdsourcing on our profession, but I sense that we're next on the chopping block. A new website called contentspree.com, where writers can enter "contests" to win jobs, is scheduled to launch this summer, and I'm sure this is just the beginning. I'll be marshalling your arguments in my own defense soon…

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  20. Crowdsourcing is the purest form of Capitlaism.

    I have used it several times - with AWESOME results. There is a risk/reward model associated with it, you put up a higher reward, people take higher risks for their time and creativity to secure the award funds.

    In the end the best design(s) win. And the non-winners have an opportunity to reflect on that experience and make changes if necessary to learn and grow into something better the next time around.

    The process evolves... the more the interactivity and rewards - the better the result.

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  21. Bravo! I am a graphic artist and adjunct at my local university, and this subject has reared its heinous head several times lately in both arenas.

    I began teaching because I was tired of having to justify my every penny to many of the small businesses I work for out here in Ohio. Several of the encounters went about like this:

    "Li, I need to cut costs again, so I can't use you for my logo, I found this great site..."

    Later...

    "Li, could you help me with this logo I got, its not looking good in black and white" (I quote my LOW hourly rate) "OMG! that's way too expensive for me, I will do it myself!"

    Later...

    "LI, I did something HORRIBLE to that logo!!!! I just don't know what to do! And now my website is all *&^*ed-up OMG Please help" (This is an actual quote from an email...)

    Later

    (After I agree to fix it) "Ok, but don't take too long"

    Me: "Arghhhh!"

    Design is changing and the easy availability of graphics programs has created the illusion that "anyone with a computer" can do what we do. Not so, but if you have any whinny clients holding this notion, feel free to send them to my Adobe Illustrator 101 class in Lovely Akron, Ohio! Several of my Whiners have become devoted clients after a semester in the trenches. (and then there are the cases where their whining was the delightful harbinger of a change... one is now at KSU doing her design degree after a midlife reinvention of self, and another is well on his way to finishing his Computer Animation degree at Full Sail!)

    Again Thanks for your inspiring post!
    Li

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  22. You could just be the middle man and get your client's work crowd sourced for less than you charge. Stick it to 'em.

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  23. As one point of clarification:
    A site where you post up a project and people submit bids has nothing to do with Crowdsourcing.

    More info on crowdsourcing here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing .

    I never understood how sites like 99Designs or CrowdSpring relate to crowdsourcing, despite how they are promoted.

    As a business owner, I have used a couple "design contest" sites for logos and illustrations. I find it a great--and cost effective--way to iterate quickly over a bunch of different "brainstorms" of the project.

    Once the project is done, I often go to a "one-on-one" designer to turn those asset into business cards, T-shirts, flyers, and other promotional materials.

    The balance has worked out great for my business.

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  24. Very informative and helpful post!! Ammunition needed when faced with uneducated clients who think logos can just appear out of thin air, no thanks to these crowdsourcing sites.

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  25. I dont see how you are going to guarantee copyright disputes either. If you design a logo and it happens to look like someone else's, even by accident- there's very little as the agency/designer that you can do either, I mean besides getting sued as well. So I don't see that point as "mark it in the advantage column". The only real difference is you are not entirely anonymous and less likely to copy existing work intentionally. But even if you did, the client still has little recourse about it once the damage is done.

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  26. Hi Laurel,
    Thanks for an excellent article. While reading this I thought of another point about crowdsourcing. Designers participating in this type of work especially the logo designs, know nothing about the company they're designing for. They don't do the proper research with the client in order to come up with a solution that will help the client market their work and represent their services. The files I've come across that clients have purchased are unusable for printing. Many of them are raster 4/color at low resolutions and the designer hasn't thought through the possible applications of the art, the logos are very generic.

    So much of our job now is to educate the client, they don't understand the value of working with a designer. They think we just slap things together, we need to teach them that our solutions are thoughtful and that we're using our experience to help them market their company only after we understand their mission and goals. Our time if valuable because of our years of experience, technical knowledge and education. We're not just slapping fonts on a page, we're looking at the whole package including the writing. I think the word designers is sometimes misleading, we are marketing/communication professionals.

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  27. Laurel,
    Excellent letter and great information. Thank you for the time you spent writing this article/letter. I to have designed a logo for a business, only to have them come back to me and say for the agreed upon price ($450) was too high. then they cited 99 Designs and insisted for that price they should get business card letterhead and envelopes also.

    Thought I wanted to keep this client for future work promised, so I bit the bullet and did it. DUH.

    Several months later, they tried to create an ad on their own using the logo and trying to extracting information from the business card. When they couldn't get want they wanted, they called me and wanted me to "FIX IT". When I told them I would have to charge for the ad, they thought I was ripping them off, because obviously I didn't create it properly. Never mine that they were using Word.
    Adios client.

    Janet

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  28. @Jeffry Houser,
    Do you pay for all of the iterations you then take to your "one-on-one" designer for him to refine and use? If not, it would seem that you are stealing intellectual property.

    It is one of the reasons why designers should not participate in a design "contest"—doing spec work for no pay—as you never know if your design that didn't "win" actually ended up as the final product.

    And your "one-on-one" designer should be ashamed of himself if he is taking others' stolen ideas and presenting them as work he has created himself.

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  29. Great response. Heartfelt, yet professional. I have recently had my first experience with a sort of baby sibling of crowdsourcing. A long-time client first asked for my bid on a project I've been doing for the last 6 years, as well as letting me know that they were requesting estimates from two other firms. The following week, I got a call telling me that, in order to make the final decision on who got the job, they would like me to submit "my vision" for the project. I used the AIGA letter as a base for my reply, and have now got some great nuggets from your experience. I also appreciated reading the responses others have posted here.

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  30. I think there's still a lot of clients who recognize the value in good design (and are willing to pay for it). As for the others...well...you get what you pay for. I've known several people to decided to go the crowdsource route who had to post their job more than twice because of issues with the "winning" designs.

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  31. Thanks to all who have taken the time to read my miles-long post and have commented. As you can see, most were positive, but there were a few that raised points that deserve a response:

    @ Gooseberries – In my world, the first rule of business is NOT to make money. The first rule is to be of service and get compensated fairly in accordance with that service. As to whether a logo designed by me will make my client “thousands and thousands of dollars,” your question is lame. Your ad that you referenced didn’t make your client a bunch of money either. It just helped. That’s what good design does – it inspires a client’s audience to make purchasing decisions in the client’s favor. It doesn’t hold a gun to their heads. Using cost as your highest metric of worth is a recipe for mediocrity. Of course, if you don’t care about quality, then crowdsourcing is your friend. Which brings us to Dave . . .

    @ Dave – Like I said to my client, if you are satisfied, then you had a good experience. But your definition of awesome seems to be based on cost, and your definition of quality seems to be based on quantity. When you equate the two, you are on the road to failure, because the purest form of capitalism is not crowdsourcing, but choice. Most people, through education and hard experience, will learn to tell the difference between price and value, and choose the latter. That is what professional designers offer that crowdsourcing sites can’t. Equating price with value is a loser. That being said, it is the job of professionals to be able to explain the value of their services in terms of their clients’ needs. Obviously you have not received an adequate explanation.

    @ Jeffry – As another point of clarification: your next step might be to have a “surgery contest” to remove your appendix. I am sure surgeons globally will be more than happy to low-ball your operation, and possibly get your cost down by not using anesthesia, since everyone knows all you need for surgery is a set of knives and some thread. If you want to understand what the crowdsourcing issue means to the design community, apply it to your own profession. You probably spent years getting educated and experienced, and you probably feel that is worth something. We all feel that way. Globalization has come to all the professions and everyone will have to figure out how to respond.

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  32. Wow. I am very glad you posted this. I think you respectfully provided some great clarification and insight to the business of crowdsourcing. So much so that your client STILL respects you, you KEPT your client AND your paycheck and you convinced your client, completely changing their viewpoint, that crowd-sourcing might not be such a good idea after all. Well done, and I think this provides as a great lesson and insight for all business people as we see this is happening not only in the profession of graphic design. Thank you Laurel and I will definitely be spreading this conversation via FB and wordpress. Thanks again.

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  33. Get behind it, OR get lost!
    http://antispec.com/

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  34. Laurel -
    First, thank you. Your words are thoughtful and carefully written. Second, brilliant responses above. I'm not sure why it's so difficult for people to understand the differences in value between a crowd of uneducated and uninformed designers and a professional, educated and experienced person who has an existence beyond a contest? Sad to say, I think it's all about the dough. The age of the internet has brought a nasty realization that we will & can be satisfied immediately. Be it downloading a song for free, downloading a book in live time, streaming a movie before we even hit play, or sourcing a logo in a matter of minutes. The value of quality is at an all time low. Quality will always be sacrificed when we become greedy and needy. If you can get it for $10 bucks and have a file in 30 minutes, why pay $2500 and wait 2 weeks?

    Also, design has become such a matter of opinion, rather than a matter of professional opinion. As some clients say, "I could do it if I had the software." Somehow we need to educate people as to the education, talent and time it takes to execute a professional concept.

    Keep solving the worlds problems!
    Greta

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  35. Your handling of the situation was first class.
    Thanks for your candor and bringing up this important conversation. Crowdsourcing affects many professions negatively, including those who use their services. It has a history of driving down the quality photography and illustration and the design is vulnerable too.

    It's the rare business-owner who knows the difference between a pretty logo and a strong, strategic logo without coaching from an experienced, professional designer who do the proper research, encourage meaningful collaboration and help the client choose the best logo for their brand.

    In addition the client will receive instruction on and how to use their logo to get the best ROI.

    Logo design is not the same as having a wedding dress made, much less picked off a sales rack. And a logo needs to last a lot longer than one day.

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  36. Well said! Thanks for taking the time to inform and educate your client about design.

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  37. Laurel, thanks for taking the time to share your experience with crowd sourcing. I read it word for word. It is a tremendous challenge for designers to be compared to that. Clients do need to be educated on the topic because they just don't understand until they are faced with it themselves. I also appreciate the links and references you offered.

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  38. You've put it well enough for your client to understand and I'm surprised how you managed to get well onto her side and make her realize and relate with the issue. Plus hey, now she knows. Very well said. Again, good job, Laurel ;)

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  39. loved this - thanks for posting this.

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  40. Your post and the comments that followed made for an interesting read. Your letter to your client was terrific, Laurel, and you are fortunate that it resonated with her.

    I believe that the design profession (and many others) are at great risk of becoming commodities. As such, it's incumbent upon all serious designers to provide services that justify the fees they charge. To do so, I believe we must start with Design Strategy, which not only serves clients best but is also distinct from the way that crowdsourced design is done (with minimal briefs provided by the client and no research conducted by the designers who submit their work).

    Having recently sold the design firm I ran for 26 years, I spoke at the HOW Design Live Conference in Chicago in June on this subject. I am starting to write, blog and speak to both designers and business audiences about Design Strategy and the power of strategic design for business. From what I've observed about the way strategy is practiced -- when it is at all -- there is a considerably range in the ways it's approached. Further, in most cases where designers do employ some or a lot of strategy, it is not explicit and or made visible to their clients, nor is it built into the positioning and marketing messages of many firms. No wonder clients so often do not understand the difference between serious design that's a worthwhile investment in their organization (and that designers are willing to help to evaluate, to measure the outcomes), and what can be had in an on-line contest.

    I'd be happy to continue this conversation. I think we all need to learn from one another and share best practices to be among the firms/practitioners that will thrive as the unstoppable tide of crowdsourcing continues to rise.

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  41. Wow, what a reply! (pause for applause) I am glad to see that the client was able to see pass the thought of crowdsourcing. I will definitely share this experience.

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  42. Well written! I wish all clients were so well informed...Next time someone is annoyed that I charge more then $100 for a logo I am going to send them to your blog post!

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  43. Great article. What I'm seeing in my somewhat rural area is people taking one basic InDesign class, and suddenly they're a designer. Globalization will serve one purpose, soon, everyone's standard of living will drop. /:<

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  44. Well written article and I'm glad everything worked out fine between you and your client. That being said, there are two sides to every story and NOT EVERY creative who participates on a crowdsourcing site is an evil, uneducated, know-nothing. I have a BFA in Graphic Design & Illustration, own a home, and have children that I have to provide for. I don't live in Pakistan or Romania. In fact, I live in Southwest Missouri, near Joplin, where the economy and housing market has also taken its toll. I am now recently unemployed, a few of the design firms we had in town have moved elsewhere, and the few that are still here have downsized or are just hiring interns in order to be more cost efficient. I can't just sell my house to move to a bigger metropolitan area like New York or California to find a job without taking an enormous loss and losing all the equity I have paid in to my house.

    It has never been my intention as a designer to undercut or steal business from another designer but rather I have submitted designs to crowdsourcing sites for extra money to help pay the bills. That means I have a lot of incentive to do great work and I do put a lot of thought and research in to my ideas and designs. I'm not saying crowdsourcing pays my bills, in fact, I haven't even sold any of my designs yet (I sometimes wonder myself what the buyer was thinking when they choose a certain design over mine, but I digress). At least crowdsourcing has given me the opportunity to stay busy while I continue looking for a job and also gives me the possibility of making an income for me and my family. I would love to be able to quit wasting my time on projects that don't get selected but in the meantime, there are no other job opportunities around here aside from working fast food or at WalMart. *sigh

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  45. I really appreciate your well-reasoned approach to your clients as well as some who comment here. It is hard to remember in this day and age that the 'lowest price' is not always the 'best deal'. I love that you said this: "Using cost as your highest metric of worth is a recipe for mediocrity." and I will quote you with attribution of course.

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  46. Although I am for crowdsourcing, I do believe that it is not perfect all the time. There are instances where it can go wrong. A clear example is the Italian Ministry of Interior's new logo which was created by Inarea Ltd. UK designer Roy Smith has a story to tell about this logo at http://crowdsourcing.org/l/2853.

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  47. Anything ill-got is not worth having. You handled this with grace. Thanks for educating yet another client.

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  48. There are many more crowdsourcing platforms out there that vet their community (via portfolio review ) and actually pay the hand-picked crew to participate in a design project that best fits their skill set and talent: The final solutions are guided by creative directors and the winning creative output earns a premium. Crowdsourcing is not going away, in fact it will grow. The communities will be populated with experts (in their particular fields) with varying levels of experience.

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  49. The big problem of the perceived quality and value has to do with the education of
    customers and also the inexperience of the designers to argue
    correctly. This is where it is necessary to have tools that carry the
    conversation from the subjective to the objective, we need tools that measure
    ROI (return on investment), tools which show that deeper processes
    and rigorous generate better results, greater efficiency, higher revenues for
    customer, greater value step for us. A high level of quality and performance is
    something you can measure, test, the numbers are a powerful argument in the eyes of the customer.

    Congratulations on the article.

    Marcelo Alvarez B. / Chile
    http://www.alvarezcastelli.cl/

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  50. "(Crowdsourcing site) is a design crowdsourcing site, of which there are many. They broker hundreds of design projects and their process is fairly typical. Customers post projects and designers bid on them. Usually (but not always) the lowest price wins."

    So you're upset that people who bid lower prices usually (but not always) win the gig? Competitive pricing - imagine that.

    There are designers out there, some just as capable as your kind self, who see design as a business and are willing to treat it as such. Free markets and all that.

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  51. Very well done.... I applaud you for how professional and tactful you were in dealing with this situation.

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  52. wow--this explains why it's so hard to pay studio rent--too bad we can't crowdsource OUR expenses.

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  53. This is a fantastic article! I am truly impressed with how you handled this situation; you must have a degree in diplomacy.

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  54. this is a very good write up and a stark reality too.. we really cannot defend the supermarket of designs which treats designers ill..i really loved the way you handled this.although these sites offer a great learning to the students it is disaster to the professionals. i also experienced such a thing with a client and could not do anything.thanks for the wayout..

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  55. Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments! To keep this from becoming the World’s Longest Thread, I will continue the discussion as this week’s blog post. Just click the banner to get there.

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  56. I am re-posting this on my blog. I deal with many small businesses so this is a real challenge for the ultra budget conscious. Thanks for all of the information. It will add to the conversation.

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  57. Thank you! I once bid on 99designs as a designer and didn't like the experience. I knew that my efforts were worth more and my time better spent searching for an actual client instead of getting picked out of the bunch feeling like I was getting picked to be in the basketball team.

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  58. Thank you. As a book designer I face the competition of people who use Word to create 'books' for publication. Seems the authors are so happy to have their books in print, they do not look at the quality of a professionaly designed product. Sad. It has to not only read well, but look good enough to be picked up and read.

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  59. Well said article, this is must be recommendation to designer who are seeking work. Thanks for your words.

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  60. I teach my graphic design students that they aren't paid to be software monkeys. Their value to a client is to serve as trained aesthetic decisionmakers.

    Crowdsourcing places the responsibility for good aesthetic decisionmaking squarely on the client. It opens the door for the use of cliché graphics (e.g. swooshes and globes) and typefaces we're trained to know and avoid. Clients may be happy with the results of crowdsourced projects, but they risk viewing them through rose-colored glasses.

    At the heart of the matter is the unfortunate mythology that removes the distinction between a designer and a production artist.

    Thanks for your good post.

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  61. @Anonymous said...
    "So you're upset that people who bid lower prices usually (but not always) win the gig? Competitive pricing - imagine that.

    There are designers out there, some just as capable as your kind self, who see design as a business and are willing to treat it as such. Free markets and all that."

    To the above commenter- your response was completely classless.
    She was perfectly gracious in her response and even acknowledged that there are some good designers on the sites. My guess is you are a participant on these sites and that you didn't bother to read the entire article. I also notice that you didn't bother to give us the benefit of your insights or provide any well-thought out rebuttals to what she said.
    Probably just thought you'd dash off a petulant reply while your automatic logo software was grinding away on your latest creation.

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  62. Thanks again to all who commented, especially to Anonymous #3 who stuck up for me :). I posted my own response to Rude Anonymous on last week's blog post. BTW, were all of you aware that Logogarden ripped off the Worldwide Wildlife Fund's logo panda? You can buy it for $69.00 on the LG site! Thanks to The Logo Factory for pointing that out. I guess I'll know that I have arrived as a logo designer when one of my designs gets copied.

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  63. Your analysis of the Crowdsourcing craze is totally spot on. I'll reuse it with your permission and in respect of your intellectual rights ;-)

    We are indeed confronted here with the underbelly of Globalization, and the only solution is to appeal to the clients' ethics and professionalism. As in other field, the only way to survive this is to provide high-end services and not try and compete cost-wise, because you'll always get underbidden. Not easy.

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  64. Great stuff! I just wrote my own blog post regarding the subject and included a link to your article at the end. I hope you don't mind!
    Best Regards,
    Iryna

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  65. But she'll never come back as a client :-(

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  66. Excellent response you gave to your client. I'm an corporate in-house creative and had a design project that was selected by external clients, however, I was recently stunned by my boss who decieded to submit the same job to a crowdsourcing site. How do I responded to that slap in the face?

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  67. I'm lovin' all the comments - thanks, folks! The one above from Anonymous, however, brings up an aspect that I had not considered. I am dumbfounded that an in-house creative department would be passed over for a project in favor of crowdsourcing. WTH??? The whole point of having in-house creatives is for their focus on and deep insight into the strategy and brand of their employer. Anonymous, your boss must have a screw loose if he/she thinks this is a good use of company assets. Isn't your boss supposed to be leveraging the benefits of staff time? I have never been part of an in-house creative team, being a long-time independent, but I think if you read back through the comments on this thread, you will find ample ways to explain to your boss why this is a BAD idea. I'm thinking copyright issues, crappy file construction that you will end up having to fix, poor or no relationship to company strategic goals, etc. Best of luck with it, and I hope you will return and tell us all how it went. Do the rest of you have any advice for Anonymous?

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  68. Excellent response, you kept it professional and relevant rather than let the anger you must have felt come through.

    The ugly repercussions of crowdsourcing are appearing all the time. Whether it's found directly in logo design like the recent logogarden.com scandal (http://www.aiga.org/common/newsletter/source/August2011_Action_Alert.html), or a case of design plagiarism when designing collateral material like what happened last year with the "No Labels" graphics (http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org/?p=1195)

    Crowdsourcing as a concept can have benefits and at it’s best it encourages open-innovation models and collective intelligence. It's a shame that it's been abused to the point of greatly devaluing the role of professional graphic designers and forced them into competition that's created an environment of "how low can you go?" (http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org/?p=1226)

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  69. Great post Laurel, and very professional response. It's refreshing to see that the client was open to being educated, and you kept her as a satisfied client in the end.

    Similar issues of quality and price exist for us photographers now too with everyone able to pick up a D-SLR and some photography tips on the internet, then calling themselves a "professional photographer".

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  70. The doctor example doesn't feel right. The "right" design for a business is an aesthetic choice made by the buyer and its customers, where the "right" diagnosis in medicine can often be a scientific certainty. 100 well trained designers might come out with similar, although still entirely unique, brand identities for the same client. That's the beauty of design and of any creative field - the creative possibilities in the final design are endless.

    That's, unfortunately, also the draw of a design contest site to a small business owner. They're making an aesthetic choice in the end, and irrational as it may seem for the design community, sometimes aesthetic choices face the cold reality of financial capability. Quality correlates (imperfectly) to cost, and sometimes, small businesses are willing to degrade quality to get lower cost and a design isn't. That seems to be a fine choice on both sides - if I were an artist and could afford to only do what I considered to be worthwhile art, I would only do that. I wouldn't frown on the people who couldn't afford my choice.

    I completely agree with @Rochelle above: "I believe that the design profession (and many others) are at great risk of becoming commodities. As such, it's incumbent upon all serious designers to provide services that justify the fees they charge. " "Quality" and "experience" are good selling points, but they don't solve the issues @Rochelle raises.

    Finally, crowdsourcing is a great way for designers like the commenter above who lives near Joplin where the design firms shut down to get work when they don't otherwise have it. It seems like the design community could be supportive of those designers in that life situation while still selling the value of superior service they can provide.

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  71. @SPK - Yes, and everyone is also a designer/copywriter/web developer/nuclear physicist. And now excuse me while I download some great shots from my smartphone :-).

    @Shopsanity - Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I wanted to post an equally thoughtful response, and since it became rather lengthy, I made it this week's post. Please click on the banner to read it.

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  72. Laurel. How incredibly articulate! Well handled, and thank you for sharing.
    Crowdsourcing is a huge problem for our industry that is not going to go away and it will be difficult to educate each and very client. Few understand that we don't just make things look pretty but strive to visually communicate their brand objectives. This means what we do is a 'service' and 'relationship' and not a commodity.
    In Australia we also have to contend with our government giving away laptops with Adobe CS installed to year 7+ high school students.

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  73. Laurel,

    BRAVO!!!! Your explanation was clear, concise and informative and that's why your client responded as she did. I am in the packaging design business and have smaller companies as clients and we explain that packaging design is not decoration. There is a process and method to designing brands. Some get it and some don't because it's all about the bottom line. That's why there is so much crappy packaging on the market.

    Thank you for sharing, it was really quite inspiring.

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  74. Thanks, Robert and Bobavino, for your kind comments. The subject of crowdsourcing continues to be an issue. I found this article yesterday, and it concisely explain why crowdsourcing is a misnomer:
    http://www.forbes.com/2009/09/28/crowdsourcing-enterprise-innovation-technology-cio-network-jargonspy.html

    My favorite snippet came at the end:
    “Karim R. Lakhani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, calls what most people refer to as crowdsourcing "broadcast search." A problem statement is broadcast along with associated incentives, and people with expertise apply their talent to solving the problem. I like the term virtuoso search better. Whatever term we use, let's not call it crowdsourcing and pretend that 10,000 average Joes invent better products than Steve Jobs.”

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  75. This is a great article. You have articulated what we have all felt here so clearly. Fantastic!

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  76. Thanks, Joe!! Glad you found it worthwhile.

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  77. A professionally crafted website logo design is one of the greatest blessings for a company; whether it is big or small. It gives them an identity of their own and makes them different from others.logo design

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  78. Too true. The challenge is to cut past the marketing hoo-hah of the CS sites to engage with the client long enough to point that out. The other task is to demonstrate the functional difference in benefits between what strategic design delivers and what CS products don't.

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  79. Excellent article and response Laurel. I want to point out too that designing logos should be in the best interest of the business, not because the clients favourite colour is green or blue. I posted this article on my facebook status!

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  80. Thanks, Nick! The more I get involved in the CS issues, the more I become convinced that it is hugely important that designers clearly articulate the worth of professional custom design, just as other professional services do. Your remark about how logo design should be in the best interest of the business is one of many points we should be making to clients as well as each other.

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  81. Laurel, I'm so glad I stumbled onto this post. Thank you for articulating the situation beautifully. I hope many more designers (and even more clients) have a chance to read it.

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  82. Thanks for stopping by, Freeassociates! It looks like CS is being taken to the next level - check out this link to the latest activities of LogoGarden:
    http://www.sacbee.com/2011/12/19/4133433/logogarden-closes-2-million-financing.html
    None of the comments are supportive of LG's "business model," and one can only hope that karma lives.

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  83. @Goose berries,
    The first thing in Business is not to make money, but to deal honestly with your fellow man. Am from Africa, but feel sorry and at the same time aggrieved by the kind of outsourcing done out of most of the advanced western economies without understanding the varied implications. Many children and women are exploited in order to enrich corporations. If taking your business elsewhere is based on fair business practices, then that should be acceptable, but that is rarely the case. Your guy in India is probably using pirated software and does not pay his employees (if he has any) on time. Soon, no one will need to earn an honest living, and then no business in that state will make any money.

    @Laurel Black
    I wish I had stumbled on this article earlier, because I was one step away from giving in to crowd sourcing. Such has been my frustration.

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  84. Thanks for commenting, Anonymous from Africa! I am glad you found this post worthwhile, and I appreciate your important points about exploitation in developing countries. I admire your resisting CS even in this economy. Hang in there - people of integrity like yourself win in the end.

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  85. Late comer to this article but I am in awe in how you crafted your response for your client. Job well done!

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    1. Thank you, Dee! And thanks for visiting the Deli!

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  86. Sell to your target demographic. Are your clients looking for the best deal they can get or are they more interested in quality of craftsmanship? Different buyers have different motivations. The clients I target would never trust an amateur to deign their Brand. They want to work with someone that has a track record of creating unique, quality work. Ask yourself... would a leading successful business man check for the best deal they could find on Craigslist for a 2nd hand vehicle? Or would they search for a new Mercedes, Lexus or BMW with custom features?

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  87. Thanks for visiting, Anonymous! You make very good points that speak to my original premise: explain the fallacy of crowdsourcing design using your client's business as an analogy. Most professions are feeling the squeeze of CS in their own markets, and so far I have found none that appreciate it.

    Since CS and globalization are not going away, it is the job of professionals of all kinds to make a clear and compelling case for the benefits we offer that bargain "solutions" cannot. When this is pointed out to a professional client, they get it nearly all of the time.

    Which brings me to the concept of value. Framing the question as a choice between "best deal" and quality is a loser. I recently wrote a post touching on that called "Cheap Design is Expensive." The BEST deal is quality: a quality piece of work that will deliver value to the client over time, not some tossed-off little graphic doodad.

    Since no one is born to knowledge, we have to explain this clearly if we want to keep working. Every time a designer successfully educates a client, it is a win for the whole profession. So hang in there, Anonymous - I believe quality will win in the end.

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  88. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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