Monday, August 8, 2011

Crowdsourcing Redux

Thanks to all who commented on last week’s post about my excellent crowdsourcing adventure. The majority of you thought my response to my client was right on, but there was a vocal minority who seemed to think the issue was about me being allergic to competition, and a couple saw fit to lecture about the free market. Such as Anonymous: 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. “
Sigh. Another person who doesn’t get the difference between price and value. If the highest expression of the free market was price, we’d all be living in refrigerator boxes. The most insidious aspect of crowdsourcing design is the assumption that all little graphic doodads are created equal, especially in their ability to support clients’ businesses and help them become successful.
It is not the responsibility of clients (or crowdsourcing sites, for that matter) to somehow magically know the true value of design. Crowdsourcing has been able to make inroads because we as a profession have not done an adequate job of making our value clear. Rants about how “unfair” logo mills are only underscores what can present as an entitlement attitude: “I’m a great designer so you owe me (respect, awe, a job, lots of money, etc.).”
As a business person, I have to say that if someone tried to sell me software using that rationale, they’d be shown the door. If I’m going to spend several thousand dollars on something for my business, I need some assurance that this investment is going to pay off. The beauty of the free market is choice, and if I want to be chosen, I have to respect my clients’ choices by explaining why they should hire me.
A responder named Vitaminizer said, “A good client knows the value design brings to business, appreciates good design, knows the price . . . 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.” (My bold.) So Vitaminizer, tell me this: since clients start out knowing as much about design as you might know about quantum physics, where will they learn all that stuff? And if they don’t know it, how can we successfully market to them? What basis do they have to understand our value to them?
I think that for designers, client education and marketing design have to be synonymous. As Marcelo Alvarez Bravo commented, “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.”  I would add that in addition to those two aspects, it also has to do with the disinclination of many designers to bother explaining their worth. We need to get over ourselves.
Crowdsourcing has made inroads into the design profession partly because we let it. The push-back has to include the ability to explain clearly (and with no jargon) what design brings to the success of any organization. And no one is going to do that for us.
PS to Anonymous in Joplin:  You are perfectly right, and your dilemma is a sad one. Some version of it will happen to most of us soon, if it hasn’t already. I had my own scares in July. One of the responders seemed to have a partial solution.  Shewchuk said, “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 . . .” So Shewchuk, can you share the links to those sites? They don’t sound like they crowdsource if they are picky about to whom they assign work.


  1. Well said. Keep the dialogue going. It matters!


  2. You're completely right, though there doesn't seem to be a great answer. I've often said that we should have an education forum for clients so that they can understand what goes into our profession—so that they can assign a value to what we do. But, that's like asking someone to stand in on a surgery so as to determine it's worth. On the other hand, I've also wished, on more than one occasion, that designers should be certified in order to practice professionally. But, how do you integrate that now? Unless there was a true incentive and drive to become certified, through testing or schooling, we'd still have 'people with the software.'

    What IS the best way to educate, create value in client terms and be successful? (especially with what I like to call internal competition, crowdsourcing etc).

  3. There are clients who truly understand the value of great design. They've learned on the job working with designers and other creative professionals. Unfortunately, there are less and less of these well-trained and sophisticated clients whose job description usually includes the word "marketing". These are the ones who Vitaminizer is probably referring to.

    Then there's the client who's maybe a small business owner or an entrepreneur. What fun it is to work with them when they're closely invested in the collaboration. On the flip side, they may have no experience with buying design. So you are exactly right. It is up to the design community to educate them. Easier said than done.

    How would you like to help us do that in your blog? You make me laugh at the crappy side of the business and I expect you'll come up with some great lines for us to use.

  4. Okay, folks! I'll start in on that next week. I live and work in a very small market area, and many of my clients have never bought design. They often just have some vague idea that they need an ad or a brochure or whatever that says something about their business to whoever might be interested. We're talking the Ground Zero of marketing awareness here. Since I don't consider ignorance a punishable offense, and because I want to keep working, I have come up with ways to find out what they need and then explain it in simple (but not patronizing) terms. So tune in next Monday (I hope) and I'll describe my approach.

  5. Great rebuttal and continuation of an important topic. I look forward to your next post that you mentioned in the comment, about working with ignorant clients. I also am based in a very small community, so I think it would be a helpful read.

  6. Thank you Laurel for this great post, and all your next ones you will post on this topic, you are the great voice for self-respectful designers that have often more than hard time or are even tired, to try to deal with some "client".

    Crowdsourcing site have for most of them some "inhouse" designers in order to managed the designer community, they even launch fake competition to keep designers active. Marketing agencies are starting to deal with those platforms due to time constrains combined with budget ones.
    They have created the "Fast-food design" like, which bring clients in a total confusion on what they are about to order. The terms design, logotypes, brands and all related terms should be deleted from those platform the very same as the term restaurant should not be connected anymore with Fast-food chains.

  7. Thanks, Olivier! Just a heads up - I just put up this week's post about educating clients who have little or no experience in buying design. I think this is a good way to show the difference between using a crowdsourcing site and buying the real thing. The main point is to demonstrate the difference between price and value. The most expensive design is the one that doesn't work.

  8. Thanks for keeping this conversation going, Laura. I have shared your first segment many times over. I think (and hope) most clients will see the value in what they pay for beyond the initial design in the form of account services, attitude, project management and consistency in additional promotional extensions and applications. They certainly can't get any/all this with crowdsourcing contractors.

  9. Thanks Mr./Ms Anonymous! The beat goes on in this week's post - click on the banner and give it a read.