Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Odds & Ends from My Media Travels


Found this great article about crowdsourcing by Dan Wood on the Forbes site (of all places). Wood believes the concept of crowdsourcing is seriously misunderstood: “. . . in the minds of millions of people, the word crowdsourcing has created an illusion that there is a crowd that solves problems better than individuals.”
Finally, someone has called out crowdsourcing for what it really is. 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.”
After all the comments my original post ("Too Old to be a Designer?") here and on the Creative Freelancer blog got almost a year ago, others in the media are catching up. In the 3/19 edition of Newsweek, Rebecca Dana writes about the likes of Warren Buffet  and Paul McCartney, who are both refusing to quit working, and cites the same Barclay’s survey about “never-tirees.” And this was from good old Seth the other day:
Baby boomers continue to redefine our culture, because there's just so many of us, we're used to being the center of attention.
Add into that the fact that we're living much longer and careers are becoming more flexible and it's pretty clear that in just about every cultural respect, fifty year olds are living, acting and looking more like thirty year olds every day.
This changes more than personal financial planning. It changes the marketing of every service and product aimed at consumers--and yet most traditional advertisers are stuck in the mindset that thirty is the end of your chance to find a new customer or build a new brand.
Well said, Seth – you rock.


  1. @Laurel:
    Whew. Where to begin...

    I didn't even know those insidious 'contest' design sites had a name. Crowdsourcing, huh? Wow. That name sounds as lousy as the practice is.

    I read every word of the previous posts about this and one thing I still haven't seen clearly (not to say it wasn't there; I just didn't 'get it'): How do we educate, without jargon or sounding haughty or condescending, an unsophisticated potential client? What vocabulary do we use to explain the value of a professionally developed identity package to someone not in-the-know? Instead of mellowing in my not-so-old age, this seems to be bugging me more than ever. Maybe it's because I think of myself as a relative articulate guy, and yet, can't find the words to explain why I'm worth more than a ClipArt ValuPak.

    So is there a magic phrase that will get Joe Business owner to realize that my work is worth more than his secretary can crank out in MSWord?

    Love this blog, btw! It's wonderful to see so many of thoughts and frustrations spelled out by a like-minded person. And a fellow Washingtonian to boot! ;)

  2. FYI - I invited a designer friend to visit here, too. Because, well, because I can. ;)

    1. Tee hee. The more the merrier. I am still firmly of the opinion that the way to get non-designers to see the danger of cheap crowd-sourced "design" is to 1) turn it around and ask if they think it's okay for THEM to be asked to work for free (see the post titled "Crowdsourcing in my face") and 2) educating clients and prospects about the value of what you're really selling them. A logo, for instance, isn't a cute little graphic doodad that decorates a business card. Properly developed, it is a strategic marketing tool that supports the goals of the business or organization it represents. There have been many posts here and in other places that reject the idea of having to explain the worth and value of profesional design. The logic (using the term loosely) is that if a client doesn't understand my worth, they aren't a client worth bothering with. I think that's a mistake, and a really elitist one at that. It is the responsibility of every professional service provider to be able to explain clearly his or her value. We don't get a pass because we're "artists." If we can't explain the value of our services, clients aren't going to fill in the gap.

    2. I saw the excerpt you posted of the comment someone made about not bothering with clients that need to be schooled on our (designer's) value. I wholeheartedly disagreed. I think part of the service we provide, in our capacity as experts, is to educate potential clients. They've already taken the first step by realizing that they need a pro. At that point, the ball's in our court. It's up to us to inform clients, and the world at large (at risk of sounding grandiose), that what we'll provide for a fair price is more than a doodad or glorified clip-art.

      But convincing someone that a Helvetica "A" in a red square is worth $1500 is a challenge. People see what we do and think being able to copy it ("Hey, I could do that!") is the same as creating it.

      It's such a pleasure when someone comes along and is either a) apathetic (I'm not an artist. Just do it.), or b) sophisticated (I realize I need a professional. I trust you!).

  3. I much prefer the latter type of client (they tend to understand better what reasonable fees are), but they are not nearly common enough. I think there would be more of them if design professionals spent more time demonstrating the value of their work in business terms. Prospects need information to become good clients, and most people can't get there on their own.

    1. Yeah, but how do you demonstrate that your $1000 logo is better for their business than a freebie from a DeVry student? Or a brochure cranked out by their secretary?

      That's the quandary I always seem to face. "Yeah, but ah kin git mah girl t'do it for free?" (I'm exaggerating the accent for effect. lol)

    2. That question has a REALLY long answer. I’ve been hacking away at it for 30 years. I will try to do a relatively brief summary.

      When people look at a logo, what they see is a little graphic symbol that doesn’t seem to have much to it, and they think that’s the whole thing that they're buying. What clients need to know is that logos and other forms of design are really tools that support business goals. McDonald’s arches is an example. Logos don’t get much simpler. Yet that logo is insanely valuable because of the reaction it evokes. No one can look at that logo and not have a whole host of ideas, images and associations pop up in their heads. That is partly due to the logo’s having been plastered all over the place for the last 50 years, but it’s also because it is a simple, elegant symbol that is recognizable and communicates in 2 seconds. Elaborate images can’t do that.

      A successful logo is “read” and understood instantly (what one of my clients once called the “boink” factor). When a business has a recognizable logo that is deployed in the right ways, it becomes familiar and reinforces the messages of the business it represents.

      What it boils down to is, clients have to know what they’re really buying and it’s up to us to tell them. There are many aspects to communicating this and many ways to do it. The important thing is make sure your explanation relates to your audience (use analogies), and to look at it as an opportunity to demonstrate your credibility as a communicator. When you boil down what designers really do, it’s not at all about art. We are supposed to combine words and pictures in ways that will inspire our clients’ customers to behave in ways that benefit our clients. That usually means “Buy my stuff,” or my services or my mission or my agenda or at least vote for me. We are essentially behavioral psychologists.

      When I explain this to clients, they usually get it. People appreciate clear explanations and being treated as intelligent beings. It is hard not to get frustrated when you have a dolt on your hands, but know that the people who should be your clients will get it and will be grateful for your insights.

    3. Just to let you know, I'm here now and about to read your 'relatively brief summary'. ;-)

    4. That was extremely well said, ma'am.

      One thing that's been a bit of double-edged sword is the online aspect of our business these days. It's more and more difficult to get face-time with a client, which I imagine is the best way to communicate what we do and what it means to them (the client).

      I love the idea of being able to work for a more diverse group of people who can be virtually anywhere. That works great for established clients, people who know you already and don't necessarily care if you move from Austin to Seattle because they're still in Chicago. But I actually enjoy getting a little gussied up and addressing a panel of 4 or 5 people in a conference room and trying to explain to them what they should pay me to do for them.

      The next opportunity that presents itself, I will probably tell them what you just told me verbatim. People do liked to be talked up to (as opposed to down to) and they're more likely to buy into what you're saying if you include them in a group of smart people. I don't know if I'm saying that as clearly as I could, but hopefully you get the gist. Crudely put, it's kinda like, "I know you're all intelligent people, and you'll agree with me when I say, yada, yada, yada...". That kinda thing.


      Talking with you has been immensely helpful. I'm on the verge of launching my own website (finally) and, in anticipation of all the work that's going to come flooding in (winks self-deprecatingly), I feel like talking to you has sort of stoked my coals. I'm more jazzed now about this whole biz we've chosen than I've been in a while.