Last week, at the Creative Freelancer Conference (save the dates for next year: June 21-22 in Boston), David Oldham, a professor of graphic design at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, led a Breakfast Roundtable on crowdsourcing, a topic that has gotten a lot of attention here on this blog.
David was kind enough to send me a recap of what was discussed. (If anyone else attended a Breakfast Roundtable and wants to send a recap, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post it.)
Who was there
I had 6 people at my Crowd Sourcing round table. One was a student about to graduate. Two were experienced business owners with 5 to 10 years working at their own businesses. One was a young designer/production artist who is considering going out on his own, and me, long time graphics educator.
We started by defining what we considered Crowd Sourcing to be. We decided it can be one or more of these things:
- design projects offered as a competition where almost anyone can be involved.
- a Do It Yourself approach to solving design problems.
- businesses hiring a relative or a friend instead of a design professional to do their design projects.
- businesses that promote crowd sourcing and connect clients with designers via the web.
We wondered why businesses and individuals turn to crowd sourcing and here’s the list:
- it’s cheap. Sometimes free.
- they get a lot of options and a wide variety to choose from.
- it’s good public relations. Often businesses get a lot of attention for the contests they initiate.
We talked about the reasons it has become so popular in recent years.:
- everyone likes to think they’re creative, everyone likes contests, and since these competitions cost nothing to enter, they do.
- the Internet has made it possible to find a wide range of opportunities to compete with the added incentive of pay for the winners.
- professional level graphics software is cheap enough and has become popular with a broad segment of society.
We considered the negative effects that crowd sourcing has on freelancing and the design industry in general. The group offered this:
- prices are low and means working harder for less pay.
- submitted works at the web sites are usually published for all to see during the process of selecting a winner. This opens the opportunity for misappropriation of designs.
- quality of the work is generally low. Often crowd sourced projects, especially logos, have to be repaired by a graphic designer to make them function.
- crowd sourcing gives the impression that design work pays low and requires no special training. It diminishes our industry’s reputation.
- chances of establishing a long term relationship with a client from a crowd source experience are lower since the experience has a one-shot connotation.
We discussed what, if any, positives come to designers who are tempted into the crowd. We mentioned:
- there is the chance that your design will get chosen.
- one gets the opportunity to see the work of lots of others competing on the same project.
- students and newly minted designers like the opportunity to compete and build a portfolio.
- it’s an opportunity to meet someone that you’d otherwise never know about.
I then asked each at the table if they had participated in a crowd sourcing design event. I offered an experience I had early in my career. I entered a contest to design a logo/illustration for a city about to celebrate it’s centennial year. I entered because I needed work for my portfolio and it sounded like something I could enjoy. I didn’t mind that I might not win because I’d have what I wanted even if I didn’t get paid. That was in 1975.
Only one other person at the table had done a crowd sourced project. He’d entered a contest at one of the web sites. He said it was unsatisfying and that he’d probably not do it again.
Another at the table said that he was there because he and his partners were considering starting a new crowd sourcing site! (He later confided that after this round-table he would not recommend it to his partners.)
Another round tabler wondered out loud if a crowd sourcing web site that only allowed high paying customers and established designers might not be a good idea.
Next we discussed the fact that crowd sourcing is something that is not going to go away. CrowdSpring, 99Design, HatchWise, DesignCrowd to name a few are in the business of promoting these competitions and doing very well. For example, 99Design recently raised $35 million in first round funding from Accel Parners, an international investment partnership. Hatchwise claims to have 9,274 members from 90 countries and to have received 377,925 entries in their competitions and to have 90 projects accepting entries at any given time.
Since indications are that crowd sourcing will only get bigger. The question to the table then was; How does it fit into the design freelancing business environment?
We talked a lot about this question with no clear answer but in general I think we decided that it will probably have a net effect of little. The clients that get their work done this way are either not going to succeed and thrive or are not going to be doing much work other than the few assignments they settle this way. Quality clients and long term relationships will probably still be discovered through more traditional, tried and true business methods.
Another question for the table was how will each of us personally respond to crowd sourcing? The answers were mostly that we don’t have time for spec work unless it is something that we really like and could use our expertise. In a crowd sourcing environment it might be satisfying for example to submit designs or to volunteer to fix the chosen design so it works better and looks better in final production.
I gave a recent example from near me. Joplin, Missouri is having a crowd sourcing competition to design a t-shirt to stir support and show solidarity with the tornado recovery effort. That’s a project that a professional designer could work on, if not his/her own original ideas, after the finalists from the crowd have been chosen.
I also mentioned that as a teacher I also try to counter any negative effects of crowd sourcing in the eyes of the public by reminding my students often that they are involved in a highly specialized, intensive learning experience that does require special talents and skills – that it is not something that untrained individuals can do well. I show them that being a graphic designer is a service that the world needs. It is not just cosmetic addition. It is necessary for convenience, efficiency and in lots of cases survival. The world can ill afford to leave it to amateurs.
Hopefully they’ll spread the word.
What about you? How do you think crowd sourcing fit into the design freelancing business environment? How will you (or are you) personally respond to crowd sourcing?