Does crowdsourcing have a place in corporate design?

Does crowdsourcing have a place in corporate design?

What is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing refers to online services that allow companies to invite suppliers to compete for work.  In some instances, the services operate like a competition, inviting suppliers to create and submit speculative work as their entry in the hope of securing a win and a fee.

How does it apply to logo design?

Crowdsourcing is being used for many different business services, including the design of logos, brands and corporate identities.  Dedicated online services allow companies to post a design ‘competition’ for a small fee, which features a short description about what they are looking for and winner’s prize fee.

What are the potential benefits?

  • With the increase of start-ups and small businesses in the UK, it offers entrepreneurs and company owners a cheap and quick means of generating branding options.
  • Some will argue that the competitive element of crowdsourcing can generate great ideas from agencies and designers with spare capacity and looking for extra work. 
  • You’re also pretty much guaranteed to get a lot of options to consider.

What are the potential drawbacks?

  • All the really talented graphic designers and agencies I’ve ever met over the years are always busy, so it could be argued that crowdsourcing only encourages the mediocre ones to compete.  
  • The briefing element appears to be very limited, so little consideration is done in the development of concepts. 
  • Some may also argue that the research, thinking and effort that goes into speculative design work isn’t as thorough as if it is commissioned.

Is there a role for crowdsourcing in corporate design?

I’m sure there is, but I think we just need to be realistic about what we’ll get.  Ultimately, I believe that you get what you pay for, and with something as important as your brand, do you really want a cheap and fast option?  Remember: ‘cheapest’ is not the same as ‘value-for-money’.  Also, if you pay too little for design, are you going to value you it as much as if you’d commissioned the work and paid more?

Speculative vs. paid work

When I set up my first business in 2001 as a marketing consultant, I would meet with prospective clients and then proceed to spend 3-4 days researching and developing a marketing strategy and tactical plan for them.  I did this speculatively with the hope of securing regular retained work to deliver / project manage their promotional activities.  However, the majority of prospective clients I pitched the strategies and plans to didn’t take them any further.  My belief was that despite producing a great plan, the fact that I had provided it for free completely de-valued it and made them skeptical of how well it would work.  After 6 months of this and feeling quite dejected, I decided that at my next new prospect meeting, I would offer to create the marketing strategy but that it would be a chargeable item.  I agreed to cap the budget at 3 days so that the client knew exactly what they were paying for. 

When it came to the crunch of the meeting and the client was interested in having a plan written for them, I nervously broached the subject of payment for the time I would spend developing it.  Without any negotiation, they agreed to the pay and even wrote me a cheque there and then. 

And because they paid for the plan, they perceived much greater value in what I presented and agreed to contract me for a further 12 months to roll it out.

The future?

Over time, it will be interesting to see which of the top brands of tomorrow came from crowdsourcing today.  Or is it that the best brands we see today are standing the test of time because they were designed in a traditional way? 

The value of design

I guess it all boils down to what value you place on good design.  In certain industries, such as construction, there is a lot of speculative work that takes place.  However, the long-term rewards are usually far greater, which perhaps warrants the extra effort in speculative work over a longer period.  Construction companies also tend to have multiple projects running at any one time to spread their risk.  Interestingly, regardless of how much speculative work is done by a construction company, the design element (i.e. the architects) always seem to get commissioned and paid for, whether or not the funding is found and / or planning consent is granted.

My recommendations?

By all means give crowdsourcing a go, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you get.  You’ll probably end up with a lot of choice, but then again is that what you really want?  From my experience, lots of choice can often dilute the whole process and only serve to confuse matters further.

Is less really more?

Quantity can be great, but it can be at the cost of quality.  In contrast, a commissioned professional graphic designer will be much more expensive and only present you with a couple of options, which may seem unfair and you’d expect to see far more options because you’re paying more money.  However, their options will be much more considered and arguably provide a much higher quality representation for your business.  That’s not to say that the commissioned designer has less ideas, they just go through a process to filter out their options and only present 2 or 3 concepts that they feel will work the best for you. 

And after all, that’s what you want, right? – The best brand for your business that will serve you for years and years to come, which ever route you choose.

For more information on branding, read my Top 3 Tips blog.