When I think of the ideal type of crowdsourcing, I think of jousting—A big championship where the knights of kingdoms get together in competition to win. The winner gets the gold, the recognition of the king, and sometimes the heart of the fair maiden. There was a huge advantage to winning, and it took skill and experience to get there.
The reality is that crowdsourcing today is the same, but now peasants have overrun the competition, do a sloppy job of “minimal” requirements to be part of the competition, and still have a chance of winning. This is especially true if the “peasant” is willing to “joust” for a peasant’s wage.
Knights and nobles in the design community are deeply worried about crowdsourcing websites like 99designs taking over the design business. Kings can post what they need designed, and anyone—including peasants—can create to those needs. With recent events of 99designs getting a $35 million investment, crowdsourcing isn’t going anywhere.
I’m not worried.
Unrest In The Kingdom
Some of you new designers may just be hearing about crowdsourcing. A quick definition from Google:
1. The practice whereby an organization enlists a variety of freelancers, paid or unpaid, to work on a specific task or problem
The concept is similar to outsourcing, but instead of sending your work to an outsourced group to get the job done quickly and cheaply, you let people flock to you with the work done and pick the best one. It’s pretty much a contest or competition to win the job. When you win though, the job has ended, and you get paid.
The concern I keep reading about online is that sites like 99designs are giving the wrong impression to clients about our profession. Designing applies art to a function and makes it purposeful. To get this right takes time, trial-and-error, user testing, options, opinions, revisions, and so on. Crowdsourcing sites condense designing from a profession to just opening Illustrator, making a drawing, and saying, “Ta-da! Your new logo!”
Now, we could point fingers, blame witches for black magic, call mutiny in the kingdom, and place people in shackles for this dishonor. Or we can come to the realization that the problem is not the Kings or the peasants.
It’s Not The Kings’ Fault
Let’s remember that we are not in medieval times, but modern times. Kings are simply clients. Some are big name, but in regards to crowdsourcing most are relatively small. Most of those small clients have limited budgets and just want something simple and sweet for their company. For some clients, the cost is all that matters, and crowdsourcing is a great option for them to stick to their budgets.
These clients, however, do not understand what it takes to do a professional design and what that costs. They may get a cheap deal on a logo, branding, or website design, but the old saying is true: “You get what you pay for.”
As professionals, it’s our job to educate them.
It’s Not The Peasants’ Fault Either
There are really two types of people that design via crowdsourcing: The beginning professional and the easy-money hunter.
The beginning professional is someone new to the design field that attempts to build a portfolio (and cash flow) by taking on crowdsourcing projects. If they learn from other designers (hopefully, outside of the crowdsourcing sites), they can make their own style and make it profitable on these sites. As they grow, they will realize that they have a valuable talent and portfolio, of which they can either find a job doing so with a company or go into freelancing. From there, they can become professionals, and it will show in their work.
The easy-money hunter has their work cut out for them, and for them, crowdsourcing is a double-edged sword. On the one side, they need to participate in several competitions in order to have a chance at winning any. Better odds than the lottery, but far more effort. They can make several designs and not have any single design picked.
If it were myself, I’d get pretty burned out after not making money for a while.
The other side of the sword is that they start to get some money in for working. Easy money, right? Let’s take a look at 99designs headline from their logo design page:
“Get a unique logo design in under a week, from just $295.”
Let’s pick a logo project that is offering that minimum price of $295. If the “designer” can pull off the job in an hour, then they just made $295 per hour. Wonderful!
Now, if a real designer was given a week’s time to do the same project for that price, the numbers start to change. A typical 40-hour week calculates that $295/week to around $7.38 per hour—practically U.S. minimum wage. Let’s say we bump up that wage to $25 per hour instead. That week project for a logo just shot up from $295 to $1,000—more than 3 times the original amount!
Lesson to be learned, easy-money hunters: Unless you’re going to strictly do design work for only an hour or two per project, you’re really shooting yourselves in the foot, especially when it’s not guaranteed income. If you’re really talented, you can be spending that same time charging a lot more for your work and actually gaining more stable income.
Knights Of The Round Networks
While the knights convene at the round tables of online design and social communities discussing their issues with 99designs and other sites, I personally do not think the existence of crowdsourcing will be a problem to them.
As someone who’s been creating interactive content for some time now, but is still relatively new to the online design scene, I should be the most worried out of anyone. I’m not an established designer, I’m not being swooned over for my amazing CSS3 or HTML5 gizmo online, and I didn’t build or design an award-winning, visually appealing iOS/Android app.
But crowdsourcing certainly won’t kill my work, neither the rest of the design industry. The bigger-named clients do understand that they can’t gain the real quality a professionally designed piece gives from a crowdsourced design. The clients that use these services are doing so for one reason only: cost.
The cost and convenience of having a Big Mac at McDonald’s is cheaper and faster than, let’s say, a burger from Chili’s. Of course Chili’s knows this, but they use a portion of their money on advertising—just like most companies that are competing with each other—to remind customers that even though their burgers aren’t as cheap or “fast” as a Big Mac, their burgers will be of a higher quality and worth the extra cost. Then, the consumers can decide for themselves.
Designers who worry about 99design’s impact on their business need to remind their potential clients, and in some cases even past clients, why they are worth the extra cost. Show them your shiny armor, your sword, shield, and trusty steed. Remind your kings: If they go cheap, then that’s how they’ll appear to the commoners.
And for the jousting peasants: let them joust it out with each other! Most of them will either be happy just playing the game or burn out from the exhaustion. Those who are serious about designing will rise up in the ranks, leave the game, and become professionals. They may even make a few trinkets of gold along the way. They need to start somewhere.
Designers have nothing to worry about.
And if you don’t believe me, just ride your horse over to one of those crowdsourcing jousting matches, and see the work they’re doing.
Feel better now, Sir Knight?