A Consideration of Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing design has been widely talked about in design communities for a number of years now, with the emergence of “spec. design” companies and websites.

It's a debate that I don't feel will be settled on either side of the spectrum.

So, the question I’m asking is, is there anything to debate, or is it simply a case of recognising crowdsourcing’s place in the world of design, and being at peace with it?

For those who haven't come across the term before, crowdsourcing allows a business (usually a start-up or small privately licensed company) to post a design specification online for the world to “have at it”.

In response, a host of people (some designers, some perhaps not) will submit their design proposals in the hope of being picked out of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of designs as the winner.

If you are lucky enough to win a crowdsourcing contest, you will then (typically) be paid a nominal fee for your work.

A lot of people within the design community frown upon crowdsourcing as a kind of disease within the industry, to be cast aside with the emergence of makemyownwebsite.com’s that are coming to fore.

The fear that it devalues design as a professionalism and discipline that many of us have studied for years to qualify in.

But should we be so quick to judge?

It does of course offer small businesses - with small budgets - cheap productivity.

The collective time spent in creating such a wide array of designs is vast. You couldn’t get that quantity of productivity from one design studio or by holding a few pitches without incurring a considerable fee.

It also offers plenty of choice, though it requires a substantial amount of wading through the mire in order to find the design that you crave, but there’s nothing to say that there’s not the opportunity to find a diamond in the rough.

Crowdsourcing has also, unfortunately, earned itself the name of the 'designers graveyard', as a place where failed designers spend their time.

Let us not forget, though, that one of the most iconic pieces of design in the modern era was crowdsourced.

Jorn Uzton’s design for the Sydney Opera House came from a design competition, with his concept being selected out of hundreds of submissions from architects from over 32 countries.

So crowdsourcing can’t be that bad...

Well, when you step into the realm of fashion, especially luxury, you have to weigh up quality over quantity.

By approaching a design studio with a concentration of experience within a specific sector you’re ensuring a high quality output standard from professionals who truly understand the value of great design, and how to achieve it in a way that's unique to your brand, and your purpose.

By investing in a more intimate working relationship with a dedicated designer you also give them the ability to explore brand guidelines and curate requirements and restraints to work within - there's certainly such a thing as too much choice.

What's more, the nature of great designers is such that they're driven by a desire to constantly challenge themselves and their ability; they won’t just tick the relevant boxes, they'll constantly strive to push the boundaries in order to make something great.

Our understanding of people is at the heart of what we do as designers - people design for people.

You can’t achieve the same level of consideration for the details when crowdsourcing because of the faceless and impersonal nature of the beast.

It reduces the usually highly creative, emotive process to a faceless, extrinsically motivated business function, as competitors submit their ideas only to 'win'.

I feel great design has to come from the heart as well as the head.

Crowdsourcing may offer a design solution that's easy and fast, but how closely can a stranger capture a true representation of you or your brand?

In the end, I feel that there is a place for both crowdsourcing and studio work in the world, so long as the limitations and strengths of each are clearly identified.

Possibly more importantly is the need for brands, retailers and businesses to recognise the place of each in the market and avoid devaluing their products or services by employing quick solutions to complex design problems - especially in an aesthetically driven, highly competitive marketplace.

- Andy the Intern.

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