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What Crowdsourcing Can Teach Designers

Large crowdWe recently won a competitive situation and will provide web site design, a pay-per-click (PPC) Search program, eMarketing and brand messaging for a company run by engineers. The company had originally been referred to us for “a website.” When I asked the client why he chose RainCastle, he said we were more strategic in our approach, viewing the web in the realm of marketing rather than technically, and that we understood how engineers view marketing … or don’t. Generally, he felt confident that we could work with his senior people and successfully guide them through a process. The consultative approach remains viable in the age of social media. 

The other side of the coin is the social media trend of “crowdsourcing” which I’ve been observing this past year with interest. Wikipedia defines Crowdsourcing, for those unfamiliar with the term, as “a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group (crowd) of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).”

I’ve seen logos and brochures crowdsourced for lower fees than I charged as an art student in the early 80’s. And for that work, only one person in the crowd of contributors gets paid. From my perspective, as a trained design professional and owner of a creative business, I view this as more complex than just an example of using technology to devalue the design profession. While believe a logo is a strategic brand asset, strategy is in the eye of the client. Assuming a client is open-minded, it’s my job as a design professional to sell strategic value. If a client decides that a logo or even the name of their company is not of strategic value, then exploiting a wealth of inexpensive talent makes sense for them. The notion of crowdsourcing should remind all design professionals that business is most often the context for design. Those who master it will be the kind of strategic partners that will keep the crowd at bay.

I’d be interested in hearing about your views and experiences and insights with crowdsourcing. I suspect there are other uses of crowdsourcing such as for science, where the notion is collaborative rather than competitive.


Photo from The Moonstone Archive, Flickr