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The U.S. Department of the
Interior’s use of crowdsourcing to design a wearable logo, reflecting the
organization’s range of activities, is simply the most recent highly
visible example of a practice that we can expect to see more and more often.
While those against crowdsourcing believe it undermines the value designers can
provide a client through a thoughtful engagement, those who embrace it consider
it an effective new marketplace.
To sway the crowdsourcing
supporters is, to some extent, a communications challenge. Given the dynamics
of the internet's impact on markets, designers should articulate their concern
with crowdsourcing design, not
crowdsourcing in general; they must help potential clients understand that
purchasing a design for the lowest possible price is not the same as retaining
design services; and they must be able to convey the value of design services
as a process and consulting relationship.
Reacting strongly with righteous indignation only allows the firms or agencies using crowdsourcing to dismiss them as a reactionary force, with little understanding of innovative ways for harnessing creativity.
The crowdsourcing phenomenon, as we
all know, stems from a movement toward collective innovation and creation of
content—the easy and successful use of the internet to tap into the public for
all kinds of goods and services, such as online auctions, citizen news
reporting and royalty-free imagery—and the desire from both corporations and
government agencies to interact with their audiences as well as to cut costs.
All crowdsourcing is not inherently
bad. But it compromises the value designers can provide their clients through a
problem solving relationship. Our position on it is similar to our position on spec work, but
neither is doctrinaire, as both practices will evolve and so will our stances,
accordingly. The most critical issue for AIGA is to educate potential clients on
the value of designing, designers and design.
AIGA wrote to the Secretary of the
Interior in response to the government’s solicitation,
articulating that developing an identity and a brand is an activity that
benefits from expert advice and consultation between a designer and a client,
drawing on skills, expertise, experience, knowledge and creative talent.
designers—individually and as a community—must continue to communicate the worth of investing in design services, always offering a sense of the value
created for the client from hiring a qualified professional designer, and by
explaining that the client is the one who loses out with crowdsourcing or spec
competitions. The argument must be based on the contribution of a designer working
with the client to solve the client’s problem, and not on the solicitation
process the client uses. Of course, there will always be cases when the client
wants nothing more than a decorative mark, and then our arguments will ring
Still, it’s useful to be aware of
the different perspectives.
Those who purchase “design” through
crowdsourcing probably treat design as a commodity because they see it that
way, as little more than original clip art that responds to their immediate
need. Some of these consumers (for they are consumers and not clients of
design) may even view crowdsourcing as an inclusive approach that gives
everyone an opportunity to provide ideas with a reward for just the ones they
like best (and possibly to obtain clear ownership of the creative property
without having to deal with thorny rights issues negotiated by professional
designers). They believe crowdsourcing is supporting the creative community and
involving its customers—a seemingly generous, supportive and progressive approach,
from their perspective.
For the designer, crowdsourcing
demonstrates a lack of respect for the value of design’s full potential and
places the lowest, rather than the highest, value on design services. However,
it is important for designers to understand that it is not the practice of
design that is being treated as a commodity but the design artifact, because
most of those utilizing crowdsourcing have no idea about the process of design
or its potential contribution to positioning and strategy. It is the outcome of
design that they view as a commodity. This conundrum of designers feeling that
what they do is being demeaned and the consumer saying “...but this is all I
want!” is what makes getting beyond the designer's outrage and the customer's
determination so difficult.
Another challenge is that many
young designers and students feel that crowdsourcing is an opportunity to break
into a field dominated by established and “name” designers. But being one of
hundreds or thousands doing work for possibly no recognition or pay might not
be the best use of their talents. (See this
post by a designer who entered the NEA’s logo competition last year, and
describes the experience as “frustrating, highly impersonal, and ultimately
The only way to reinforce that a
successful brand or an identity is not merely the most interesting or appealing
graphic out of a number of options is through continuous advocacy and
persuasive demonstrations of the value of professional designers.
Doing that requires that we find a
consistent voice and then provide examples to support our case.
We welcome and encourage designers
to join AIGA in developing case studies on the value of design through our
annual “Making the Case” competition and through contributing as members to
this site’s Why Design? section,
chronicling the role of the professional designer in creating value for business; improving society;
respecting the environment; making information clear; fostering cultural understanding; and delivering quality work to clients.
AIGA.org should become a compendium of our best
arguments for design, and we hope to hear from you.
Richard Grefé is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. While guiding all of AIGA’s activities, his most significant contributions are in strategy, formulating new initiatives to enhance the competitive success of designers
and advocating the value of design to business, government and the public.
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Section: About AIGA -
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