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Reinette Bester
Graphic Designer / Animator
Pretoria, Gauteng South Africa
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The future of Crowdsourcing

At face value, using crowdsourcing seems to be a win-win situation for the creative community and business community alike. But is everything really as rosy as it seems?
Written Feb 02, 2011, read 1598 times since then.
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History
A portmanteau of “crowd” and “outsourcing”, the term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe in June 2006 in an article in Wired magazine. Although the word is relatively new, the concept isn’t. One of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing can be traced back to 1714 when the British government offered  £20,000 (about R35 million today!) to whoever could solve the Longitude Problem.

Since then, numerous large corporations have turned to crowdsourcing to solve their advertising, marketing and design dilemmas. And with the internet making the process so much easier, small businesses and individuals have also discovered the benefits this novel method of acquiring creative services offers. Today, there are many websites acting as platforms for crowdsourcing projects, including www.designcrowd.com and www.behance.com.

But what is crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing, according to Wikipedia (an excellent example, incidentally!) is “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community, through an open call”. In other words – instead of appointing a person or company to solve a problem for you, you pose the challenge to the community at large and then choose the solution you like best.

At face value, crowdsourcing seems to be a win-win situation for the creative community and business community alike. But is everything really as rosy as it seems?

The Pros:

  • Great potential opportunities. Making a name for oneself can be difficult, especially if you are a freelancer. Crowdsourcing gives everyone equal opportunity to impress the big guns and get noticed.
  • Choice. Clients get a plethora of options to choose from as opposed to the one or two options presented by design agencies.
  • Variety. Clients don’t have to commit to one designer before seeing all the options.
  • Low cost. Clients can get work done for much cheaper than when going the conventional route.

The Cons:

  • Lower quality of work. Crowdsourcing is essentially spec work. This forces designers to do several projects at once in the hope of “winning” one instead of being able to focus on only one job.
  • No personal interest. Designers never get to meet the client; they purely work from a brief. This means that the designs will often lack personality and be rather generic.
  • Low wages or none at all. While this may be a plus in the client’s book, it is a big negative for designers. Crowdsourced projects often offer very low compensation, and only the “winner” of the brief gets payment. This adds to the problem of having to do multiple projects at once. In addition, there are those clients who withhold payment even after approving a design. Fact is, if you are a professional or aspiring professional, you should be paid for your work.

So where to now?
“Crowdsourcing” has all but become a swearword in the design community. Graphic artists hate it almost as much as dry chicken and slow internet connections. It is clear that crowdsourcing in its current guise does not have a bright future, but is it possible that the concept may be redeemed?

Recently, Behance introduced a new model for their crowdsourcing competitions. Instead of designers submitting completed briefs, they are asked to submit a relevant example from their portfolio. The clients then choose the designs they like best and those designers get briefed. Only then will the designers actually do any work for the client. All chosen participants get paid for their submissions and the winning design receives extra compensation.

Models like this one is more sustainable while still offering the benefits of crowdsourcing to both designer and client. Says Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance: “Regardless of what new models emerge, the old and destructive form of crowdsourcing will become obsolete as we have more options and develop better judgement.”.

Learn more about the author, Reinette Bester.

Comment on this article

  • QuickBooks And Xero Outsourced Contractors Bookkeeping Services 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA
    Posted by Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA, Lynnwood, Washington | Feb 10, 2011

    Reinette,

    Interesting Article - Thanks for writing it.

    Warm Regards,

    Randal

  • Head of Development 
Seattle, Washington 
Justin Parra
    Posted by Justin Parra, Seattle, Washington | Feb 10, 2011

    Kudos to Behance but is it really crowdsourcing if you are just submitting a portfolio piece? I'm pretty sure this used to be just "A call for portfolios". Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems so me that all crowdsourcing involves spec work. Any self respecting designer always returns a firm NO on spec work.

  • Consultant 
cape town, western cape South Africa 
daniel cornelissen
    Posted by daniel cornelissen, cape town, western cape South Africa | Feb 11, 2011

    Hi Reinette Well written and I absolutely agree any form of compensation model that dilutes the value of an idea can't be that great.

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