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Is crowdsourcing like open source software?

Discussion in 'Graphic Design Forum:' started by Paul Murray, Apr 11, 2011.

  1. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    An interesting question has been put to me via twitter after a little rant I had earlier today. Twitter

    "Do you think crowdsourcing graphic design will ever be as successful as open source software?"

    My rant that sparked it... Twitter

    His reply, followed by mine...Twitter

    Basically, it's being suggested that crowdsourcing graphic design should be seen simply as a cheap alternative for people who don't have the budget/think it's a waste of money to pay for the expertise of a real designer, much in the same way that open source software is often a free alternative to paying for commercial software.

    It's an interesting, if a little skewed, analogy, and whilst I'm sure that open source alternatives can affect the profits of software developers, is it really the same? To create software, no matter how rudimentary, requires knowledge of the language you're programming in. Design, being a visual medium, is seen as being easy where all the hard work is being done by the software.

    What's everyone's opinion on this statement? Also, feel free to join in the discussion and retweet on twitter since I'd love to hear what other people think.
  2. richimgd

    richimgd Member

    I think crowdsourcing attracts less experienced designers as any experienced designer wouldn't take part in it since the money on offer is often low and the client doesn't always know what they actually want. Its a hugely wasteful process where hundreds of designers spend a huge amount of time and energy where only the winner gets paid. Some people want an excuse to work on a project though who might want extra work for their portfolio and might be willing to work for cheap / not be too worried about winning the job. These people are normally young designers or unqualified people studying design. Good luck to them I say.

    Open source software is totally different in the sense that its not made by a bunch of amateurs, its often better and more innovative than the paid for software. Something to note is many open software and tools don't even have a paid for equivalent, so the comparison with crowdsourcing in many ways is irrelevant.
  3. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    I agree, crowdsourcing sites seemed to be aimed at amateur 'bedroom' designers, who think that design is all about the software used. Sadly many of the people involved in these sites don't understand or care about the damage they course, simply because they are not directly involved in the industry. It seems it's easy to call yourself a designer now, thanks to the myriad of cracked software floating around.

    99designs have a regular feature on their blog where they feature a 'designer'. I've taken a look at the latest guy, and honestly some of his winning entries are pretty plain and unimaginative. But, since he's won so many contests he's regarded as a successful designer.

    I failed to see the relevance of comparing open-source software with crowdsourced design. I think he was trying to imply that crowdsourcing, say for example a logo, is the same as collaborating with a community to create open source software.

    I've since questioned the comparison, so hopefully I'll see what he was driving at.
  4. richimgd

    richimgd Member

    They're totally different though arn't they, since crowdsourcing is about 'designers' working in direct competition with each other where only one reaches the goal of their design getting chosen and getting paid. Open source software development is almost the opposite since software developers contribute and collaberate with each other together, for free with a shared goal of making the product better for the wider community.

    Totally different things!
  5. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Exactly! Open source is a licence, and as you mentioned, anything distributed under the licence is created and redistributed freely for the community. It doesn't rely on people creating work for free who are competing for the possibility of being paid (which isn't even guaranteed).

    Do you think that crowdsourcing sites will eventually be seen as the budget option for start-ups and consumers (and even some established brands who will surely attract attention from more experienced freelancers due to their popularity)?

    Since many business owners tend to dismiss graphic design and branding as an afterthought, these sites will surely continue to grown in popularity. The way they're marketed is hard to combat too as they appeal to people's wallets.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2011
  6. richimgd

    richimgd Member

    I think most clients don't know what they want and are worried about agreeing to pay a lot of money for something which they cant see, or imagine which is what happens traditionally when a client commissions a designer to design something for them.

    I guess its a huge issue as a lot of people don't know what good design is and couldn't tell the difference between a logo costing £100 or £10,000... Its getting to know your client and what they like which is something you'll never get with a crowdsourcing site. Theres a level of service missing with crowdsourcing. I think a client should recognise a good designer and pay them for their services, but often a client wont know any designers so which might make crowdsourcing appealing. I try to educate clients about how much work goes into the design I do and if they cant see the value in it then they're not worth being one of my clients. Crowdsourcing is like pitching for free but not as bad. At least when your pitching for free you normally know roughly how many people your pitching against which is normally no more than about 10 companies. Crowdsourcing is literally creating a concept and delivering it in a fully produced state in competition with hundreds of other designers doing the same thing. I'm sure I saw a case on 99designs where over 1000 designers entered into a project. A totally mental waste of time.

    Any high end company wont use a crowdsourcing service since as mentioned the type of designers that crowdsourcing attracts are less experienced and the level of work that can be expected tends to be of lower quality imo.
  7. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    What about sites like Talenthouse?

    Talenthouse - Creative Collaboration - music, film, fashion, art / design, photography, and dance

    Sites like this feature musicians that appeal to younger designers, particularly students/graduates. The concept of designing something for your favourite band/artist is very appealing to the younger generation. In fact, if I'm honest I'd probably work for free with several musicians I idolise just to have it as something to look back on in life.

    Since many of these artists are likely to have short-term success, it's probably a better financial solution (from the record company's perspective) to crowdsource the branding of a musician. As you mentioned though, the huge amount of entrants effectively makes these sorts of competitions a waste of time for 99% of the people who enter in the hopes of getting a foot in the door and 'recognition and compensation'.
  8. squeezee

    squeezee Member

    There are two ways of doing this, one is where all crowdsourcers contribute to an ever narrowing group of designs, working as a team, this is like open source. The other is where 1000 designs are submitted and the client chooses one. This is just abuse of designers.
    The fact is that design is global and there are loads of talented people for whom $5 an hour is really good pay!
  9. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Yeah, it seems many of the designers on freelancer/crowdsourcing sites are based in India, where $5 an hour is a very respectable wage. Fair play to them, everyone deserves a better wage and standard of living, but it would be nice if there was some form of regulation in effect to protect designers in other countries from having to attempt compete with low budgets, particularly on sites for specifically for freelancers.

    We can but hope...
  10. Site Engine

    Site Engine Member

    Ultimately it'll all come out in the wash. There are always going to be clients who want the designer to come in and sit round the table with them. These are the clients we will pick up. 75% of my customers are within driving distance. Once you've done enough of these word of mouth will spread and you'll find a steady stream of work.

    Its worth noting that I get a fair few clients who've gone down the low cost route first, and then get fed up with the difficulty of managing it.

    Sure it's worth kicking up a fuss where we can, but certainly not worth beating yourself up about it.

    Stephen Chown /
    tel. 0117 9594439 mob. 07703059661
  11. squeezee

    squeezee Member

    no offence, but WHY?!?
  12. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Perhaps I worded that wrong. The point I was trying to get at was 'designers' from other countries taking jobs that are low-paying in our country, effectively drive the prices down.

    There's posts here about people being undercut by ridiculous amounts on sites such as peopleperhour by amateurs and such like, which leads potential clients to believe that's what it costs to get a job done. I know this is just fundamental economics though, which is why many manufacturers have their products produced cheaply in China.

    Stephen raised a good point about local working, and I suppose you could ignore such sites and just avoid those sorts of clients. We could end up going round in circles with this matter I suppose :)
  13. squeezee

    squeezee Member

    It's the world. Prawns are caught in our waters, frozen and shipped to China to be peeled then shipped back.
    There's a company with a whole printing press on a supertanker, they start the print run as they leave a Chinese port loaded with cheap paper & inks and it's done by the time they arrive in the UK.
    Let's say a designer in the UK has a 50% chance of giving the client exactly what he wants, an amateur has a 1% chance. If you have a thousand amateurs, the client has a choice of ten designs, rather than half a design. You can argue about the %ages but numbers work.
    I used to work in a manufacturing industry, remember them? :icon_wink:
  14. Kie@ownbeat

    Kie@ownbeat New Member

    Paul, great thread, it's really good to see this being discussed.

    Personally I think that crowdsourcing is the most fundamental challenge that our industry has had to face and a monumental waste of creative energy.

    Clearly what the Startup UK debacle shows is that we can't really trust government or big business to defend designer's interests - this can only come from the grassroots.

    Crowdsourcing is here to stay, along with 'off the shelf' solutions but in response we need to design ethically, build solid relationships and educate our clients (without patronising them or being design snobs) - we need to make ourselves the natural choice.

    Let's not kid ourselves that Spec design is like open source, there are huge corporate interests at play here, following a policy of creative extraction that exploits designers and dupes businesses into thinking what they are paying for is actually fit for purpose.

    I'm going to start blogging on this topic regularly as awareness needs to be raised and tactics shared and discussed. First article published yesterday -

    “99 Problems but Design ain’t Oneâ€: The Great Crowdsourcing Swindle - Web Design York| Design and Marketing | Ownbeat CreativesWeb Design York| Design and Marketing | Ownbeat Creatives

    Phew - I think I need a sit down! :icon_wink:
  15. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Sadly it seems like a losing battle. For a company the financial pros by far outweigh the ethical cons, and it certainly seems to be an obvious choice from their perspective. "Don't spend a fortune on a professional designer, just offer £50 and receive hundreds of entries, then pick the one you like!"

    You can't compete with that level of copyrighting.

    I try and explain it to people in a way that turns the idea around to them. If they're not prepared to invest in their own business, why should they expect customers to?

    I've likened the concept of crowdsourcing to 'buying local vs buying from supermarkets' and am working on a blog post that hopefully expands the idea.

    For example, buying a joint of meat from your local butchers, you talk to him, tell him what you need the joint for and he gives you advice on how to prepare it, cook it, even alternatives and why he's suggested it, because that's his business. He has to have that sort of knowledge to do his job. The result is you get a great piece of meat, possibly with extras for a discounted price and he probably gets repeat business.

    In a supermarket, you walk to the meat fridge, pick one that looks right and buy it because it's cheaper. They lad filling the fridge probably doesn't know anything about the meat, where it came from, what it's like, etc. He's just there to quickly help you get the final result you want.

    It may be a bit far-fetched at the minute but I'm hoping it's an analogie that none-designers will be able to relate to.
  16. squeezee

    squeezee Member

    ...and who won that battle?
  17. Kie@ownbeat

    Kie@ownbeat New Member

    Squeezee not sure it's that simple. We have loads of small independents in York. They don't compete on price with big high st stores or supermarkets but are flourishing businesses.

    Paul, quite like the buy local analogy, it's a high profile campaign and shouldn't just stop with retail, you may be able convince clients to make an 'ethical' choice - a mutual supporting of local business - we certainly lend that focus to our copy.

    However, I think the solutio lies in a more fundamental articulation of cost benefits. A $99 dollar logo picked from one of hundreds, based on a short design brief will do nothing for your business, exists in isolation (no broader identity) and if wrong (lets face it the client has just picked the prettiest) could cost them thousands in lost business. There's also reports that logos are often regurgitated so the IP on these things is next to worthless and the whole point of having a unique presence is undermined. Furthermore, with spec design there's little chance to discuss, redraft or have any relationship with your designer.

    All of that said, we've got to become better business people, better marketeers and not just roll over - sure it's dog eat dog but lets not fall into the trap of thinking the only decision businesses take is based on cost. People buy into people, if we brand ourselves well, ethically and deliver an outstanding product we can compete.

    Remember, it's not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow. Sit on your arse, saying that's the way it is and sure enough you'll have no clients. Be niche, be exciting be dynamic.

    Would love to see the article when done!
  18. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    I wouldn't say it was over yet, though it's certainly a losing battle.

    Some celebrity chefs are urging people to buy local and support their local shops, yet others are promoting the value you get from supermarkets. Though, many people do prefer to buy locally and many more are taking to it so who knows what may come of it?
  19. Kie@ownbeat

    Kie@ownbeat New Member

    There's actually a lot of evidence to suggest that supermarkets have hit a ceiling in terms of profits from food retail and distribution of custom has steadied - perhaps the battle is at least a stalemate. Hence Tesco's are now opening pushing into foreign markets outside of Western Europe and diversifying from everything from mobile phones to Pet Insurance.

    I'm feeling far too optimistic today.
  20. JohnRoss

    JohnRoss Member

    Losing for...? Not for consumers. You want cheap food, you go to a cheap supermarket, what's wrong with that? Local shopkeepers tend to be people with no qualifications for anything else who don't really understand even their own overpriced products in any depth, and I won't miss them. The local shops which are surviving and will survive are those which specialize, provide better customer advice and service, higher quality produce, and so on. Much the same could be said of freelancers and liberal professionals, including designers.

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