This morning I was asked if I would like to create a t-shirt
design for a contest. Before I even had the chance to consider the idea, an
alarm went off in my head. This was a classic example of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining (information or input into a
particular task or project) by enlisting the services of a number of people.
Usually the work is unpaid and a winner will be offered some form of
compensation typically valued at below what the cost would have been to hire a
professional outright. This is especially true of illustration and design in
which the winning design will be used to generate revenue for the person initiating
While this option is great for people looking to get a quick
answer to their design problems, ultimately it is damaging to an entire
profession. When contest like this are held the contest holder (or shall we say
client) gains access to multiple options at once. These options, all of which
were free minus the one future winner, disregards the much needed communication
that must happen between designer and client. This is essentially valuing
design below being a priority. At which point the client should have just spent
money on a stock image.
Another reason crowdsourcing is damaging is because only a
sole winner will be compensated for their time. That means that other (insert
any number from 1 to infinity) entrants spend their time creating something for
free. They do not pass Go and they do not collect $200.
This is the point where you are free to mention that no one
is forcing designers to work for free. True. However, these contests typically
attract amateurs and young creatives with promises of exposure which is a
commonly sold myth. Exposure will not feed a family, pay medical bills, or
build a safety net. If anything the winner may only be asked to submit their
services for free or severely undervalued in the future. I mean, they already
got them to do it once.
AIGA wrote a great blog post (http://www.aiga.org/whats-the-harm-in-crowdsourcing/)
to offer insight on how the design community generally feels about the use of crowdsourcing.
While reading, please consider if you would spend the same energy you put into your
work (whatever the profession) for the mere possibility of gaining recognition
and a grand prize worth less than you would have made if you were hired
outright. You know…like every other profession.