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The industry as seen by top designers.

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"Crowdsourcing": The Future of Design?

Design by and for the masses.

by Michelle Temares (March 1, 2010)

(Note: Recent entries in Designing Perspectives have covered the plight of professional designers; the impact of non-professionals, particularly scrapbookers; and the issue of "clip-art" vs. quality design. Michelle Temares adds another dimension to the situation.)

To the delight of some and the chagrin of others, clip art has long been a player in the design business. More recently, the Internet cemented trend of "crowdsourcing" has also become a player in low- or no-cost design acquisition. In crowdsourcing, tasks traditionally done by a single entity are instead distributed to a community through an open call via the Internet. The philosophy is that many people working on a problem are better than one. Wikipedia is a good example. Typically, there is little or no compensation for those participating. The corporate design community has picked up on the trend and is using it, to some success, with design.

Hereís how it often works in the design community: A company posts an Internet call for designs, posts the entries, and then asks consumers to vote for their favorites. The winning designs are then put into production. The advantages to the company are many, including a wide choice of design with little or no financial investment or commitment, a broad opinion survey as an organic part of the process, and, conceivably, increased odds of sales success based on perceived consumer interest.

On the downside, for the company, proven designers often donít participate because the entry fee in terms of work is too high with chance of reward too low. Companies may also find themselves working with inexperienced and, at times, unprofessional designers. There is also the risk that the designs submitted will turn out not to be original (despite disclosures/warranties to the contrary), which may lead to ownership/copyright/unexpected royalty and legal issues.

The advantages for the designer are few. Sometimes the winning designer is compensated. Often it is at a price well below market, including the loss of copyrights. Perhaps it will lead to ongoing work with that client at a reasonable rate, but its unlikely. Sometimes the compensation is merely bragging rights. The losers, essentially working on spec, receive nothing.

The cost barriers to business entry for start-ups have plummeted with the onset of the Internet. It is often these start-ups who are relying on crowdsourcing exclusively. Crowdsourcing of design provides an opportunity for start-up businesses, with little capital, to test the market. Many are even obtaining their logos and corporate branding through this strategy. However, it is unlikely that any major industry player would take the risk of trade show and delivery deadlines by relying on design contests.

None of this is new. Clip art has existed for years and so have design contests. However, as with many things on the Internet, the magnitude of each and the speed of delivery have increased dramatically. Designers, like all 21st century businesses, may need to develop and explore new business models to survive. Being a Luddite doesn't seem to work out too well for anyone.

(Note: Michelle Temares is a Professor of Studio Art and Art History at the State University of New York and an award winning American Impressionist painter. To view a portion of her work available for licensing, visit her website and blog at www.bellamichelle.com.)

Clip Art = A Stale Category

Is everyone who makes something a designer?

by Name Withheld

While the first email talked about scrapbook designing, I think the main thought from this email is originality of design. All areas of crafts Ė needlework, clay, sewing, etc. Ė need original and trendsetting designs to grow their category. Take the word "illustrator" out of that email and substitute "designer."

If unoriginal designs or clip art is used as the primary design basis, then that category will go stale quickly. It will all look the same and there will be nothing to set the manufacturers apart. The age of the designer/artist doesnít matter, it's the uniqueness and originality of a good design that will grow the category and sales. Those who are using clip art to become "rock stars," will not survive as the industry will grow and evolve using the unique and original designs.

Good designers most often do start out as consumers using the products. They also come up with new and refreshing ways to use the products. These type of designers will have staying power in the industry, although they may not be deemed "rock stars."

They may often start working for free or for free product, but then somewhere along the line, they realize that they need to be paid in order to earn a living as a professional designer. Iíve been in the business for years and have seen so many designers come and go because they needed to get a job that paid.

I have to also agree that I have seen a trend toward calling anyone who puts something together a "designer," whether itís within the industry or to the population in general. I saw an ad from a large chain on Facebook last week to buy their products and "you can become a designer." Iíve seen many other instances of this mentality.

(Note: To read previous articles on the topic, click on the headlines in the right-hand column Ė and read Why "The Impatient Crafter" won't design for free in the Mar. 1 issue of CLN. To join the conversation, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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