Crowdsourcing is a sore subject in the graphic design community. I could easily write 10,000 words and show 1,000 examples of why crowdsourcing logo design is a bad idea. But I’m just going to focus on two practical reasons that you probably haven’t considered… These two ought to be deal breakers for many people who are trying to save a few bucks on their brand identity:
1. Managing the crowdsourcing process is a time-consuming pain in the butt. If your time is valuable, it could actually cost you more than just hiring a local designer.
2. The finished product usually falls flat. Branding firms and graphic designers spend a lot of their time “re-branding” companies that originally crowdsourced the work.
First, let’s address the managerial issues of crowdsourcing.
I recently coordinated a crowd sourcing project for a client. (Against my most adamant advice.) The client believed that his money would be better spent “outsourcing” the design work and using me as the Creative Director/Project Manager.
Fair enough… I’ve played that part in my company for more than 25 years, so it should be easy, right? Wrong. Managing a herd of young, unproven designers from far-away lands is far harder than managing the designers who I know and trust. It was a valuable experiment, and a bit of an eye-opener for me.
My first task was to provide an insightful, tightly-written creative brief that would provide all the inspiration the designers would need. No problem, that’s right in my wheelhouse. Plus, I had already devised a brand platform for that particular client, so the brief was relatively easy for me. In this case, my creative brief even included specific graphic concepts that I wanted the designers to explore.
Too bad nobody read it.
The first 50 design submissions were obvious throw-aways — A complete waste of time from designers who didn’t take even five minutes to read the creative brief. It was ridiculous. Using the handy “comment” tool on the crowdsourcing platform, I strongly suggested that they start over. “Don’t submit anything until you’ve thoroughly studied the creative brief,” I told them.
The next batch wasn’t any better. The designers were obviously submitting old designs that had been sitting around from past crowdsourcing “contests.” They just changed the name of the company, and voila!
Back to the comment tool: “We will entertain original designs only… no recycled designs please. “
I also loaded up more background material for the designers who actually choose to read. But as more designs rolled in it was painfully clear that many were just derivatives of earlier submissions. That’s one of the worst things about crowdsourcing… the designers see all of the submissions and what the client has “liked.” This system inevitably leads to copy-cat design.
“The client said he likes that font, so I’m going to use that font.”
“The client liked that purple color, so I’m going to do some purple versions.”
“The client commented favorably about that mark, so I’m going to do something like that.”
At one point a cat fight erupted between two of the designers, with one accusing the other of stealing her designs. Never mind. They were both terrible. I saw more crummy designs in that month than I had in the last 10 years. Back and forth and back and forth we went until we finally selected the “winning” designer.
That’s when the real work started.
After looking at more than 250 designs we finally had one that was, at least, a mediocre solution. Again, I went back to the “comments” tool and began the fine-tuning process. Unfortunately, the winning designer had no experience producing a simple bundle of materials like letterhead, business cards and an email signature, so there was a painful back-and-forth process on the simplest little production details. Stuff than any junior designer should have known.
For accomplished creative teams, every new design assignment is a learning process. The work is driven by insight and spurred on by a thorough understanding of the product or service.
We thrive on the challenge of that and there’s a disciplined process that we follow. We do the research, study the market, live with the products and pour our heart and soul into helping clients succeed. Because that’s how we succeed. We have to learn about the business before we can design anything.
Crowdsourcing logo design eliminates that process. It skips the insight phase and jumps right to execution with no business thinking involved. No listening. No collaboration. It also leaves the client in the unenviable position of Project Manager and Creative Director… A tough dual role to play if you’ve never been in the design business.
Professional managers know the danger in this. They don’t choose to manage projects when they have no experience or expertise in the activity they’re managing. So if you have no experience managing freelance designers, don’t choose crowdsourcing. Hire a design firm to manage the process for you.
Now for a discussion about subjective quality…
The finished product of my one crowdsourcing experience was mediocre, at best. Even though I served up ideas on a silver platter, and provided tons of insight on the market and the business model, the designs were weak. Most were just too darn literal.
If you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Nothing is left to the imagination. And there seems to be an assumption that all prospects are idiots.
Well guess what. If you dumb down your logo design, and pound people over the head with visual clichés and literal redundancies, you will not make the connection you’re hoping for. Your brand will not become iconic.
Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route… Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have a an illustration of a shoe. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.
If the I.O.C. had chosen the literal, quick-n-dirty design there would be no Olympic rings.
There would be no Golden Arches.
If Starbucks had chosen crowdsourcing there would be no mermaid.
There would be no crocodile for Lacoste.
See, logos are supposed to be symbolic. They are symbols of something, or the graphic interpretation of the idea behind your brand. Not literal descriptions of your service or product.
So stop trying so darn hard to get a literal logo. Let a good graphic designer apply a little creative license, and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming an iconic brand.
When it comes to crowdsourcing logo design, it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”
For more on designing a great brand identity, try THIS post.