A few months ago, a small startup from Australia pulled in $35 million in VC funding for creating a workflow process to crowdsource what many agencies and design shops survive on. For anyone not familiar with crowdsourcing, here's the Wikipedia link.
The company is 99designs.com, and it's crowdsourcing the design process. Logos, web pages, business cards, you name it. Clients post a project -- it takes about 10 minutes -- and members of 99designs' database of 5,000 plus designers will submit their designs over the next week. It's a winner-take-all game and the fees start around $200 for a logo.
Sound potentially disruptive? It sure does to me. And as you might expect, when the story of their funding hit the press, some of the conversations blew up. Understandably, designers are concerned.
Why I tried it
While the news of 99design's funding initiated a lot of conversation around crowdsourcing, the practice has actually been around in various forms for a number of years. But the combination of a major crowdsourcing tool coming to the design world in addition to the company getting $35 million in funding for a pretty simple site structure was enough for me to take a closer look.
But the decision wasn't without a little anxiety over what crowdsourcing can do to just about any creative process. I've spent over 20 years making a living coming up with creative solutions to business problems. Many of my friends are in the same business. When sites like elancer.com started popping up, it was easy to say, "Well, that's coders dealing with ones and zeroes. With creative jobs, it's different."
Or is it?
After all, ideas are perhaps the easiest forms of data to exchange. Entire ad campaigns can be presented as a written paragraph with some visual references. For visual projects like design, you could argue the language issue isn't nearly as problematic.
Even the argument of cultural relevance is shrinking amid an increasingly connected world.
Seeing the potential for very big industry disruption, I decided to do what I've been recommending clients do when facing down a similar change in their industry's way of doing things. Get first-hand experience. One of the best ways to deal with change is by becoming more familiar with the source of that change.
My crowdsourcing project
In searching for the right project to try crowdsourcing on, I decided to use it for a logo for Zuum, a Facebook Page strategy tool I'm launching with a developer. There were several key factors in that decision.
One is that the logo is for a personal project, and I knew we had a certain amount of flexibility in case the crowdsourcing didn't pan out. Given that I really didn't know what I'd be getting for design results, that was key.
Another factor was that I had a clear idea of what we were looking for. I liked that you could write "Zuum" without picking your pen up from the paper, and that fluidity is something I wanted incorporated into the design
Related to that, we knew we wanted a word mark -- a way of handling the text in "Zuum" so that the design elements would be the word itself.
We also had a specific color palette in mind, which eliminated a lot of potential exploration, and would allow us to focus specifically on the word mark style.
Also, we launched Zuum with the idea of getting a working model up, and making tweaks as we gathered early user feedback. We decided that we would also apply that approach to the site design, and even the logo if needed.
Lastly, I have quite a lot of experience writing creative briefs and communicating with designers, sometimes working with people half way around the world.
The crowdsourcing work process
Before I get into the workflow process, keep in mind this is the only creative crowdsourcing system I've used. Given their funding and base of 5,000 plus designers at 99designs, I was confident it would be a representative crowdsourcing experience.
Sign up is easy, and within minutes you're already into the Creative Brief. As I mentioned, I think my familiarity with this part of the process helped considerably. The site does a good job getting to the core of what creative briefs are about, using a slider process to guide the novice brief writer through the key emotional drivers they'd like the logo to convey. You could argue that this is taking sandpaper to a very nuanced process, and I'd agree, adding that I think that's necessary to ensure that users with little brief-writing experience can get through it.
One other key option is the dollar amount for your contest. The site suggests prices of $195, $295, and $495, with the number of expected designs you'll get back for each being 25, 40 and 80 respectively.