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February 17, 2012 / maloney90

Crowdsourcing democratizing or diluting design?

As heated as the people who oppose crowdsourcing there are people who are equally passionate about supporting it. The people who support crowdsourcing believe it helps to democratize design giving people a level playing field on which to compete, indeed this is the point Mike Samson, creator of crowdSPRING.com, argued at the ‘SXSW Conference’ saying that “it democratizes the industry, it gives people opportunity and access who might not have had that opportunity and access, the internet enables this. It allows people from all over the world to compete on a completely level playing field.” (Is Spec Work Evil? 2009) When talked about like this we can see why crowdsourcing seems like such a good idea, a level playing field were everyone is only judged on the work they submit and anyone can submit work to any competition, so in theory you could have a designer from Pentagram competing in the same competition as an amateur who only has a basic understanding of the Adobe Creative Suite and there would be no bias towards one over the other they would be based solely on the work they submitted for the competition. It also can be away for design students and graduates to experience working on a live brief and dealing with a client’s needs. At the conference Mike Samson discussed this point saying that graduates when trying to gain experience will do placements and internships for little or no money and crowdsourcing sites allow them to gain the same type of experience but in a different way.

 Although at the same discussion David Carson argued that “no serious or professional designer would be associated with these sites” and that now design and ad agencies “blacklist those that do, its kind of a negative to say oh yeah I submitted 5000 sketches and I didn’t win this time but I might next time.” (Is Spec Work Evil? 2009)

Although crowdsourcing is democratizing design it appears that it is also diluting design and lowering the standards of design. When we look at some of winners of crowdsourcing competitions we should ask ‘is this work to the same quality of a design studio?’ Most of the time the answer is no, but why is this? Yes on crowdsourcing websites a lot of people with no background in design are submitting their designs but so are lots of designers who have experience and probably have a better understanding of what the client is asking for in the brief. The answer to why the work is of inferior quality lies in something that has already been mentioned, the client-designer relationship. Below are two examples of museum logos one (Madison’s Children Museum), which won the design competition on crowdSPRING the other (Fort Worth Museum), was designed by Pentagram.

Figure 9

Figure 10

Both logos are designed in similar styles and both are catered towards children, so why is the Pentagram logo deemed better? While the Madison Children’s Museum logo is very nice and well crafted, that is all it is, it is superficial. Where as the Pentagram logo is part of a whole identity, the letters FWM are part of a font that Pentagram designed for the museum and the shapes are used throughout the brand. Pentagram was also able to research and ask the clients questions about the museum and their solution came from asking these questions; they found out that the museum’s architecture had a recurring theme of using cubes and squares and this has been used in the logo and throughout the identity. (Big Blocks in Cow Town. 2009) It was through research but more importantly talking to the client and architects of the museum that Pentagram was able to reach their design solution; they went further than just using the brief they had been given. Compared this to the design for Madison’s Children Museum were all the designer was given was a simple brief and a week or so to come up with ideas, they were unable to question the client or find out any more information which could have helped in the design process and helped them come up with a more interesting solution.

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