Crowdsourcing : does it threaten graphic design discipline ?

Vocabulary : Designer / Graphic designer / Creative / Client / Customer / Firm / Company / The crowdsourcing / To crowdsource something

The 2nd of November, Geoffrey Dorne is glad to reveal a fact. His article announce the closure of Wilogo : “Wilogo finally closes his door !” he said (1). Finally ? Is the closure as pleasing as that ?

Wilogo is a web platform allowing anyone to have a chance to respond to graphics commands from any companies. Obviously, only the «winner» is paid while others leave with nothing. This platform is part of many other crowdsourcing sites (Creads, Eyeka, etc) (2).

If we can think this process is interesting and represent an opportunity for anyone to work, Geoffrey Dorne, designer, thinks “it is therefore akin to free labor, it is against the trade, ethics and also tends to drive prices of the profession to the low-cost”. Lots of designers share G. Dorne’s opinion.

The subject of crowdsourcing in the field of graphic design is the source of long debates. To understand these thought, we will study the crowdsourcing concept and its pros and cons. But before then, we need to define what graphic design is and what crowdsourcing means.

What is graphic design ?

“ Graphic design has the responsibility to act and participate in society as a source of wealth, culture and pride. ”

— Manifesto of the Society of Graphic Designers of Quebec.

First of all, graphic design is a discipline. We can compare it to a language, used to communicate ideas, emotions and values. As a modern language (3), it can change with time and grow only if its syntax and its vocabulary are mastered. But before being entirely acquired, the handling of all those characteristics needs to be learned.

Therefore, a graphic designer, after training, can be compared to an image engineer. His role is to bring graphic and visual solutions to client issues, without forget his technical skills : the design is decisive and is going to follow the firm in its communication (shops, websites, ads, business cards…).

The designer is able to stage his creative sense, his rhythm and shaping sense. All those details will enable the business to be well caught by his customers. The result of the designer reflection can take different forms and take place on different mediums that the creative will judge more or less adapted to the client needs : visual identity, advertising, animations, poster, website, app…

This field is bound to new technologies so that it enables professionals to get more productiveness and efficacy. Moreover, the internet growth makes graphic design multipurpose and extends its application fields. Thus, it moves from print media to digital media, almost omnipresent today. The discipline is now modern and contemporary, evolving with its time. To sum up the situation, by his knowledge, a designer is quite necessary in a firm or project visibility and communication.

What “crowdsourcing” means ?

Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. A crowdsourcing website is a participative website in which users can be active and be a part of the subject. For example, we can consider Wikipedia as a crowdsourcing website, due to the fact that internet users can add informations and participate in the writing of articles.

This process is more and more used in different fields, such as medicine and science where it shows successful results. There is another domain touched : graphic design. In this case, a company (the customer) publishes a project (something required) and gets back several participants answers.

It offers a lot of advantages for a customer. From the creative’s point of view, we will find quite rapidly different problems and consequences it may cause. But first of all, we would rather try to understand why crowdsourcing a design project.

Why crowdsourcing a project ?

Function :

There are two types of crowdsourcing. The sample and the contest (4). The first one, the customer asks designers or agencies to work on a little part of the project. Then he chooses a winner and gives him the entire project. The other designers don’t get anything and stop the participation.

The second one, the customer publishes his demand and collects all the designers works. He usually receives hundreds of answers but only chose one. The one who wins, receives an income, and the others just loose an opportunity to work for a client.

Both types allow customers to get lots of answers to their problem without spending too much money. Several designers consider that participating in a crowdsourced project is working for free. Let’s see more precisely the famous platform of crowdsourcing : Creads (5).

Creads is a creative company known for his slogan : “work with our 50.000 freelance designers !”. The number of creatives available is quite surprising. In fact, Creads creates a community of designers. Through the little intern Creads team, based in Paris, customers can ask the designer group to work for them. All projects are gathered on the website and everyone can have access to the brief. Then people choose to send a proposition.

Customers profits :

From the point of view of the customers, crowdsourcing a project presents different advantages. By launching a demand, they get hundreds of suggestions. Opportunity that they couldn’t have with freelance designers. In the case of Creads, all the propositions are studied by an art director working in Creads office in Paris. He often selects less than 10 propositions, that he sends to customer to ease his choice. That way, a company in need of graphics production can have lots of propositions and a professional opinion as well. The customer pays after choice made.

Furthermore, by posting a brief online (6) on a crowdsourcing website, a customer does not have to move and meet his designer. He just publishes his demand and wait for productions. So, he can do this from where he wants and when he wants. This process can tempt a young startup which does not have much money to work with designers, but need to create his identity or another communication or graphics work. Therefore, crowdsourcing seems to be economical : in money and in time.

If we compare this process to the money spent by the customer; we understand why companies tend to use crowdsourcing, putting aside all designers in lack of jobs. Sometimes, a client can receive hundreds of free propositions, whereas someone who will ask a designer will pay almost 1.000 € for only one logotype. So, he will get an interesting quantity of works without spending a lot of money.

Creatives profits :

Now, from the point of view of the creatives, crowdsourcing platform gives free access to several briefs. When a customer crowdsources a project, everyone can answer. This process can tempt a student or a young designer with no client, could participate. It can enable him to enrich his book and then to get other clients. That way, crowdsource can make him start his career. It is therefore an opportunity for creatives to create.

“For a creative who don’t have a wide network, this process can be a springboard and give him his chance”

— CREADS agency.

Furthermore, in this situation, the designer can chose to work on a project or not. He can check the list of brief and answer the one he likes. In a standard work model, designers can’t really choose the project to work on. He can choose to respond to a call to tender, but in another situation, the customer chooses a designer to work with. Therefore, the crowdsourcing process presents a wide range of projects and the one who wants to create can choose one of them.

If this kind of platform demonstrates successful results in the science field, crowdsourcing applied to graphic design brings designers to be critical. But if the crowdsourcing goal in the design process is, at the beginning, to give opportunity to everyone to work on a project, it becomes a marketing alternative and presents today different kinds of problem.

Which problem a bad use may cause ?

The process becomes a technique for companies to get a huge range of design without pay anything. In fact, it puts into competition hundreds of people who want to create.

If we continue to study the “Creads system”, we understand that the agency develops an isolated “creatives community” to work for his clients.

First of all, you will see several designers working on a project. Then the art director working for the crowdsource agency will select the 5 best realizations. And, at the end the customer will chose between the little panel of proposition still in competition. Sometimes, the agency putting in relation both, customer and creative, will take a part of the income. That way, lots of designers compare this process to free work.

Prices and incomes :

Here the price of the service can vary. If customers really appreciate this kind of work, that’s because it participates in the low cost culture. The money spent is quite lower than the sum a client has to spend for working with a freelance or an agency. For example, a company asking for a logo can offer about 700 €. The “winner” will earn 80% of this price (560 €) and the rest is shared between the other “finalists”. If the money earned by the designer chosen seems to be interesting, it’s nevertheless less than the standard rate. Indeed, in her “freelance designer guide”, Christelle Capo-Chichi explains that a logotype can cost between 1.000 € for a little firm, and 10.000 € for a group.

This low cost tendency is common to all crowdsource platforms. If this idea is not appreciated from designers, Axelle Lemaire visited “Creads” to make her own opinion. After her visit on the 26th of may in 2014, the Secretary of State for the digital tweets

“Politics need to be more attentive to startups. Fight against the ambient moroseness is more than necessary. Creads has an exemplariness role to play. You are the France who wins. We have to know that !”

This post sparks things off (7) . Thereafter, more than 5.000 French creatives have signed an “open letter” to her, Aurélie Filippetti, Culture Minister, and François Rebsamen, Work Minister. Entitled “Say no to the #freework using as a success model in France” aimed at criticize what designers now call the “perverted crowdsourcing”.

At beginning we spoke about “crowdsourcing” but now it becomes “perverted crowdsourcing”, a new kind of “spec work”. For them, it consists in selling non remunerated works, taken from the internet workforce and the consequences are the prices and market decrease. Those agencies (the crowdsourcing platforms) “build their offers on non remunerated workforce shoulders. Professionals but also individuals are working without any contracts or status irrespective of legal requirement”. This disagreement shows the different points of view on the question and the lack of understanding in this field.

Job reputation :

Showing the prices differences, we understand why a client crowdsources his project on the internet. By this idea, the discipline becomes accessible. A work that a professional could perform is now almost free, so that the profession becomes nearly discredited.

In this way, the trade appears to be futile and achievable by anyone. It seems to forget that many people have been trained to develop their graphic and plastic sensibility, but also their technical skills. The graphic design formations, prove that this area requires special expertise. In fact, this discipline is important in a lot of field.

According to Gerard Mermet (8), sociologist studying French mores, in his interview “the place of design”, our society needs design. Our time is the emotional one more than the reason one. And design can and must express some values. It has to replace old codes by new ones and explain why. It has to support value and represent a vision. It demonstrates the designer roles and shows how intellectual can be the discipline (9). 50% of that work corresponds to a thought task and the other 50% represents the creation part.

That’s also what reminds us an article published on the Grapheine’s website in 2013 on the 21st of May. We can become designer following the right teaching, this is a profession, as anyone else, that need formations.

To applied this to the crowdsourcing area, “hundreds creations received” doesn’t mean “hundreds good creations received”. In fact, if all the propositions don’t come from designers, this is very possible to obtain a kind of bad quality.

During formation to graphic design you learn how use colors, shapes and typography. You also learn how to communicate, what’s current in field and how study the client to make an effective design. When we speak about “efficacy” this is to insist on the importance of a great design.

Thanks to it, a company will be visible, memorized and identified. It’s part of its presence and shouldn’t be forgotten. Thus, if you are a customer in need of a graphic design creation, the best result and the efficient one, will born of your relation between your designer et you. The ideas will be developed with you since the beginning and the designer will understand your desires and your needs.

That’s not because you’ll get hundreds of free logotypes that you will have the best logotypes. It also can be logotypes already used by another firm, or logotypes taken on the internet. That way, crowdsourcing process presents some limits.

The possibility for non-designer to answer a demand is not the only problem. There is one last issue in this easy to reach idea. When you want to become a “Creads designer” for example, you just need to sign up on the website. No degree, no training are asked, you just need to enter your name and your mail address. Moreover, designers signed up don’t make any contracts so they don’t depend on work laws. Nothing is signed so that they aren’t protected. Answer a demand in this case is not considered as a « job », they don’t have any intellectual property so their creations are not really theirs. (Tell me if I’m wrong, feel free to comment !)

If crowdsourcing presents different advantages for customers, that’s not the case from the point of view of the creatives. Whether they are ethics or economical, this process demonstrates several substantial issues.

So, crowdsourcing or not crowdsourcing ?

If crowdsourcing could be a solution for little budget and creatives in lack of projects, we quickly understand that it threatens the graphic design field. By using low prices and putting into competition several designers, this kind of process participates in the unemployment’s increase in the graphic design field.

This work shouldn’t be free : all workers need an income to be regarded. Face to all those aspects, we understand the reasons why a customer would look for a crowdsourcing solution. That’s less expansive and it’s enough productive. But on the other hand, if this process continues to be more and more used, graphic designer may disappear.

In fact, the spec work or perverted crowdsourcing would be ridiculous in a lot of other jobs. For example you will never ask hundreds of cookers to cook you an evening diner and at the end, chose to pay only your favorite and throw out the others. You will never post on a website that you need someone to be your lawyer without know if he’s graduated. So, maybe we should start to consider designers like any professional.

Sources :

Geoffrey Dorne’ article, on the 2/11/15, ‘‘Wilogo ferme (enfin) ses portes!’’

Ludivine Vinot’ article, on the 15/10/12, ‘‘Wilogo, Creads etc, la gangrène du créatif & le crowdsourcing’’

Article on Terminus Creation, «Le rôle du graphisme dans la société», July 2013

Video ‘‘Qu’est ce que le travail spéculatif’’ by Topic Simple

Creads website / Creads projects page

Jean-Laurent Cassely’s article, pusblished in 2014 on the 4th of July : ‘‘Travail gratuit: les milieux créatifs contre le travail «collaboratif» non rémunéré’’

Interview of Gerard Mermet, “the place of design”, on the 23/02/2003

Grapheine’s article, 2013, ‘‘Designer mode d’emploi n°1’’

Photo de couverture : Kaleb Nimz