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The practice of crowdsourcing a brand identity. What we learnt from using Crowdspring

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22 December 2009

One of THE buzzwords of 2009 in the creative industries was ‘crowdsourcing’. It divided opinions to say the least.
Some people saw it as a more flexible, more open, more direct (and cheaper) way of getting things done.
Others saw it as a threat, as the death of their industries.

Crowdsourcing is a reality that won’t go away just yet and instinctively we’ve always leant towards to the first group, but divisive issues need to be tried and tested.
We already used crowdsourcing techniques very succesfully in our RAAK logo experiment, but that project was of course of a more personal, a more creative nature.
So when we got the chance to apply the concept on a commercial project, with a real client, we jumped at it.
And this is what we learnt.

The job was to design a website and a brand identity for a start-up consultancy agency called Consultifi. Because of our plug-in model, we don’t work with in-house designers and normally we would tap into our network and instruct the most suitable designer for the job. But this time we decided use the Crowdspring service, boasting more than 45,000 designers.

After a good 10 days, we ended up with no less than 218 entries. Some of them were variants on the same theme or re-workings, but we did have about 120 unique designs. Not bad for an unglamorous, serious business consultancy company.
The client was happy and we thought it was quite a success, so below are a few things we learnt from our experience.

* Consider paying more
We analysed the mean and average of the budgets of similar concepts. We decided to stretch our budget a bit. Because by doing so, we would sit in the top 5 of ‘logo and stationery’ projects and not amongst those other $500 briefs.
Also, we do believe in the motto “you get what you pay for”, so by increasing the amount we were hoping to reach out to better designers. Crowdspring says their stats confirm that: the more you pay, the more entries you get.
But of course, more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

* Include things you don’t want in your brief
Saying that the brief is important is stating the obvious, but I was surprised to find how few people include what they don’t want.
Creatives will only send in a design if they think they have a chance of winning. Remember: they see this as a competition. They’re up against 45,000 other designers. So the more doubts you can take away from them, the more likely it is they will have a shot at your brief. If you don’t want black-and-white, spell it out from the start. If you don’t want capital letters, tell them.
The brief for a boring immigration law job did just that and despite the relatively low budget, they got over 200 entries.

But won’t that close off certain routes, I hear you think? Nah.
Even though we briefed the creatives to create a logotype and ignore a non-text logo, some of them still sent one in. And even though we asked them to avoid the word ‘consultifi’ in all lowercase, some still used it.
If creatives feel strong about their idea, they will go off-brief. I’ve experienced this with music video directors, with graphic designers,…: if they think it works, they will try and convince you.
In this project, one of the designers even wrote a long email about why he thought we were wrong.
You can’t always predict what will work and what not, so we did consider some of these entries.

* Set aside enough time for feedback
On that immigration law job I mentioned above, the client also gave lots of feedback on each design. Another a reason of the quality of their entries, I think.
Crowdspring recommends you give ratings. One, because it’s only fair to the designers and two, because it will improve the designs. Other designers go and read your feedback on other entries and learn what you want and -again- what you don’t want.
As a comparison: a more creative, exciting project (for a media agency) with a similar budget only got 60-odd entries. But they did stop rating and giving feedback after a few days.

I found the rating system quite hard to manage, because a 3-star rating in the beginning might only have been a 2-star later on, once we got better entries.
But the feedback opportunity is very useful. It does give you the chance to finetune designs directly with creatives. And it does make the process more human.

* Don’t end your project on a Monday
Simply because there’s a chance you will receive a massive amount of entries in the last few days. In our case, a good 40% of the entries only came through in the last day. Not sure if this is because creatives fear being copied or simply because deadlines are there to be pushed.
But it does leave you with little time for feedback. Especially if those last days are a Saturday and Sunday and you don’t want to spend that time rating almost 100 designs.

* Be prepared to make quick decisions at the end
Especially if you work for a client. We sort of missed that you’re meant to make a decision within 7 days. And we hadn’t anticipated our client going on holiday. We were open about it and told the creatives, but then realised Crowdspring’s terms state that they have the right to chose a winner on your behalf if you take too long. Admittedly, when we contacted them, they got back to us really quickly, assuring us that we were doing the right things. So I’m not sure if they ever apply that power.
From a functionality point of view, Crowdspring could make the decision-step a little bit easier by adding a shortlist functionality. That way you can compare all your ‘shortlisted’ designs on one page; and share that page with your client.

* Buy the URL from the company you’re working for
A lesson we learnt the hard way. While we were running the project, someone bought the dot-com and dot-net urls for the company and then tried to sell it to us.

Is the Consultifi identity the best logo since the Swoosh? Probably not.
Will we use it again? Probably, yes.
Is it a replacement for design agencies? I doubt it very much. I would think that developing a brand identity that really makes a difference does benefit from a more traditional, in-depth (and thus more expensive) approach.
But it does offer a good opportunity for smaller companies or start-ups, who get the chance of getting a very decent design done for a very decent price.
And for creatives from all over the world (our ‘winner’ alexe is from Romania) to be exposed to briefs.

So it’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.

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