May 15, 2010 1 Comment
From the home office in outer space, where I’m blogging from the space shuttle Atlantis’s final mission…
#8: Noticing an uptick in Foursquare friend requests lately.
Observations on technology and business from someone who should know better
March 9, 2010 13 Comments
This is an issue that I simply cannot wrap my head around. Spec work appears in the design field infinitely more times than any other industry. It absolutely floors me that people think that it is even remotely ethical to build their businesses by tearing down ours.
Mark Hemmis’s comment on AIGA policy statement on spec work
The past couple years have seen an increase in the use of crowdsourcing by companies to procure design assets. It works like this:
These design requests are often for logos, but for a number of other types of initiatives as well. For example, 99designs’ list of requests (to the right) gives some sense of the types of projects.
So far, so good, right? Well, a lot of designers think not. As Mark Hemmis’s comment above shows, these open spec work contests have been raising the ire of the designer community.
Is crowdsourcing ripping their industry asunder?
Three aspects of crowdsourcing design raise concern for many in the design industry:
Compensation: To be competitive, individuals will need to invest some time in designing a submission for a company. With a good number of entries, this equates to a decent number of hours invested. As Pamela Pfiffner writes:
The problem is, spec and crowdsourcing can lower your value and hourly rates so far that minimum wage looks like a fat paycheck.
Her statement takes things to a logical extreme – someone would have to do nothing but spend their time entering contests. But she does a good job framing the issue.
Diminishing the profession: The issue with crowdsourcing is that it says, “this stuff is easy!” A commenter on this post, How NOT to Design a Logo, baldly gives this concern legitimacy:
Logo design contests are great, its the only way I go. I get my pick of 5-10 designs for less then $20. Designers these days are a dime a dozen, be happy you get the work.
The design industry has characteristics of being craftsman, as well as strategists. At least the higher end firms do. Sentiments like that are grating.
Not sustainable: The concern here is that over the long term, the economics of crowdsourcing will cause existing designers to exit the industry, and potential designers will opt for different careers. Here’s how Jacob Cass thinks about it:
Design contest sites are not the future of graphic design… nor do I see a time when it ever will be, however, in the long term I believe spec work is going to be detrimental to the design industry… both devaluing design and designers as a whole.
The argument here is that rather than expand the pool of talent for design, crowdsourcing will ultimately reduce the industry.
So designers themselves are lining up against these types of crowdsourcing design contests. Which begs the question…
Truth is – 99designs is growing by leaps and bounds. We have record numbers of projects being launched and have needed to hire new staff to help us keep up with the growth.
The motivation of organizations seeking design work seem clear enough – tap a large network of creativity, manage expenses within budget. But what are those designers doing there?
It seems that not all designers are of the same mind about these crowdsourcing design contests. Some actually embrace them. Why?
Personal interest: Some projects just pique the interest of a person. Maybe there’s a day job with a paying company, and then a chance at night to do things “your way” on a project of interest. The project taps some areas you want to pursue, or maybe allows you to try something out without concern as to whether the client will ultimately want the design.
Extra business: Everyone is hustling in a weak economy. If your design business has some slack in demand, why not apply the available creative resources toward an occasional crowdsourcing project? If you’re a professional shop, presumably your odds are better than most.
Access to high-end ad agencies: This was the case when Porter Crispin + Bogusky solicited logo designs for their start-up client Brammo, maker of electric motorcycles. They ran the contest through crowdSPRING. The contest sparked plenty of debate, but also saw 700 entries. One reason was that young up-n-coming designers wanted the chance to impress a firm of the caliber of PC+B, who can send many paying clients their way.
That’s the designer participation set of motivations. I guess the best way to think about companies’ motivation is this:
Do they get results?
Since the number of requests from companies is growing, design crowdsourcing sites are working at some level. If they weren’t, word would spread pretty quickly and companies would stop using them. This comment from designer Morgan Stone on Alex Bogusky’s blog post about PC+B’s use of crowdSPRING is illuminating:
As a designer… crowdsourcing scares me. I think it has to do with the harsh reality that sometimes it doesn’t take experience or a big title to design something truly amazing.
What’s the staying power of the crowdsourced design contest approach? And will it disrupt the industry, in the Clayton Christensen sense?
Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang wrote last year, “Without a doubt, Specwork (like crowdspring or 99 designers) is here to stay – economics will drive this forward.” For the buyers, yes. But the supply side of the equation – the designers – is that here to stay?
I believe it is. The numbers say it is. Here’s what I mean:
In a 2009 article, Forbes noted that there are 80,000 free lance designers in the U.S. alone. Add in the talent from around the world, and you can see that there is a large of pool of creativity. Maybe 200,000 designers globally? 99designs claims roughly 54,000 designers on its site.
Designers have some motivation to participate in crowdsourcing design contests, as noted for the reasons above. It’s not like every designer will submit regularly. But every project reaches some new set of designers, and occasionally gets a repeat one as well.
All it takes is for a business seeking design work is maybe 30, 40, 50 submissions? As a percent of the global number of designers, that’s not much.
40 / 200,000 = 0.02%
Here’s what one designer said about getting clients from crowdsourcing sites:
I’ve had direct clients and also have been one of those in the crowd. Surprisingly, some of my best clients are the ones that followed me from these crowd sourcing sites. That’s probably because they’ve already been through a working process with me, and they like what they’ve experienced, so there’s no mismatch of expectations like a new client.
I do see the sustainability of the business. It’s complex, but there are enough people who do see advantages to participating. Even if only for certain periods of their lives or only on occasion. I don’t see entering crowdsourcing design contests as a full-time pursuit for someone.
Many designers in the debate note the importance of establishing a rapport with clients, and understanding their clients more deeply than a set of colors and fonts. A firm such as Nocturnal Graphic Design Studio appears to deliver value through deeper relationships and more strategic approaches with its clients.
But Erica’s point above is well-taken. Sometimes, you’re not in the market for that level of involvement. Small and mid-sized businesses do not need the full horsepower of high-end design firms. As one designer (snootily) commented on the PC+B blog post about using crowdSPRING:
99 designs and their nefarious brethren have a client roster whose market recognition for the most part is similar to that of “joe’s morgue & jerky outlet.”
Of course, this may not be contained to SMBs.
Have you checked out what Mountain Dew is doing with crowdsourcing (aka “DEWmocracy”)? As Wired notes in a January article:
Mountain Dew is asking consumers to choose three new sodas, from selecting the flavors to naming them, designing the cans and choosing the ad agency to promoting the product.
Not all of this is crowdsourcing design, but it is an edgy experiment in leaving the professional firms behind.
Right now, as Steve Douglas of the Logo Factory notes, the biggest chunk of business is for logos. Which you can see at the start of this post in the 99designs project list.
The U.S. Census Bureau had the graphic design industry generating $2.8 billion in revenue in 2002. It is a large, diverse, complex industry. My expectation is that design contest crowdsourcing will encroach more into large enterprises for tactical projects, as the smaller businesses continue to use them and get good results. Large companies’ efforts, such Mountain Dew’s DEWmocracy, Unilever’s crowdsourcing contest for a TV campaign for its Peperami snack food, and Doritos’ crowdsourced Super Bowl ads, add fuel to this.
Two things are needed for the crowdsourcing model to encroach further into the design industry:
Leaderboards let prospective buyers know who the best are. We see them on Topcoder for programming contests. It’s a way to establish visibility and credibility far beyond the recommendations you maintain on your own site. It will take some changes by the crowdsourcing sites, enabling recognition for designers who do well in contests, even if they are not picked. It also would need to have different bases for identifying top designers.
The other wrinkle is to allow a form of smartsourcing. Once the top designers are identified, they are invited for larger companies’ design projects. This is pretty similar to the current state of things, except the basis for access changes somewhat. It’s not just business relationships a designer/firm has established with the big ad/marketing.brand agencies. It’s based on performance.
With these two elements, I can see how crowdsourcing becomes more important, more disruptive, in the world of business design.
I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.
February 13, 2010 Leave a comment
From the home office in Vancouver, where I’m preparing to compete in the snow blogging competition…
#1: Twitter’s location information would come in handy during the Olympics. Choose to follow tweets of only those in your time zone.
#9: Nice word: “heterarchy” a formal structure, represented by a diagram of connected nodes, without any single permanent uppermost node
January 26, 2010 37 Comments
In a recent interview with EMC’s Stu Miniman about the future of the web, I predicted that in 20 years, we’ll all have online reputation scores. Little badges, numbers that communicate our level of authority, this sort of thing. And these reputations will have tangible impact.
Three different trends come together at some point in the future to make this happen. These trends have been underway for a while, but come together at some tipping point in the years ahead. Here’s a visualization of the trends:
eBay, which went public back in 1998, played an important role in socializing the concept of people providing online ratings for online sellers. After we receive our purchase, we rate the seller. The collective wisdom identifies top sellers. Got your eye in that Donkey Kong game? Who are you most likely to trust…?
Amazon picked up on this, once it introduced third party sellers into the mix. You can see the percentage of positive ratings for the different sellers. Personally, I have paid premiums (i.e. higher prices) for the assurance that comes from a higher rated seller.
Yelp has taken this concept of rating a seller, and applied to offline consumer experiences. Want to get a burrito in San Francisco? You’re likely to go with the highest rated restaurants.
These ratings make up for our lack of information about various providers of services. One could do a lot of online research, and asking friends, before buying. But these ratings do quite well as shorthand ways of assessing quality. They’ve made it easy to transact, without knowing someone ahead of time.
The rating ethos is expanding. On Facebook, you can ‘like’ people’s entries. We ‘love’ music on Last.fm. We ‘favorite’ tweets. We ‘digg’ and ‘buzz up’ stories. Implicitly, we provide ratings when we share content via different social networks. Online engagement allows for this.
I found this recent Kaiser Family Foundation study fascinating. The amount of time kids spend online – smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device – is now at an all-time high. There’s no denying this: future workers are going to be more accustomed to online engagement and information-seeking than any generation before. It’s their lifestyle:
More generally, an important distinction from the web of the 1990s and early 2000s is that we aren’t just reading and transacting. Individuals are providing the content. More every day, in fact. We have transferred some of the engagement and contributions from the offline world online. Actually, we’re probably creating more content than we ever have,
For workers, the growth of Enterprise 2.0 continues. A key outcome of that? More and more work is making its way online. When it’s available there, and not just in a Word document on the hard drive or email in an inbox, it’s findable and usable by everyone.Your colleagues know quite well what the quality of your work and contributions are.
Do you think all of this stops, and we go back to message-relaying marathoners, smoke signals and carrier pigeons? No. Enterprise 2.0 and social media will continue their growth apace. And increasingly, this time spent online is through social media.
More and more people will be publishing their work, their ideas, their knowledge, their conversational bits, their creativity…online. It’s just going to keep increasing.
An emerging trend is the transition of where we seek information. Remember libraries, magazines and microfiche? Then the 1.0 websites where we got information? Then the portals that aggregated information from major media sites? Then search augmented all this information consumption?
Well, the next wave is to rely on our social connections to deliver interesting, relevant information to us. As was famously said by a college student in 2008:
If the news is important, it will find me.
A recent Nielsen study confirms this growing tendency to use social media as a first stop to find information:
Admittedly, the leading social sites of today – blogs, Facebook, Twitter – have a ways to go before they become a large percentage of the population’s first choice. And it’d help if Twitter could get their search working further back than a week or two.
But this survey and anecdotal evidence points toward an increased reliance on others to provide information to us.
It’s that last trend, still early in its cycle, that really points toward the development of formal, online reputations. When we started transacting online with complete strangers or small businesses we never knew, we needed a basis for understanding their credibility. It turns out, crowdsourced ratings are excellent indicators of quality. It also causes small businesses to be aware of the quality of their products and services.
In the years ahead, expect increased usage of social media for getting information and sourcing people, products and services. As an example, research firm IDC just released these survey results:
57% of U.S. workers use social media for business purposes at least once per week. The number one reason cited by U.S. workers for using social tools for business purposes was to acquire knowledge and ask questions from a community.
As reliance on people for information increases, expect an increased need for knowing which strangers provide the top quality information. Note I said “strangers” there. One thing we will continue to do is to rely on our “friends” (social media sense of the word) for ongoing daily information. The people we connect with on the various social sites.
But that’s the only way we will get information. Or make decisions. Great case in point? Google’s real-time search results:
If innovation is the focus of your work, wouldn’t you want to be include in those Google results? Here’s the thing. Google doesn’t just put any old tweet or other form of real-time content in there. As Google’s Amit Singhal stated:
“You earn reputation, and then you give reputation. If lots of people follow you, and then you follow someone–then even though this [new person] does not have lots of followers,” his tweet is deemed valuable because his followers are themselves followed widely, Singhal says. It is “definitely, definitely” more than a popularity contest, he adds.
Note his words: “You earn reputation“.
PR agency Edelman created a ranking algorithm called Tweetlevel, which analyzes people on the basis of influence, popularity, engagement and trust. Tweetlevel was recently used to create a list of the top analysts on Twitter. As the author of that post noted, one purpose for the list was to answer the question: “Should they spend their limited time interacting with analysts via twitter?” Presumably if you’re an analyst in the Top 50, ‘yes’.
Again, reputation being used for a defined purpose.
Ross Dawson wrote a good piece about the changes coming due to the increasing visibility of “people’s actions and character”. He notes the impact of reputation on seeking professionals for work:
Many professionals will be greatly impacted by these shifts. The search for professional advice is often still highly unstructured, based on anecdotal recommendations or simple searches. As importantly, clients of large professional firms may start to be more selective on who they wish to work with at the firm, creating a more streamlined meritocracy.
The mechanisms for measuring professional reputation are still very crude, yet over the coming decade we can expect to see substantial changes in how professionals are found. This will impact many facets of the industry.
And Bertrand Dupperin sees a similar dynamic playing out internally:
Use internal social networks to build a kind of marketplace that would put work capacity and competence on a given subject in relation with needs and allow those who can apply for an assignment instead of blind assignments to those who can’t.
In a world where individuals emerge as important sources of information, products and services, people will need a way to break through the limited knowledge they’ll have on any one person. Look for online reputations to emerge as a way to fill that gap.
I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.
December 6, 2009 Leave a comment
From the home office in the middle of the road by my smashed up SUV with a nine-iron imprint on my face…
November 17, 2009 2 Comments
At a conference in Malaysia, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said the Suggested Users List (SUL), a boon in followers for anyone on it, will be going away sometime in the future:
“That list will be going away,” Stone said at a conference in Malaysia. “In its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions.”
See that term? “Programmatically chosen”. Hmmm…
The SUL was hand picked by the staff of Twitter. Which meant if you weren’t included on the SUL, it felt like a snub if you had established a large presence on the service. It was also celebrity-heavy, which was nice if that’s your thing. But people have a range of interests beyond Hollywood and music.
How do you suppose suggested users will be be “programmatically chosen”? My guess is that is that this new reputation score we’ve been hearing about will be part of it.
More broadly, I could see incorporating the same criteria discussed previously in How Should Tweets Be Ranked in Search Engine Results? including:
Maybe a new user enters key words indicating areas of interest and the Twitter system returns a set of users to follow. Wouldn’t that be a better way?
This all raw speculation on my part. But it would be cool if they roll out a more effective way to match interests to people.
May 9, 2009 Leave a comment
From the home office in the Nokia Theater, Times Square…
#2: Seeing a number of enterprise 2.0 vendors moving hard into the idea/innovation management realm. Good place to be.
#10: iPhone effect: my 5 y.o. son was pressing his finger on my laptop screen to navigate on a web page.
You can find me on Twitter at