“Why should I hire you when I can crowdsource it?”

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In my previous article, Why Should I Hire You when I Can Do it Myself?, I talked about how low-cost DIY solutions have contributed to the commoditization of web design. But there’s another barbarian at the gates. If there’s anything more controversial than the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, it’s crowdsourced graphic and web design.

Crowdsourcing is simply outsourcing to a group of people or community (a crowd). This is done through an open call for contributions, typically in the form of an American Idol-esque contest where the client posts a project brief and participants compete by submitting a design in hopes of being selected as a “finalist.” Each finalist is asked to tweak his design until a final winner is chosen. The other finalists and participants retain the rights to their design but are not paid.

While the term “crowdsourcing” is a relatively new one, the concept has been around for centuries. The Acropolis and several medieval cathedrals were the result of architectural design competitions, a common practice to this day.

The modern-day controversy surrounding crowdsourced graphic design revolves around the fact that participants must produce work for a potential client with no guarantee their piece will be chosen and/or paid for. In the graphic arts industry, this is known as speculative (i.e., spec) work—and it’s highly frowned-upon.

Make no mistake; crowdsourced design is disrupting the industry and, ironically, it’s the very technology we all know and love that’s elevated it to mega-trend status. But that’s what technology does best—it disrupts existing business models. Just ask the ice harvesters of the late 1800’s, or the film industry of the late 1990’s.

Admittedly, crowdsourcing may not be the first option that comes to mind for most people in need of graphic or web design. Yet, judging from the number of projects on 99Designs and CrowdSpring, and the amount of venture capital being invested in these sites, I’d say crowdsourced design is here to stay.

There are a number of ways you can deal with this. Here’s your first option:

Grab Your Torches and Pick Forks

You can join the spec work is evil crowd, who are trying to “educate the public” about the “growing concern” over spec-based design contests. (Assuming you think the “public” even cares, that is.)

Because of their strong stance against spec work, industry associations like the AIGA contend that crowdsourcing is detrimental for both designer and client. Yet, for every designer or client who’s had a bad crowdsourcing experience, there’s another who had a great one.

You may have strong opinions on the merits of crowdsourcing. Yet, ultimately, it’s the market that will decide if crowdsourcing succeeds or fails. The more you complain and fight against it, the more likely you’ll find yourself sitting on the sidelines along with the travel agent and bookstore owner, while the market happily embraces a new business model.

Assuming you’ve decided that boycotting companies who crowdsource their design needs isn’t going to change anything, let me offer some constructive ways to survive in a crowdsourcing, do-it-yourself web designing world. But first, I have a favor to ask.

I’d love to discuss the wonders or evils of crowdsourced design in the comments below, but I’ve noticed that whenever I write a two-part article, the comments on Part One “The Problem” far exceed the comments in Part 2 “The Solution.”

I’d like to think it’s because everyone is off busily applying my solution (and not secretly laughing at it behind my back). But I suspect the real reason is that it’s somehow more gratifying to wallow and complain about a problem than actually solving it. So prove me wrong by generating at least as many comments in Part 2: Surviving in a Crowdsourced, Do-it-Yourself Web Designing World.

Let the comments begin!

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John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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