6 Reasons Spec Work / Crowdsourcing Sucks

It’s a revolution, or at least it seems to be if you listen to just about every hype-filled business blog out there. While crowdsourcing has resulted in some cool promotions and occasionally even a worthwhile end result for both parties involved, it’s rarely the best solution for any business (or any service provider, for that matter).

Hailed as a masterful way to get things done cheaply and easily for businesses, crowdsourcing is effectively digital outsourcing on steroids – a sure-fire method for getting work done on the cheap, while still maintaining control over the end product and project quality. Projects are issued, typically on one of several online marketplaces, and rather than competing for the project with applications and pitches, designers compete for the project with the finished project.

If you can’t already see how this equation doesn’t quite work as a long-term business strategy, these six reasons will no doubt make it a little clearer. Crowdsourcing, while worthwhile for some, just isn’t good for most online business, whether they’re on the project posting side or the service side. If you’re a new designer looking to gain some experience, check out these six reasons crowdsourcing sucks before you spend your time on a crowdsourced design competition:

1. Crowdsourcing Just Isn’t Good For Getting Things Done
From a business point of view, it’s always best to go for the best returns in exchange for the least time. As they say, time is money, and wasting time on mindless tasks is much the same as dropping coins down the drain. Crowdsourcing might make for a large pool of available design options, but for business owners and entrepreneurs it attracts a lot of wasted time.

When you’ve got an in-house design team, or even a contracted team, small changes don’t take much time to occur. However, when you’re communicating with hundreds of people, all of whom are competing for a single payment, the barrier between request and action becomes much wider and projects quickly fall behind. From a simple productivity standpoint, crowdsourcing pales next to a dedicated design team.

2. Crowdsourcing Is A Poor Deal For Businesses
When you work with design contractors, every project can be revised and improved until it’s perfect for your business. When you work with hundreds of designers, each competing for a single payment, revisions become less of a request and more of a pipe dream.

For businesses that are focused on long-term goals, a short-term strategy like crowdsourcing simply isn’t the way to go. Hiring a contract-based design firm or freelancer to take care of projects might cost slightly more and give you less immediate access to variety, but it also offers one incredibly valuable currency that crowdsourcing doesn’t: long-term potential.

3. Crowdsourcing is an Even Worse Deal for Providers
How would you feel if the following email showed up in your inbox:

We’ve got a project for you. Pay is $500-700 depending on scope and requirements, but we’re going to need to use a new payment system. When the project’s finished, we’ll roll two dice. If they add up to 9, you’ll get paid. Otherwise, we’ll discard the design and forget about payment.”

Crowdsourcing isn’t just ineffective and inefficient for businesses, but a near total waste of time for service providers. Sure, if your design is good enough, you’ll end up getting paid for the total projects. However, when you’re competing with 100 other designers, merit becomes less of a factor and taste becomes the determining influence. It’s hard to cater to taste on competition, and most designers end up missing out on payment altogether.

4. Crowdsourcing Kills Creativity
A standard design project gives you some room to move creatively, even if it’s for a relatively rigid and static web presence. Even the simplest WordPress template can be created with your own personal touch, and this flexibility and creative license is what attracts so many designers to the industry. They’re not just working for other people, but for themselves – creating designs that they enjoy too.

When a design gets crowdsourced, creativity dies. No matter how loose the specifications are and how accommodating the job provider is, the first few designs almost always end up dominating the creative output for the entire competition. Once designers are exposed to those first few samples, creativity suffers and everything ends up looking the same. While great for consistency, crowdsourcing kills the creativity that fuels great design.

5. Crowdsourcing Can Hurt Reputations
Popular blogger Timothy Ferriss stirred up some real controversy with this post on crowdsourcing his book cover design. The no-spec community is already quite vocal on crowdsourcing, and even the slightest mention by an online business or web company can end up with them in design hell. For businesses, it’s always best to think about the long-term implications of crowdsourcing. Running an ultra-cheap design contest now might end up providing some good work, but as a long-term solution it could end up locking you out of working with great designers.

6. Crowdsourcing Generally Results In Poor Work
Every 100 competitions, crowdsourcing may turn out a true design gem. The problem is that 1/100 aren’t good odds for most businesses. The vast majority of businesses, whether online or offline, want consistent good design, not one-off miracles and generally mediocre design.

Most good designers avoid crowdsourcing and spec work as much as they can, which leaves businesses stuck dealing with design that’s, simply put, pretty bad (not saying designers are bad, but the general result usually can’t really be compared to work done by an in-house team or freelancer).

In the mad scramble to win more competitions, designers churn out work that’s acceptable, all the while ignoring the chance to do truly great work. As a result, most crowdsource-based marketplaces become seas of good-enough design, and miss out on the great work and consistent quality that comes with an on-contract or in-house design team.

Source: spyrestudios.com
By Mathew Carpenter