Yesterday we discussed the rise and fall of the new logo for The Gap (rising and falling in about three days). The Gap Company is not the first to take on a logo redesign only to have the effort eviscerated by customers and critics (See, for examples,and . If the fact of the fallout over The Gap is not especially new, why might it nevertheless portend a new way for corporations to deal with their public faces?
The open contest to redesign the logo for The Gap was posted earlier this fall at. The results, at least the top 4660, are available for public viewing, and many of them deserve consideration. Indeed, the who collection is an excellent study of how we might respond to combinations of fonts and color (mostly the traditional navy blue). The response to the winner was uniformly negative, except, apparently by those at The Gap delegated to made such decisions. But what we wanted to talk about today was the fallout over the contest itself.A few critics at page noted that the mere existence of the contest was a problem – nay, an insult – to design and even to The Gap:
Alyssa Lee Welch: How much money does your company makes and you are going to crowd source a bunch of designs for free from possibly hundreds of designers? Completely insulting to the industry, and to your designer as well. Gap has the money to either fix the logo or to just switch back and count it as a loss. Terrible.
The sale of the birthright was rather more than a bowl of pottage – $500 – but the bigger complaint was that The Gap would stoop to crowdsourcing in the first place. The notion of crowdsourcing began as a blend of ‘outsourcing’ and the nascent world of social media. The term was coined by Jeff Howe at Wired Magazine in 2006, and became an instant hit as a neologism. The concept, once named, also immediately raised legal issues about attribution, responsibility, and (of course) payment.
The practice in the design world has been one in which companies post a ‘contest’ for people to submit ideas/designs from which those same people might choose finalists. Representatives from ‘the company’ then pick the finalist. The practice, alas, has tended to encourage a race to the bottom. As evidence, the blog MediaShift for PBS had in interview with Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Sampson, co-founders of ‘CrowdSpring,’ the website that perhaps launched the concept of crowdsourcing in the design world.
“When we first started, it was a pretty steady drumbeat from many of the incumbent designers,” he said. “As it’s gone on, I think it’s tapered off and we only get pushback when a high-profile project is posted … But I think the numbers speak for themselves. We have about 68,000 registered users, creatives working on our site. It is by many multiples larger than the AIGA, which is the leading professional organization for the design industry [and has spoken out against CrowdSpring]. It does speak volumes in terms of acceptance and the pool of talent out there, and the people who are out there who want an outlet for their creativity.”
Mark Glaser, the interviewer, then went to two colleagues in need of design projects: “I put the site [CrowdSpring] to the test by telling two friends about it. One is a vice president at a mid-sized tech startup, whose wife does graphic design. His first reaction was that yes, this could hurt his wife’s business and the designs must not be very good. His next reaction was to think seriously about whether his business should use CrowdSpring. Another friend needed a simple website design, and he decided against CrowdSpring and found someone local whom he could meet in person and brainstorm with.”
Mr. Glaser’s takeaway from the experience and interviews is that crowdsourcing design work in this way can save companies a bundle, and get some exposure (and a bit of cash) to young designers working their way up/in the industry. Nevertheless, the companies come out way ahead because they invest almost nothing in time or money for a new logo, book cover, whatever – whereas designers fight to ‘raise their game’ while getting a few bucks an hour for the effort. IF they win.
Designing a logo, a look, a store front, a corporate presence… requires time, feedback, and the opportunities to ‘kick it around’ between client and designer(s). Crowdsourcing allows none of this. Indeed, it tends to encourage speedy work from a group of designers whose output will be judged by business people who need have no ‘vision’ for the project, process, or outcome. In other words, the company crowdsources both the design (to the outside world) and the decision to pick a design (within the company). And dozens of designers end up with no feedback or opportunity to explain or improve their work. Design and communication are creative processes that must be interactive and reiterative – and people-based. Otherwise, everyone comes out the worse, as The Gap has proved. But we are not optimistic that a deeper lesson has been learned. Surely corporations will occasionally get a hit with the practice. And if not, what’s $500 to them?