July 24, 2009

Crowdsourcing – Is it another way to devalue creativity?

What is crowdsourcing?
You can’t hear the word crowdsourcing without thinking of outsourcing which has become the word for shipping jobs overseas. Crowdsourcing has become the term used to describe using as many people as possible to get things done as cheap as you can.

The word crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, by Jeff Howe. But the act of crowdsourcing has been around for longer than that.

Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).

My opinion on crowdsourcing?
In my opinion, crowdsourcing is to the creative industry, e.g. Graphic Design, Photography, what Wal-Mart is to small businesses and customer service.

If you’re a Wal-Mart shopper you might think great, crowdsourcing is going to make Graphic Designers more affordable right? If you don’t care for the big box stores you might wonder if the customer service you have come to love from your graphic designer is going away? The answer to both those questions may be yes.

The pros and cons of crowdsourcing are in the eye of the beholder. If your Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia means less sales, but need to know some information quickly on your phone, or you know something and want to share it easily, it’s great. Istock photo is bad for professional photographers, but great to small businesses with a tiny budget. If you’re a designer the big logo design sites take away your logo work, but need a quick cheap logo and they’re great.

As prices are forced lower by crowdsourcing designers have to spend less time on each task to make the same amount of money. The time it takes to design and build a file won’t change much; so personal contact with the customer is what will suffer.

So how does crowdsourcing affect design?
When I design a logo I talk to my clients, I ask questions to get to know them, the personality of their company or product, and learn whom their target audience is. I consider where the client is in their market, leader or just entering. I consider color psychology and the nature of shapes. When you go to a logo box store site the main question you’re asked is how much do you want to pay? As a designer for big box logo site you have to churn out logos like a machine to make any money. You create a bike shop logo with a bicycle rim in the middle and the next week you swap out the bike rim for a car tire and present it to the next client. I am not saying these are bad designers, on the contrary, I have seen some great logos come out of these shops. However with little to no interaction with the client they are just creating good-looking logos, not necessarily the right logo for your company or product.

What happens from prolonged exposure to this level of design, it becomes normal; just like the lack of customer service and personal attention we have come expect from a big box store. So while crowdsourcing is a great way to get design work done cheap, it may not be a way to get great design work.

Some examples of when crowdsourcing works:
Crowdsourcing News: The Guardian and MP expenses investigation into the MP Expense Scandal in the UK. The newspaper created a system to allow the public to search methodically through 700,000 expense claim documents. Over 20,000 people participated in finding erroneous and remarkable expense claims by Members of Parliament.

Timeline: Steve Fossett disappearance. The search for aviator Steve Fossett, whose plane went missing in Nevada in 2007, in which up to 50,000 people examined high-resolution satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe that was made available via Amazon Mechanical Turk. The search was ultimately unsuccessful. Fosset's remains were eventually located by more traditional means.

The ESP Game by Luis von Ahn (later acquired by Google and renamed Google Image Labeler) was launched in 2004 and gets people to label images as a side-effect of playing a game. The image labels can be used to improve image search on the Web. This game led to the concept of Games with a purpose.

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.

Other things writen about crowdsourcing:
Phantom Captain:
 Art and Crowdsourcing
, by Andrea Grover
The Rise of Crowdsourcing, by Jeff Howe
Is Crowdsourcing Evil? The Design Community Weighs In, by Jeff Howe

July 02, 2009

What's in a name change.

I was listening to the radio and heard a story on the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and how they're thinking of changing the name of the state to Rhode Island. Yes the full name of Rhode Island is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It made me think about company names and changing them.

I have developed a strong brand and, I think, a rather unique and recognizable, though sometimes difficult to use, logo.

Now that I have developed a brand I find that sometimes I need a simpler logo and name. I use YAD, Your Art Director's acronym, and a YAD button.

Now I don't have the resources, or brand recognition, to change my company name like International Business Machines, IBM, did and because YAD* has another meaning, I make sure that when I use YAD it is always in conjunction with Your Art Director in some way.

In these days of texting and twittering LOL, RT and @, 2 ur friends, when is it right to make the switch from your full name to a shortened name or acronym?

Some things to ask yourself before you make a switch.

  • Do I have a strong brand, would I be giving up brand equity to make a switch?
  • Do people have an emotional attachment to my companies brand?
  • Is anyone using the new name or acronym already?
  • Is there a problem with the new name, it's acronym or URL?
  • Does my new name work internationally?
  • Why do I need to change the name?

A strong brand - Kleenex® and Band-Aid® wouldn't think of changing their names, they have actually had to sue people to not use their name. An interesting article about just that: American Red Cross Sued For Using a Red Cross

An emotional attachment to the brand - McDonalds® and the Golden Arches® have many childhood memories attached to them for a lot of people, using Mickey D's may be okay in more playful marketing targeting younger customers, but the loss of an emotional attachment to your customers could prove devastating.

Is the name or acronym already used - In many cases people base their company name on the availability of a URL. I think you should choose the best name for your company then figure out the URL. That said, be sure the URL that matches your company name isn't being used by your competition, or something worse. An article on acronym problems in the Credit Uunion industry

Is the new name a problem - It's easy to think that the company American Sprinkler Systems (I made this up, not affiliated with American Sprinkler) could use it's acronym, but it might not be in their best interest. Sharing expert information online is a great idea, so who wouldn't like the Experts Exchange, well some spam blockers might not, expertsexchange.com. The top 10 unintentionally worst company URLs

The new name internationally - When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America they didn't know that "no va" meant "it won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe. This is a horrible website, but it has some fun international marketing mistakes, well, I'm sure they weren't fun for the marketing professionals in charge.

Why change the name - Changing a name and logo is the quickest way for a marketing profession to put their mark on a company, but is it the best thing for the company or just their portfolio? There needs to be a good compelling argument to make a big change to your brand. Sometimes through no fault of it's own a company finds it's name has become a bad thing. You wouldn't blame a company with 911 in it's name for feeling like it needed a change. Sometimes a company outgrows it's name. Apple Computer® changed it's name to Apple® after the rise of the Ipod.

What can you gain from making a brand and name change? In many case's a lot but whatever you decide to do, be sure to build some matrix to measure the effect the brand change is having.

Some more information on naming companies.

Entrepreneur.com's naming rsources
Why Companies Change Their Name, Name Wire
The 10 Commandments of a Great Business Name, About.com

As for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in my opinion, changing the name is a waste of time and money. No one refers to it as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, I've only ever heard it refered to as Rhode Island, they also have the distinction of having the longest state name and it's going to cost a lot of money to change all the documents and signs.

*A YAD (Hebrew: יד‎), literally, "hand," is a Jewish ritual pointer, used to point to the text during the Torah reading from the parchment Torah scrolls. It is intended to prevent anyone from touching the parchment, which is considered sacred.