Blog Post

Crowdsourcing with CrowdSpring and "DIFT" Design

When part of the team of web design professionals who are redesigning our HASTACwebsite suggested that HASTAC might want to look into Crowdspring as a wayto design a new logo, we were delighted. HASTAC is dedicated to exploringall the different ways that new technologies are changing the ways wethink, create, learn, interact, do research, publish our ideas, and do businesstogether--participatory learning in the biggest sense. Crowdspring is a Web 2.0 version of online design:


None of us had dealt with Crowdspring before and it seemed very "HASTAC" to explore this online design resource and community and see what we thought. I must admit, it tooka lot of hard work by our HASTAC web redesignteam. As is the case with much Web 2.0, the service element of a professional business, contracted relationship gets shifted to the consumer who must be actively and consistently engaged in the creation of a final project. We do a lot of design projects at HASTAC so we are familiar with the back-and-forth of design, but this was far, far more labor-intensive than usual. Still, it was less expensive than what our highly experienced professional web designer would have charged for a logo (nb: although, as it turned out, it was not less expensive than the designer we chose actually charges when she does contract work). So we went into this, curious, fascinated, skeptical, but willing to experiment with a new model because that's what HASTAC does. We helped support Duke University Press's publication of Chris Kelty's TWO BITS, on the Free Software Movement, for example, so we could learn more about what an online version of a refereed university press publication would do to the sales of the book--another version of hybrid experimentation. If publishing is in transition, certainly design is too. What could we learn? Would this version of Web 2.0 design work? Could this work? For whom? What are the upsides? The downsides? To have a logo designed on spec for a professionally-designed website based on Drupal open-source code? Hybrid design? Is this Web 2.0 design?  A Craig's List for design?  The creative/artistic equivalent of Ebay, putting your own talent and services up for a bid instead of spending hours and hours combing through thrift stores for that rare Eva Zeisel that you then auction online to the highest bidder?  


How it works is that we filled out a long and detailed questionaire prepared by Crowdspring about our organization. We then posted it along with the design fee to Crowdspring. For two weeks, any designer who participates in the Crowdspring spec community then has the opportunity to post a logo design for HASTAC. We could rate those and give feedback and even ask for tweaks. At the end of two weeks, we had hundreds of designs offered for our consideration (and for public scrutiny/advertisement) and a week to make a decision. The top designer we chose would receive the fee, whether or not we decided to use the logo. In fact, we love the logo. We'll be using it. It was a lot of work--but a great result and a fascinating process. And we were introduced not just to one excellent freelance spec designer but probably a half dozen really talented designers who, for one reason or another, prefer to design on spec, rather than on contract. If we had prorated our work on an hourly basis, we certainly would not have saved much money. But because of HASTAC's commitment to exploring and evaluating new forms,we were deligthed. 


And then we realized we were very naive. We hadn't realized that there are formal protests by professional design organizations against designing on spec and particularly against Crowdspring. So to the other critiques we might offer (and Mandy will be blog more on this when she recovers from the Flu That Felled North Carolina---everyone here has it here!), we need to add this concern by professional designers that spec design web operations such as Crowdspring will hurt their professionalism, their credibility, and, indeed, their income.


Here are some links to discussions, including some real debates, on all sides of this issue:

Here's the AIGA position and guidelines: (An editorial on here-comes-everybody design on spec).

And for different views:

The most urgent questions here seem to be:  Will spec design destroy professional design? Will it undermine the profession, hurt credibility, or in very material ways cut into the already small remuneration earned by many designers today? Those are some of the questions. Those are similar to the questions that have been raised about about self-publishing on line. We've written lots about that on this blog, including (there's a pattern here!) how much labor was involved in publishing ELECTRONIC TECHTONICS: THINKING AT THE INTERFACE, the scholarly papers from the first HASTAC Conference, through LULU, an online and paper on demand open source publisher sponsored by Red Hat. The product was not refereed, is not of professional editorial standards by any means (footnote irregularities abound!), took enormous work . . . but it's out, it is available, it is a document. Does it work as a business model? That's hard to imagine. Will Lulu pose a serious challenge to university press publishing? I don't see how.


Does Crowdspring threaten professional designers? This, too, is hard to imagine given how labor intensive the process is for the consumer and how little money, relatively, the consumer saves. I suspect that a lot of people who turn to Crowdspring do so because they can't afford an experienced, professional designer.  In other circumstances, they might call on that artistic friend of theirs or see what they can do with their own online tools, but probably they would not hire an experienced professional with their own design firm or even an experienced freelancer.   It may well be a new business model for design for those who would not normally be paying for a designer, who don't have the means to do so.   What about from the designer's point of view?  Does Crowdspring work as a business model for the designers who support and advocate and are inspired by Crowdspring and who are grateful to have a source for their work, even if it is risky and done on spec? Are there any designers who can support themselves through Crowdspring?  I'm not sure.  There was a moment when we felt so excited to see all the designs come in and then another moment when we felt really queazy.  1 in 300 chance to be selected?  Is it worth it?  (Well, we better think so, since we run a competition each year where the odds are also awfully low; not this low, but still low enough that any competitor is taking a chance.  On the other hand, we know from many people that the very process of getting together interested partners to work on an application begins to make relationships and elaborate ideas that often turn out to be productive even if one does not win the actual competition.  HASTAC has had that experience many, many times.  Is there some equivalent for designers?  Where the process is itself productive, a learning experience in a very real, participatory, Web 2.0 way?  Maybe.)


Rather than answer these questions, we'd love to hear from others about this topic, from professional designers who never design on spec and from those designers (amateurs or professionals) who love to design on spec, as well as from consumers who have tried it both ways. As we know from history of the book, you cannot talk about any one part of a communications/publications process without talking about all. Make a change in one aspect, and everything else changes too. Mandy and I will continue to blog on this specific subject in the weeks ahead but we want to hear from you, too.


Here's our bottom line: We loved the result of our labor-intensive work with Crowdspring. You will be seeing it when we roll out our new website.  We continue to wonder what the business model is. And, as with Fair Use and Open Source and Free Software, we aren't really sure what we think about the implications for existing relationships, existing professions, existing standards of professionalism. That is our bottom line: we are not sure. We have all engaged now in numerous conversations about this and still aren't sure. We need the wisdom of crowds here! We need your feedback. We need your imput. Anyone who signs up to the website can contribute to the comment section of this blog.


And we will continue to think about it, do research, and comment. This is another opportunity for HASTAC to do what HASTAC does best: think about the pros andcons and all points in between of technology in a transitional moment. I've given several lectures, also available on this site, on"Do-It-Yourself" v. "Do-It-For-Rupert Murdoch," on the potential forexploitation from Web 2.0. (See; the talk is also on the HASTAC on YouTube Channel: )


Does Crowdspring fall into theDo-It-For-Them (DIFT) model? Let us know what you think!









Special thanks to Flickr community member Crowdspring for this visual about social networks. Please click on this image for more images from this photostream and for documentation.



Hi Cathy,

Thanks so much for writing about You've raised a few issues, so let me take a few minutes and respond.

Only four months after we launched (May 2008), we have over 8,100
designers from 130+ countries working on crowdSPRING. We've had buyers
from 32 countries post over 1,100 projects, including individuals,
small and midsize companies, Fortune 500, and major agencies.

Before the Internet helped to level the playing field, graphic design was very much a closed profession, like photography, copywriting, music, etc. iStockphoto and Itunes helped to revolutionize how people buy stock photography and music. And when they first came to the scene, there was much resistance by the "professionals" in those industries.

Technology often reshapes entire industries, and we saw an opportunity to innovate in an area that had not seen much innovation in thousands of years. When people buy services, they are typically far less comfortable and knowledgeable than when they buy goods. But there's no reason why people couldn't have choice - and that's what crowdSPRING brings - lots of choice, as you saw in your project. Millions of really talented people around the world love to create but can't compete in the traditional model. Our logo was designed by a janitor. Our site was designed by a student. We never would have hired them had we used a traditional approach to sourcing design. But since we compared actual designs, we knew what we liked and we didn't care that we didn't know who the designer was.

Our business model is pure and simple. We charge buyers 15% on top of what they will pay for their project. Designers get 100% of the awards from buyers. We require escrow in every project (guaranteeing that designers will be paid), we provide customized legal agreements for each project, we offer robust project management and communication tools, and world-class customer service.


Dear Ross Kimbarovsky,


Thanks so much for writing. We would love to hear from independent designers who find Crowdspring a place where they can enter into the profession. We worked hard to get the design we want--probably took the whole process more seriously than most because HASTAC is a virtual network and we like to give as much support as possible to peers in various different online enteprises, proft and not-for-profit. We are very pleased with the logo. We invited HASTAC readers to be part of the process if they wished. And we are hoping this forum will allow both those who object to spec design and those for whom it is a lifeline to come forward and explain their positions. We love it that you participate in the debate and even encourage debate. This is a transitional moment and that means it evokes both dreams and fears. Some of those are realistic and some are not. We're all, together, trying to figure out what works, what does not, and how to make this amazing age we live in work in as many ways possible, for as many people as possible.




Cathy Davidson