Crowdsourcing…Embracing the change.

A few months back, when I wrote my first article on Crowdsourcing I was motivated by my personal sense of outrage. I had received an email offering me the chance to enter a competition to submit an entire campaign layout (from strategy to creative) for Redbull.

My prize should I be so fortunate as to win this “august competition”was the handsome amount of $3000.00. My immediate response was…WTF $ 3000.00 ? For a full on Redbull campaign!…You must be joking.

But they weren’t… I didn’t enter… someone did.

Response to the article was lukewarm to say the least, most creatives defended their turf pointing out that quality would always outperform price and then went on at length to explain formal education, colour theory, design theory experience etc as clear and obvious advantages that merit a premium price to the client.

Obviously in spite of the calamitous impact stock photography has had on the photographic profession (ask any of your camera happy friends’) we in the design industry believed ourselves  invulnerable to commoditization.

Some of us continue to persist in this wishful thinking.

Good luck.

A recent post by a design colleague states that it’s too late “The cat is already out of the bag” I agree and like all bags full of cats you’re going to have a devil of a time trying to get them all back in.

So now what?

There are several possible options;

1.Shut them down: an unlikely scenario demanding a united, forceful and collective voice capable of persuading legislators that it’s in the common interest to shut down what is in effect a far reaching business model. To be effective this would need to be accomplished on a global scale. The cost in time, money and commitment suffice it to say, is such that we’d have a better chance of electing the tooth fairy as the first universal ruler.

2.Man the barricades: stand shoulder to shoulder, forming unions and labour groups, ready to strike and deprive business of the wealth of our talent and knowledge. Demanding better rates, protectionism and working conditions. Again on a global scale. Hmmm, the most likely candidates to lead such a revolt would be people like AIGA or Icograda or other national and international organisations who to my knowledge have remained ominously quiet.

3.Beat them at their own Game:

Now there is an idea with merit. How about embracing the new business model, how about raising the stakes, how about using our knowledge, skills and talents to beat them flat out in the crowdsourcing game? How about out-gunning them at every turn. How about creating a value added proposition that they can’t compete against.

This is not a battle that can be won by traipsing out our degrees, diplomas and stellar portfolios, this is a battle about money in someone’s pocket. If two lawyers  can beat us up in our own backyard… we’re a disgrace. We need to up the level of our game and outwit them at theirs. When they find that it’s not a profitable enterprise, they will roll up the carpets and go off in search of juicier markets to plunder.

Ok down to brass tacks.

1.Crowdsourcing is here to stay as a new business model, a new paradigm . It is not going to go away..accept it.

2.In order to win at this we must embrace this new business model…wholeheartedly. We know more about graphic design than any other group of people…we know the industry, we know the players we know what works and what doesn’t. We need to harness this expertise in a constructive positive way to create an unassailable competitive advantage.

3.Individually and collectively we need to bring more value to our clients tables, make ourselves indispensable, become a tribe, linchpins…actively seek out ways that we can delight our clients in remarkable ways. C’mon people, creating compelling messages, inventing new perspectives and selling ideas is what we do… no one does it better than us. We need to turn this focus on our own industry and find ways to kick the game up to the next level. We need to think about our business’s in new ways..we need to be champions not victims.

Let me give you a case in point. My own example.

I live in South Africa. I work with some enormously talented and well paid people.

Many of you see me and my team as a threat?

Are we?

Or are we a wonderful opportunity? In a global, technology driven economy those who see me as a threat are not going to make it in this new paradigm. Those who see me as an opportunity will thrive and expand.

Why? Because I’m not offering a lower quality of product, I’m not using inferior design talent nor paying them peanuts. By virtue of the fact that our exchange rate( and no other reason) is considerably lower in your favour I can create an equal product for 60-70% of your price increasing both your profits and mine.

Can you think how this might be an advantage to you and your clients?

Would you suddenly let go all of your existing staff?

Heavens no, why? They have on the ground knowledge and expertise, someone in Nigeria doesn’t

But you might consider taking on work that hasn’t been profitable but at lower design costs could be?

You might find that with more time available you can expand into other areas?

You might find that certain work is more cost efficiently contracted out allowing you to concentrate on delivering exceptional quality in other areas?

How might having an international reach enable you to offer your “A” list clients a better service? Etc etc etc.

My apologies this is beginning to sound like a sales pitch which is not my intention, at all.

What I’m trying to say is, there are thousands of talented people around the globe they are not going to go away, they are going to continue to look at ways to use exchange rates (among others) as a way to create competitive advantage, they are working for crowd sourcing clients and they are not going to stop. You can fight against them or bring them into the fold as an asset before someone else does. The choice is up to you either you put the money in your pocket or the Crowdspring people do.

Whichever the case, the bottom line is that Mr. Sing in India or Ms. Khumalo in Africa is not going to go away because we feel threatened. And trying to match them dollar to Rupee or Rand is suicidal.

Finally to wrap up part 2.

A closer look at ourselves.

In what ways can you as a designer and or studio owner step up your own game?

  • When was the last time you took your 3 best clients and their marketing teams out to lunch? Not to tell them what you do but expressly and intentionally to find out where they are going , what are their plans, what are they excited about…how can you help them to  succeed?
  • When was the last time you went out of your way to make graphic design an important part of their lives?
  • When was the last time you set up a breakfast presentation at your cost to inform your clients of the latest social media design trends (or any other salient topic) and show them how it might propel their brands to new heights?
  • Sent them a really useful white paper?
  • GAVE them a custom designed, high quality calendar showing examples of the best work you’ve done for their brand…that they can give away to their clients as freebies?
  • Sent them a creative rationale, explaining what their competition was up to creatively,  why it was or wasn’t working and how you can help them outsmart them?

The list goes on and on and indeed in the next section I’d like to start talking about what value ads we might deliver to our clients that no crowdsourcing company can compete with. I’d really like to hear your ideas and thoughts..lets work together on this and beat them at their own game.

You can embrace this new paradigm, grow, expand and be more profitable.

Oh…you might want go give some thought about how crowdsourcing practitioners might react, if we start to up the level of the game?

Xross that line.

Cheers Steven.

Image credits:

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Crowdsourcing, another scam or a new paradigm?

Crowdsourcing – The Angry Mob. (Part 1.)

The outrage is real, the fear is palpable, professionals are “pissed off” they deeply resent the notion that their hard-won skills and talents are being commoditized and overtaken by amateurs,  prepared to work for pennies. Supposedly for future benefits like, greater exposure, more opportunity and hypothetically increased future value.                                               ( see article

The debate revolves around whether crowdsourcing constitutes, unfair or unethical competition? Most of us feel that it’s a  practice that undermines the value of professional work. Some are angry, some equally adamant that qualified professionals work will triumph and good clients will recognize skills value and continue to pay a premium for a professional designer. Not many creatives will publicly endorse it,  yet more than a few are clearly willing to participate.

In short… it’s a price vs value debate

All of these differing opinions have merit, but in the heat of acrimonious debate are more important issues being overlooked? Whatever your views, a lot of designers and creatives are  getting worried and thinking “Hells teeth…what now?”

More importantly, with little in the way of constructive debate or solutions offered up for consideration.  There is not a lot of direction  available. I make no claims that I can provide any simple solutions, however I do hope to try to shed some light on the matter and uncover some possible ways forward, in this multi part article. Your comments, ideas and insights are eagerly sought after and encouraged

Below are a number of variables that I think contribute to the problem:

The Internet:

Has levelled the playing field, removed barriers to entry, universal access to any one who chooses to engage. From the consumer perspective it is almost impossible to distinguish between the legitimate and the false.


There is, has and always will be competitors that vie with one another for business. Competition is as good for our industry as it is for any other. It keeps us sharp and on our toes. What has changed is the number of competitors in the business and the type of competitor.


Software developers will continue to develop software that replicates or replaces the technical skills of the professional rendering the acquisition of these skills  largely redundant.

Market perceptions:

I’m not sure whether the market undervalues design work or whether we over value it? Most design work forms a part of the visual execution of a marketing communications strategy. The sharp end of  a marketing strategy is to achieve specific marketing goals. The value of our work (as defined by our clients) is not whether it meets some, vaguely defined standard of “good design”,  coolness or wins awards.

NO!  Good design value lies in the measure of its contribution, to achieving those marketing and strategic objectives…full stop.

The Crowdsourced Service Provider.

Now here is one of the two real villains in this scene.

Who is he? He’s a business man, he’s seen an opportunity in the marketplace (think unfulfilled need or demand)and he’s exploited it to the max for his own gain. Is he a designer? Maybe? Maybe not… it’s irrelevant.

Does this make him a villain? No. It makes him a good business man.

What makes his business work

Some of these conditions among others

  • There are more designers than there is work
  • Many designers are willing to work for much less than the average local fee
  • Most companies are happy to cut their advertising/marketing production overheads
  • Quality defined by the industry is subjective and often irrelevant to the objectives
  • He doesn’t need to know anything about design, or his customers marketing strategies. His clients will write the brief and make the final selection. (varies in some cases)
  • He doesn’t need to care if the designer started yesterday, last week or 10 years ago…he gets paid regardless of who wins the work.
  • His client doesn’t need to care either, nor does he need to care how much the designer earns, as long as they get a design that’s on brief at the lowest possible cost and they’re happy with it.

The above are not conditions that the crowdsource provider has created… they are prevailing conditions in the market place that he has taken advantage of. This does not make him a villain

So why is he threat?


Here is the real scary part.

Right at this present moment the man at Crowdsource Inc (fictional) knows and has access to more design talent than you or I and all the people we know put together.

He knows:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are
  • How much are they willing to work for
  • What kind of work they do and what they do best
  • Who’s hot and who’s not
  • Who gets the most work and who makes him the most money

He knows these people by the HUNDREDS.

Here’s what else he knows.

  • He knows, which companies are looking for cheaper design and advertising costs?
  • He knows, who their key marketing decision makers are, by name, address and number… he has lunch with them…often.
  • He knows, who has what work coming down the pipeline?
  • He knows, what their budgets are?
  • He knows and understands what they value in a designer? (price, style, quality, longevity, awards)

He knows these people by the HUNDREDS

Worse, he knows that he knows this and that you and I or very few other people do.

If he hasn’t already done so he is going to set himself up as a gatekeeper. In short…. him and a few of his cronies will effectively begin to control the supply and demand of graphic design and free lancing of any kind in the marketplace, be it design, photography, editing, copy writing etc. He is in the Know…he has access… this is a knowledge economy. It’s a no brainer!

Oh and to top it of… if he retains the rights to all work submitted whether awarded or not? He’s also sitting on a heap of design work he can change, flog or do what he likes with… for free.

Anyone out there still thinking this is a quality vs price design debate? Anybody still thinking the better designer will win? Someone still thinking this is a tempest in a teacup?

By the way! The second of the two villains in this piece is ourselves…Yes Us… we who are in the industry. For allowing it to happen, for allowing some total outsider to move in and  uncover and exploit the opportunities that were right under our noses. For sitting on our hands and whistling in the dark …for continuing to be so foolish as to think that “ahhh it’ll never happen…it’ll all sort itself out…it’s a fad”.


I think it’s a paradigm shift and if we don’t start thinking about how we are going to turn this around to our benefit… we’ll be working as cashiers at the local grocery store.

As I implied at the beginning of this article I will be exploring some possible ways that we might compete effectively in this new marketplace. For the sake of brevity (this is already too long by far) I will stop here.

A clue to part 2 is…crowdsourcing is probably here to stay, we need to embrace it and find constructive ways to work with it.

Part 2. ” Crowdsourcing Embrace it or get Left Behind” will continue tomorrow.

Xross that Line.

Cheers Steven.

Image credits:

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Slaughtering the Social Media Sacred Cow

Steven, if you can’t take the Heat get out of the Kitchen.

I asked a dear and knowledgeable friend to read my blog and give me her honest expert opinion…she did.

Tomorrow I’m realigning my career and applying for a job as a custodian.

No no, not really, the feedback I got was invaluable. After all there’s not a lot of point in asking someone for the plain unvarnished truth and then carping when they give it to you. More importantly without someone honest enough to shine a revealing light, how would I ever find my potholes to mend them?

One of the things she pointed out (yes there was more than one, but lets take this one bitter pill at a time shall we?) was that I had slaughtered social media.

Did I?

Yes.  Am I sorry?

No. It was begging to be slaughtered.

In the last few months the conversation about social media has reached a crescendo of epic proportions. Some people are frantically dashing about trying to divert ad-spend before their opportunity to ride the crest is lost. Other’s allude to vast fortunes being won and lost, “Social media is the only way to communicate meaningfully with the market… Ignore it at your peril” they cry. Some hail it as the new holy grail… any other media being simply a waste of time. Others still… proclaim it’s already dead and buried.

I don’t think any of these things are true. As my dear editor (not really but I wish she was) pointed out… social media, is a platform. Quite right, I agree wholeheartedly and in my opinion that’s precisely the way social media should be viewed.

So are newspapers, television, radio, out of home, the internet and a whole host of others… they’re all platforms.  Arrows in the marketers quiver. I tend to think of platforms as being vehicles that create and exploit an audience opportunity.

Why is it that a full-page ad in the New York Times costs more than one in the Overton Weekly Mail?

Simple…. The NYT is an authoritative voice, a global opinion leader, an institution and has a daily readership numbering in the millions. The same is true for flighting a 60 second spot with a national broadcaster during the Super Bowl it’s all about audience opportunity. How many readers, how many listeners, how many site hits and clicks and how relevent to the marketing objective is it?

If you own a small independent hardware shop in Overton? Your going with the Overton Weekly Mail ’cause you’re not going to get much ROI advertising in the New York Times

Clearly how we use the various platforms to meet specific marketing goals is the wonderful game we all know as the media mix.

Why then would it make sense to ignore an audience opportunity presented by a global conversation, that involves millions? Especially one that is technology driven and therefore, easily segmented, quantifiable and accessible? Simply put… it wouldn’t.

Let me be clear. I do not think that social media is irrelevant or a waste of good advertising budget. On the contrary I think any marketer worth their salt would be foolish indeed if they ignored the available benefits …but it’s an arrow in the quiver it is not the entire arsenal.

I think the difficulty with social media is that it is unwieldy, it’s unstructured, unpredictable and while it’s accessible, it resists most forms of manipulation…vigorously. Consensus  is its life’s blood

With other platforms there is a measure of consistency. There is always the business section, the lifestyle section, the sports page etc, television and radio programmes are aired according to a schedule. Mainstream websites are easily found, navigated and their owners offer similar products and services day after day. On top of that, most media owners can cite you audience demographics, circulation and cost per thousand, rank and file. Not to mention people like AMPs, Nielsen, Google and a score of research firms.

Here’s a scenario…

Imagine you attend a conference, it’s been billed as a must see for your industry, all of your competitors will be there. You register, no programme or agenda is given to you (strange you think, maybe they’ve run out) you enter the hall and take your seat. After several rounds of throat clearing, coughing and nervous shuffling, you realize, as do your 2000 fellow attendees that there are no speakers either. All the equipment… but no one doing any talking. You turn to the person beside you ask them hesitantly if they know what’s going on? “No”, they reply

Being polite you ask them the usual “Where ya from ?” and “Whaddya do?” They tell you they’re from Snowflake, Montana and they manufacture Thingamabobs. “No kidding” says you; “My company sells Thingamabobs we’re the biggest distributors east of the Rockies”. At which point the bald guy in front who’s been listening in, turns around and says; “Holy smokes! You guys make Thingamabobs? I’ve been thinking about getting into them?” He stands up and hollers; “Hey Stan! C’mere, I’ve found some people that do Thingamabobs”. His partner in the lime green shirt, four rows over joins the conversation. You all head over to the coffee table and find 3 more interested people.

This is now happening all over the hall, people are forming groups and joining conversations, the nervous silence has been overtaken by a buzz of voices, you notice that some people are wandering around listening in, to try to find their conversation.

Eventually somebody walks up to the podium and says; “Hey are you guys interested in hearing what I know about cheaper ways to make Thingamabobs”. “Sure”, says one of your crowd. He does a quick 10 minute presentation.

Spurred on by the warm reception the last speaker received, another person gets up on stage and says I’ve got done some really good research into the whatcha-ma-call-it market would you like to see it?

And so it goes for the rest of the day, one speaker follows another presenting whatever they think is a worthy contribution. All the while side bar conversations continue to flourish

The long and the short of it? Yes there was a conference. Albeit one that was unfamiliar, unexpected, certainly unorthodox, at moments uncomfortable and at times irrelevant,


You had a great time, you met 200 people, half of whom are keenly interested in buying Thingamabobs, you learned more about new products and services in 5 hours than you have all year and you have two solid prospective deals in your hand.

Was it worth it? You betcha and anyone in Thingamabobs who missed it is an idiot. They’re having another one in September, who the hell knows what it might end up being about, but you’re gonna be there.

Welcome to social media.

Would you give it a miss…not on your Nelly.

But you may have to listen to a lot of conversations before you find yours. If you can’t…you might have to get up on stage and start one.

Xross That Line

Cheers Steven

Oh…. If you need a good contact that really does understand social media you might want to talk to the folks at Radian6? Failing that… let me know I have a wonderfully knowledgeable friend… but don’t ask her to critique your blog unless you have an ear for the truth.

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Well…there go the rose coloured glasses!

The World Economy is so rickety… A blind man could see it over the telephone!

If you’ve ever watched a child playing with blocks, there comes the inevitable moment when they stack one block on top of the other, the second block, is easy peasy, three no problem, at four blocks, the rising column starts to lean to one side….looking on, it’s clear that 5 blocks is dicey and six is just not going to happen… you know it’s going to collapse.

Remarkably similar to the world view today!

For years we have piled one block on top of the other, believing that if we are more exacting in which blocks we choose, a little more precise in how we place them, optimize a little here…a little there, we can continue to pile them one on top of the other infinitely.  Nonsense!

The tower is leaning, it’s rickety and been shored up in so many places there is simply no more room for another support.

Ok. So things could be better? What’s your point?

My point is this. The way we have done things in the past is simply not working any more… we need to give it up.

For example: The global economy is shifting. It’s shifting away from developed nations to developing ones. Why? Well, there are many reasons, many are documented and there are no doubt countless books being written on the subject as we speak.

The short answer is this.

Economics is not about money, it’s about people…what we do, why we do it and what happens when we do, do it? And while people in wealthy nations are struggling to throw off the yoke of “Wage Slavery”… in developing nations it’s the highest aspiration.

Simply put… you’re competing in a global economy, cheek by jowl, with a man who thinks that going hungry 3 days a month is a pretty good deal… he used to go hungry 3 days a week. While you’re wondering if you can afford that new car, he’s thinking that he will soon be able to buy a bicycle.

He and his friends outnumber you by about 100 or more to one. The outcome is obvious.

You can argue that we’ve always had Ivory Towers,  you’re right…we need them, but most of all we need them secure, when our institutions fail catastrophically, they wreak havoc and put millions of lives and fortunes in jeopardy.

What’s to be done? Clearly this sorry state of affairs can’t continue.

Any engineer or architect will tell you that there is a relationship between the hight of a structure and it’s supporting base…you can go as high as you like as long as you increase the strength of the base proportionally (think Pyramids) In human terms this means that our ability to rise as individuals or organisations is limited by the strength (or breadth) of our support base. Globally… if the majority of the world’s people’s are starving, uneducated and hopeless, we will never be able to compete based on merit. There are too many people who are willing to work for pennies a day so they can eat.

The structure is simply not sustainable. The same holds true for nations or communities. There is an interlinked and inherent relationship between ourselves and those around us.

We can either tighten our belts or feed them…you choose.

What does that mean to me as an individual?

Simply this; your ability to rise is limited in proportion, to the welfare of the people around you. Think about this. Understand it.

If all those around you are secure then so will you be, if they are not… you are always at risk.

What can you do?

A lot actually.

Start by having a good look at the people about you…right now, here, in your own backyard. Who’s hurting? Why? If it’s a question of a hundred bucks for groceries or to pay the heating bill? Give (not loan) it to them. Better yet help them find a job, help them get an education, loan them your spare car, to find work. Talk to them, mentor and coach them, let them know you care. Whatever it takes…don’t wait for them to ask. Open your eyes, recognize the need and do something. Above all be sincere… forget about the tax credits, ROI, increased market share or adding another block to your tower.  I’m not talking about charity, I’m talking about helping them Solve the problem at a personal level, not a nameless donation to a charity box.

Set some ground rules if needs be, you know the difference between helping and being taken advantage of.

This makes good  economic sense…this is strengthening your base support. The stronger you make it, the higher you will rise.

In Africa we call it Ubuntu, “I am because you are”

Xross that Line

Cheers Steven

Photo Credits:  Image Courtesy of…/

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One Cool Thing. The art of Kate MccGwire

Visceral, vaguely sinister, a haunting grace that compels… You can’t take your eyes off it.

In the world of art there are countless numbers of talented people, many if not most lie dormant and are never seen by the wider public eye, some are well marketed, achieving renown and critical accolade.  Others… an exceptional few! Extremely talented artists, rise to the fore and challenge our perceptions,  provoking us to see the world in new ways. Kate MccGwire is one of those few.

Fortune led me to Kate MccGwire’s art, by way of an accidental introduction from a source, no less authoritative than a tweet. Kate has allowed me to share some of her art with you . To see all Kate’s work; Please visit her site: it’s well worth the visit.

1964 Born Norwich
Lives and works in London
2004 MA Sculpture, Royal College of Art
Awarded Distinction for ‘Hair’s-Breadth’, dissertation on the use of hair in contemporary art practice. Short-listed for Deutsche Bank Pyramid Award
2001 BA (Hons) Fine Art, 1st
University College for the Creative Arts, Farnham

Winner of the ‘Heart of Glass’ Award 2008
Curated by Flora Fairbairn & Paul Hitchman
Judges, Marc Quinn and Gavin Turk, art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Paul Hobson (Director of the Contemporary Art Society), Irene Bradbury (Associate Director, White Cube) and Philippa Adams (Director, Saatchi Gallery).
Solo show at ‘Concrete and Glass’ Festival London 2009


2008 (July) Art Omi International Artists Residency, New York
2006 Shenghua Art Centre, Nanjing, China

There you have it, stunning art.

Thanks Kate

Xross that Line

Cheers Steven.

Image Credits: Copyright belongs to the artist K. MccGwire, 2004. All rights reserved

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