Belsky Bits

A stream of photos, thoughts, and other bits by Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen.

The Dark Side of Crowdsourcing

It makes me very sad to see some reputable design sites succumb to “community challenges” that are overt spec-contests for brands. 

I’ve been pretty vocal about the problems with this sort of crowdsourcing. Namely, it (1) incentivizes careless engagement and poor output, (2) harms the creative’s reputation via attribution to the subpar work they submit, (3) causes problems for the client when work is re-used and creatives don’t care enough to consult, (4) strips the relationship out of any creative engagement.

Oh, and it marginalizes the value of creation itself and wastes a ton of valuable time.

Our team is obviously very opinionated on this topic - and for good reason. For a company that wants to empower the careers of creative professionals, we should be vocal against practices and technologies that do the opposite.

I usually address the problem with a sense of optimism. I wrote an article in BusinessWeek about how to fix it. I’ve tried to prompt a discussion about creative meritocracy on The 99%, and i’ve shared optimistic predictions that this negative form of crowdsourcing will become obsolete, replaced by a more sustainable way to harness the power of the crowd.

But back to the point that makes me sad. More and more design/community sites are wavering in the spotlight of seduction: running official SPEC contests where hundreds (or thousands) of creative people do custom work for a particular brand/brief, knowing that only the winner gets payment for their work.

While some sites specialize in this sort of thing, even some mainstream design and creative industry sites (not naming names) are starting to make spec contests their business.

One design site that recently started doing this goes as far as saying, ”[site name retracted] Community Challenges are structured to ensure that you retain the rights to your work OR are compensated for your time. We respect the talent.”

I think that, by saying “we respect the talent,” they are suggesting that allowing people to own the rights to unused/unpaid work done for a particular client is…respect. How about the travesty of unpaid creative labor?

I came across one recent logo-design contest that had ~16,000 entries; all for a single 1,500 Euro prize. We asked, and participants claimed to spend an average of 3 hours per submission. Do a little math, and you’ll realize that 48,000 hours of labor (that’s 2000 days or 5.47 years of non-stop 24/7 work) went into it.

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

What’s the solution? Not sure. We need to speak up and ask questions when we see a red flag. We need to keep this discussion alive.