April 11, 2014

The Sad Culture of Crowdsourced Creativity

The Sad Culture of Crowdsourced Creativity

I’ve been a devout follower of Scoutmob since their beginnings, and the news of co-founder Michael Tavani leaving caught my attention. He went on to release a statement announcing the launch of a group called “Beltline & Co,” an organization intended to bolster Atlanta’s startup commmunity and entrepreneurial creativity. This isn’t a new idea, but he has the reputation to make it seem like he’s the first person to do this. However, Atlanta desperately needs a strong incubator, and I was happily on board with the project, excited to hear what came next.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 4.40.11 PM

I then read his piece on Medium and it totally shattered my perception of this brand. Specifically, the childish shrug of the Atlanta Beltline’s cease and desist letter. His examples of use elsewhere aren’t convincing — each time, Beltline is used along with an identifier for what the company is (Beltline Bar & Grill, etc). And none of the cities mentioned already have a huge entity with the same name. Tavani’s startup is literally “Beltline & Co,” which doesn’t describe what the business is, and is incredibly easy for Atlantans to mistake for the original Beltline. He’s trying to piggy back on the success and name recognition of the project, and then backpedaling on his intent. I didn’t go to a fancy law school, but I would vote on the side of infringement.

I kept reading.

He’s changing the name, great! He should.

But wait, a naming contest? This is a little weird to me, but I’m into it.

“We’ll put up the best ones and have a vote next week for the final name and then do a logo/brand contest to follow.”

A logo contest, seriously? I would expect this of  a business totally separated from a creative industry, but coming from a group like Beltline & Co, this feels like a huge slap in the face. Logo contests devalue the work of designers, and ignore the process of developing a creative identity. For someone who is trying to nurture and grow small creatively-minded companies, this seems to go against the entire philosophy.

Here’s an analogy. My car has been acting up lately, and I’d like to go get it fixed, but I don’t know where. Instead of visiting mechanics, and getting quotes, and checking sources, I’m going to put up a prize: $1,000 for the person who can fix my car the best (let’s just say I rebreak it every time). Let’s say 30 people step up.

It takes a skilled mechanic several days to fix major issues, and they’re putting in hours upon hours of skilled labor, using the materials and equipment of the shop, making other customers wait, and I’m sure a myriad of other imaginable things, to work on this task. I don’t know anything about cars, so honestly I may just pick a mechanic randomly. That means 29 other people wasted their time and effort for nothing.

I know that I’m going to pay a thousand dollars, when in fact, the initial may have cost much more. But people are trying to make ends meet, and they’ll take the job, because of promised exposure, because of a potential return customers. But when you work through a logo contest, you don’t care about the person making your product. You just want to pay as little as possible, and get the work as fast as possible. You will almost definitely pick something trendy with no staying power. This hurts our practice, and teaches younger designers bad habits.

My suggestion for Beltline & Co for both contests, naming and branding, would be to approach several local firms for spec work, and sit down with experts to craft a truly unique identity that can last, and be successful in the market. They ran into the issue of copyright infringement because there wasn’t an expert on staff who could deal with a task like this. Crowdsourcing or ignoring creative talent leads to shoddy work, and will hurt a company in the long run.

Logo contests show that a company doesn’t value their identity. And a company that doesn’t value themselves is not someone I want to support.

Further reading: 

The Reality of Logo Design Contests, from Logo Design Love

Logo Design Contests are Bad for Business, by David Airey



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2 thoughts on “The Sad Culture of Crowdsourced Creativity

  1. Alex Jones says:

    My blog logo was the result of me using a local artist, I already had a clear idea what I wanted then gave them an outline to work with. Crowdsourced logo creation is parasitic and shows the promoter as one confused about their identity.

  2. Alannah Mack says:

    I really liked Scoutmob a lot, as well…especially when they were first getting started. Lately, it just seems like they are taking a weird direction. Definitely not into the logo contest at all for Beltline & Co. but interested to see how that goes.

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