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Crowdsourcing: Your Undefined Expert

Donnerstag, Nov. 18, 2010, 15:44 / United States

The man you’ve just met in this video is journalist Jeff Howe. We might call him the man who gave traditional business the inspiration and confidence to change forever, just by identifying an emerging mentality and giving it a name. Howe’s coining of the term “crowdsourcing” can be traced back as early as 2006, when he first analysed the developing trend in The Rise of Crowdsourcing, an article he had written for top technology magazine Wired.

Crowdsourcing, simply put, is the act of outsourcing a task to a group of people gathered together on the internet, as opposed to (as it’s traditionally done) a predetermined single expert or consultant in the field. As we’ve often spoken about in this column, crowdsourcing, like many online platforms at our disposal, is intended to help you take advantage of free resources, effortless communication, accessibility, and the ever-decreasing gap between “professionals” and “amateurs.” In the words of internet expert Henk van Ess, “Crowdsourcing is channelling the expert’s desire to solve a problem and then freely sharing the answer with everyone.”

One very recent case study in the advantages and disadvantages of crowdsourcing, luckily, occurred within the fashion industry–and it is perhaps the best early example of how not to handle projects of this nature. On October 4th, 2010, Gap, the largest specialty apparel retailer in the United States, replaced its classic logo (in what spokesperson Louise Callagy characterised as a quiet introduction “with minimal fanfare”), with an arguably more modern version–lowercase letters and black Helvetica font were introduced, and the brand’s signature blue square made less prominent with a move to the top-right corner. Immediately, consumer backlash spread across Gap’s online platforms–not the least of which were a parody Twitter account, which personified the Gap logo and burdened it with a debilitating existential crisis, and Gapify, a Tumblr blog where users were encouraged to upload new logos as though also designed by Laird and Partners (the firm responsible for Gap’s redesign). After allowing feedback to pour in, Gap finally addressed the issue on October 7th with this Facebook status update:

Gap’s initial idea for a crowdsourcing project was to, in adherence with Howe’s idea of the process, announce an open call for new logo designs. Understandably, this idea was again met with derision. The greatest current resistance to crowdsourcing (but as a brand, your greatest boon) is that it is a way to take advantage of consumers’ talents without compensating them at all. Accordingly, design firms throughout America put out public pleas for other designers not to participate in Gap’s call for submissions.

Debbie Millman of the AIGA, a professional association for design, also appealed to Gap on October 8th: “I have made my personal point of view very clear: I firmly believe that crowd-sourcing and spec work is about designers giving their work away for free. But it is also about an abuse of power. The ‘client’ has it all. The designer has none. Unless, of course, we say no.”

Shortly thereafter, Gap called off the crowdsourcing project and decided to bring back its classic “blue box” logo across all channels. An official press release issued by Marka Hansen, president of Gap brand North America, read: “Last week, we moved to address the feedback and began exploring how we could tap into all of the passion. Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand. All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo on any further…We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognise that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.”

But wait–what better crowdsourcing project could a brand have consciously organised than 1,114 Facebook comments passionately written by loyal fans? What better massing of opinion could Gap have hoped for than the mass organically created on Facebook, as demonstrated above? Gap did not need to make any official arrangements or enlist new design ideas when they had already sourced evidence that consumers generally liked the old logo. One could argue that Gap received all the mass opinion it needed by boldly making a decision, unannounced and unexplained, then backtracking to the relief and satisfaction of its consumers.

Samantha Garfield | TribaSpace

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