Monday, 18 October 2010

Is Crowdsourcing firing Designers?

Recently when customers rejected the new redesigned GAP logo, GAP decided to crowdsource the redesign exercise to help define their brand.
The entire GAP redesign exercise emphasized that if designers do not do their job well and management do not make wise decisions, the customers reject it (after all the customer is the king). And they will also suggest a redesign of the brand for you!

There may be many reasons why the design exercise could have gone wrong - like management making all the design decisions or underestimating design or their customers (thinking they would blindly accept their chosen logo). The management have realized that their decisions are not final, even when it comes to logo redesign. And the outpouring on the social media on this topic suggests customers do care for products they have been buying over the years.

As the blame is now on the design firm who came up with this logo and GAP having decided to crowdsource instead, how do the rest of us (designers) ensure we do not fall into such situations? And how do we ensure crowdsourcing does not fire us and instead we work hand in hand. Moreover, what will our role be henceforth?

If you look back, from the time digital media entered the lives of designers (in 90's), designers needed to had these basic skills:
  • Idea generator, Creative, at times think out of the box
  • Understands problems, users and provides appropriate solutions
  • Produce aesthetically pleasing designs – have good knowledge in color theory, typography, layout, etc.
  • Apply usability/ ergonomic principles
  • Be proficient in all design softwares (esp. Adobe products)
  • Work with team

With the explosion of the internet since late 90s, where anyone can access basic tutorials on Graphic design and opensource tools like GIMP, consumers are now taking a shot in designing, just like photography. And companies are trying to capitalize on this through ‘crowdsourcing’, just like what GAP is doing now, as it turns out much cheaper than hiring a design firm! Added to this, the design is created directly by the end user and their needs are being stated through design.

An amateur designer can have all the points mentioned earlier to a certain extent. S/he may be creative, have ideas, execute solutions in an amateur manner using the design tools. There will be more tools in future which will auto-suggest color combination, layout (just like what templates have already begin to do now)

However, crowdsourcing will also generate enormous individualistic data and management will still need to pick the right design which will reflect everyone's perception of the brand or idea. This is where we designers can capitalize.

Our roles in future will mainly be to –

Engage users
We will need to draw ideas from everyone, while allowing everyone to express themselves, which in turn makes customers feel they are being engaged in the entire exercise. We collect their inputs (data) for our design process and to further validate our design to the client with the populist data. We can also revalidate our design again through crowdsourcing and when the design is finally out in the market, the users will be proud of the outcome!

Analyze and draw insights
We will need to use crowdsourcing for design research to get insights to our design. The data collected from users through crowdsourcing (eg: pictures of their daily routine, etc.) will ultimately help create better products.

Induce design thinking
A designer will need to induce design thinking in the organization or team, and drive the design exercise, with team members, stakeholders and customers, getting their hands dirty in design implementation. A designer’s role will be to facilitate and bring out the best ideas from everyone and manage the entire design exercise! And use ‘Crowdsourcing’ as one of the methods from user research to design implementation.

And how do we designers achieve this - We will however need to focus more on design strategy and behavioral aspects. The technical aspects like layout, typography, usability heuristics will be automated in future. We will need to think cross-disciplinary rather than specialize in individual fields like graphic, fashion or industrial design in future.

The client/ management will also need to understand the importance of design, branding and be more involved in the design exercise while giving powers to the designer to make strategic decisions.

Thanks to Vinay and Anshuman for their inputs on the role of a designer in future.

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