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To crowd source or not to crowd source your web design...

How does a web agency manage to remain objective enough to ensure a great web design when we're talking about our very own website, particularly when we're looking to try crowdsourcing?

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Well being a strategic online marketing agency we of course had to play it by the book - and we certainly didn't want to send our website design straight to hell!

So here's how we started...

  1. We spent several weeks gathering feedback via interviews with our (lovely and accommodating) clients & suppliers.

  2. We spent a further 2 weeks using this valuable intel to refine and re-define our core proposition, values and USPs and answer the simple question: "why do our clients work with us?" (More on this in due course - I don't want to ruin any suprises later!)

  3. We set up a wire frame website and started writing significantly more concise, client-focused copy. We even had input on things from an NLP expert.

  4. We developed a (tight) design brief and sent it to a couple of our regular design experts.

Here's where things got interesting.

We tried the brief with our regulars but it would seem that a) they were perhaps a little too close to us and b) we're a pretty demanding client to have!

This left us with a series of initial concepts that for one reason or another simply didn't quite work, and nothing for our trusty developers to get their teeth into.

So. What next?

We'd been following developments in the recent phenomenon of crowdsourcing, in particular crowdSPRING, DesignCrowd, eLance and 99designs to name a few and we had been looking for an excuse to find out more.

It was with a combined sense of academic curiosity and semi-desperation that we signed up with the latter on Friday 10th December 2010 to get our first hand experience.

How does crowd sourcing a web design work?

  1. Submit your brief

  2. Set & pay your 'contest' fee (refundable if you're not 100% happy unless you choose to guarantee your prize)

  3. Launch your 7-day contest (extendable for an additional fee)

  4. Provide feedback

  5. Choose your design (there's a handy "invite your friends to vote" tool)

We know from first hand experience what to expect while managing 1 or 2 designers on a single project but nothing could have prepared us for the (literally) 24/7 onslaught of enthusiastic designers from across the globe wanting feedback on their designs.

Within literally hours we had our first submission, and they haven't stopped since. 3 days in and we've had 17 submissions so far, of which the majority are iterations of 6 or 7 original designs.

Not bad but I'd have expected more halfway in.

Where are we at now?

We've had quite an interesting mix of designs submitted for review ranging from pretty good to pretty awful. Some have clearly read through our brief, others haven't. Some have used copy from our development site, others have made it up!

How do we feel about the process at this point?

On the plus side crowdsourcing offers potentially good value for money. On the down side there is a huge requirement for your time, even with a very tight brief in hand.

In short make sure you have the available resource on hand to manage the required daily feedback. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to clients directly without ensuring there was a dedicated manager for this project on hand.

Watch this space for an update on how things turn out...


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