I am a long-standing tennis fan and was drawn to the game in the late '80s when Andre Agassi turned pro. He was featured on the cover of the Sept '89 issue of GG Magazine and I vividly remember going to a local quick mart with a friend to purchase it. From that point forward, I became obsessed; not just with Agassi, but with the game itself. I subscribed to every tennis magazine, memorized rankings, saved ads and articles, taped matches on my VHS recorder; not only Agassi’s, but other favorites from that era—Becker, Edberg, Chang and Krickstein; remember him, the “Marathon Man” from Michigan who was Connors opponent in the historic ‘91 US Open match; I digress.
So, when I saw the invite to design the official Wimbledon poster on Talenthouse website I was immediately inspired. Not because I knew I could design something that may be a potential contender, but because I am a tennis fan, point blank. What better excuse to submerge myself into a self-authored project, and it sure eclipsed grading for the moment.
The call theme was 'In Pursuit of Greatness" (and after some brainstorming) I remembered an mfa class exercise which was to design “call for entry” poster comp for a design organization. The solution I created was a compass maze and my professor suggested I should make a computer comp for my portfolio, which I never did. However I always remembered it thinking I may eventually do just that, or have the opportunity to recycle the viewer interaction component (maze) for another project in the future.
Fast-forward to the Wimbledon poster call and the maze idea immediately came to mind as a more than appropriate solution for the theme. I saw the invite a few days prior to deadline and devoted the entire weekend to the perfecting the submission, and off it went to be “judged”.
Talenthouse touts itself as "The leading open source creative platform"… where a creative can "Join for life-changing opportunities, discover great art and connect with emerging artists from around the world."
Artists create a free profile and upload artwork to be liked (or "loved", in this case). However, it’s not only a portfolio site but also a place where companies/entities encourage artists to submit artwork for "calls" or contests. Most calls have prizes, some monetary, but the biggest draw is the potential (global) exposure one could receive from being selected as a “finalist” for a project.
Portfolio sites are great vehicles to showcase work, but design contests are questionable. Why? They are crowdsourcing, which is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers." (Merriam Webster)
Anyone who completes a project (for a profit organization) should be compensated for his or her time, but that does not happen in crowdsourcing. There are some calls that offer monetary compensation but many are (usually) not appropriate for the time and effort “finalists” put in. Not to mention anyone who participates is not compensated whatsoever.
(Crowdsourcing should not be confused with non-profit organizations that hold contests. These “awareness” projects can be a great opportunity for college students, emerging or mid-career designers to highlight capabilities and show a potential employer or client of your interest in a particular subject or community initiative.)
I ignored all of this and still decided to create an entry. After all, I genuinely love tennis and was excited to devote a weekend to a subject I hold near and dear to my heart. I didn't anticipate winning, but of course the thought was exciting. And at the very least, I knew I would be generating content for class lecture as well.
When the winners were announced (albeit two weeks later than the original date) I was in awe of some of the entries—some really creative ideas! But, I was also disappointed. In my professional opinion some finalists were questionable; there were better solutions that didn’t make the cut. Of course I will put myself in that category (how can I not be a cheerleader for my own work)… In all seriousness, it was a competitive field—kudos to the winners and all who took a chance to showcase their creative capabilities.
So why am I writing this? Just to make you aware of crowdsourcing exploitation and vehemently advocate against participating? No. Unfortunately this platform is not going away anytime soon. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of talking points to help decide if this may be something you want to partake in.
1. Do it for yourself, no one else. If you have genuine interest in the subject and it's in your wheelhouse, go for it. BUT, you must imagine it as a portfolio piece, nothing more.
2. Limit your effort. Pick and choose only a call or two a year, more than that and you are wasting time. (Time to spend with family, other projects, or actual certifiable-paying client work. Financially secure? Congrats, then this may be a hobby for you.)
3. Remember, it's a game. You are essentially guessing what “they” are looking for, even with a well-defined brief. Not to mention some final projects may be chosen via personal preference and not design principles. It's a crapshoot folks, plain and simple. Be mindful that the odds are NOT in your favor. (If you submit, it is exciting, because all games of chance are kind of fun just for a little bit, right?)
4. Carefully read the rules. If you choose to participate, comb through fine print. There is nothing more disconcerting than putting in the time only to find out your entry was disqualified. For example, in this call one chosen finalist used stock imagery, which was not allowed. They were eventually disqualified, but without official notification or explanation to those who participated, which was frustrating (reread #3 to understand why/how something like this could occur).
5. Bored, uninspired? Participating may be a good challenge to enhance your aesthetic or try something new without repercussion—this is the only real positive in my opinion (also aligns with #1, do it for you).
6. Want to “make it,” look elsewhere. If you’re lucky to “win” a call, congrats. Yes, the potential exposure may help land another project, or it may be a good talking point on your resume (second positive), but if your goal is to attain a full-time job or consistent clientele—network, self-promote, build relationships—tenacity is the key to a fruitful career, not a quick “win” on a crowdsource venture. There are no shortcuts.
I’m still personally dismayed that crowdsourcing is an accepted industry practice. Artists want exposure, yes, but free work is not cool. (Can you ask another professional, for instance a list of doctors, to do work and then get to choose who “wins” payment— of course not!)
Even with my disdain I may partake in another call (I know, I know, I could hear the collective “but why” “hypocrite” sighs occurring as we speak). Remember folks, there is no career or portfolio manual—you must create your own path to “success” whatever that may be. In addition, you should take risks throughout your career, so a crowdsource contest may end up being one of them.
Personally, this experience was invaluable—what better way to inform my readers and students of this process, than to have an in-depth, first-hand account. A championship win in my book.
As of 8/2016, this site is dedicated solely to graphic design.
For Christina Galbiati’s art/Illustration site click here.