Monthly Archives: May 2012

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Why Crowdsourcing is Bad For Design

When you think of mortal enemies you think of legendary foes like the Hatfields and the McCoys, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Batman and the Joker. Design also has a mortal enemy that’s come to power in the last few years and it is called crowdsourcing. Many well known companies are participating in this method of receiving design services and it’s becoming more and more popular. The worst part is the design community is eagerly participating.

What is Crowdsourcing?

Imagine a company or organization looking for a new logo and devising a way to cut costs by creating a “contest” (through a third party rep) where they offer a cash prize to the winning design. Imagine the amount of spec hours spent by the design collective, all hoping to win recognition and fame. Imagine that, and you’ll see what crowdsourcing is all about. A real contest is where people submit their work to compete against one another with the result of a single winner. Crowdsourcing uses this formula and perverts it by adding one more element to it; they keep the work, even the work that didn’t win, and use it for their branding and marketing benefit in any way they see fit.

Why It’s Bad For The Company

The company is obviously looking for a way to get thousands of options for very little out-of-pocket-costs. They think they’re going to get a product that will serve their branding endeavors, because they believe that design is about how you want to look and in reality it’s all about how you want to be perceived. There is no design brief so you can’t do any research or do a background search on the company’s competitors. Also, the designer’s careless involvement with the project lacks a proper engagement with the client. Plus, the designer’s know they’re working for free, so they turn out a quick piece of work in hopes of gaining instant fame. The company is oblivious to the fact that their new logo lacks effectiveness and value. By skipping the design brief and the client/designer relationship, you are essentially writing a biography without knowing anything about the subject. The result is an ineffective and mediocre piece of work.

Why It’s Bad For The Creative

You just won the contest and the cash prize. Awesome! You should be congratulated, but instead you’ve made your life much worse without knowing. By taking this shortcut called crowdsourcing, you’ve participated in telling the whole world that what you and the rest of your design brethren do is push buttons. You’ve helped reinforce to the ignorant that what we do has no value and that this is the way design services should be commissioned. And the worst part is that you’ve made it harder for all the other designers who aren’t participating in crowdsourcing.

You can’t skip the starving-artist phase of your creative growth process. You have to go through the hurdles of finding your clients, designing for them, dealing with them, sometimes getting into it with them and making them happy. If you don’t value what you do as a designer, no one will. It’s your responsibility, as part of the design community to help educate people on the benefits of design and the creative process.  Taking part in these phony contests cheapens what we all do.

Final Thoughts

Butterflies and moths are pretty similar, with the butterfly being the prettier and most popular of the two, but did you know that when a moth emerges from its cocoon it can spin silk? A butterfly can’t do that. Moth’s are faster, stronger, but struggle twice as much when breaking through their cocoons. That struggle is necessary for their survival. Without it they would be too weak and die. The struggle is nature’s way of strengthening the moth and as designers, we’ll definitely struggle and go through some hard times. We’ll even take on less-than-exciting projects at the beginning of our careers, but I encourage you to embrace the struggle and become exceptional.
I promise that every tough step you take is incrementally moving you closer to the designer you want to be. Give yourself that chance and never participate in crowdsourcing. And most importantly, spread the word!

Happy Designing,

Dennis Salvatier

dennis salvatierDennis Salvatier is the principal and lead designer of Salvatier Studios. When he isn’t providing graphic design and illustration services at Salvatier Studios, he’s creating fun illustrations as Tanoshiboy. He is a fan of comic books, movies, doodling on napkins, his lovely wife and connecting with other creatives, so say hello! Read Dennis’ blog

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What You Need to Know About the Google Penguin Update

Google has updated its ranking algorithm again. This time around, they are focusing most heavily on penalizing sites that use “over-optimization” and sneaky web spam tactics to generate links. The official name is “the Penguin Update.” Coming on the heels of the latest “Panda Update,” Penguin is a more fine-tuned version that is targeting those that are violating Google’s quality guidelines.

Those of us who don’t rely on outdated, spammy tactics don’t have much to worry about. The update is mainly affecting websites that have little to no quality content, and are abusing inbound linking strategies in order to game the system and get undeserved traffic.

Glenn Gabe at G-Squared Interactive has been researching those websites that have been hardest hit over the past week, and has come up with some thoughtful observations regarding the specific issues that webmasters should concern themselves with. If any of these SEO strategies apply to your site, you might want to address them sooner than later.

Exact-Match Domains

This involves companies that want to rank well for a certain set of keywords, and buying domain names with these words in the title. Having a keyword-rich url is a good tactic for showing up high in the search engines. If it makes sense to do so, it is probably fine, and you won’t see any penalties. But some companies do abuse this, by buying up numerous urls in order to dominate a given market, and this crosses a line. At this point, it is unclear if the Google Penguin update is actually going after this, but experts do believe that even if they aren’t targeting exact-match domain abuse now, future updates will.

Paid text links with exact anchor text

Google makes it very clear that they don’t condone paying for links. When a site has an unnatural number of inbound links with anchor text that is just “too perfect,” it raises a red flag. When a site gets a natural link to it, usually the anchor text is varied, since (in theory,) different people are adding the links. In most cases, these types of links are paid, and Google is well aware.

Comment Spam

I run a blog on my website, and the amount of comment spam I get is insane. It is usually auto-generated and stuffed with keywords and links, and nothing to say. It is easy for Google to see this, and penalize sites that use such tactics to generate backlinks.

Guest Posts on Questionable Sites

Guest posting has always been a great way to build quality backlinks. In most cases, guest authors are actually contributing to the online community, and that is exactly what Google wants to see. Where people can get in trouble, however, is by adding posts to websites that are set up purely to make money on the guest posts, based on the links they would generate. Not all blogs are created equal, and guest authors should focus on writing for quality sites.

Article Marketing

Article marketing often involves webmasters writing a very under-developed article which focuses heavily on keywords and anchor text links within the article. They are usually not necessarily written to be read by humans as much as by the search engines, and are often mass-distributed around the web. Article marketing has long been a link-building mainstay, but its days are numbered.

Final Thoughts

The main thing to remember is that Google is getting smarter every day. SEO tactics that worked in the past, may still work now, but as we move forward, they are going to be continually phased out. It goes without saying that Google wants good quality content to be pushed to the top of the pile, and the only way to do well in search engine rankings for the longterm is to create good content that people will want to link to. Then promote the hell out of it.