The Cover Story
How Alex Bogusky morphed into Max Headroom, George Jetson, a baby, an old man, a zombie army, and a manifestation of his own Twitter feed
"What my career has sort of been about has been the democratization of different aspects of the agency world," guest editor Alex Bogusky told us in our initial meeting about this issue. "When desktop publishing democratized publishing it allowed agencies outside New York to compete with larger agencies, because the tools were there to create anything if you had the talent."
We were just talking out some of the trends we all agreed would shape the media in years to come. The most recent movement, said Bogusky, "has been the democratization of the media itself. We're really seeing mainstream media panicking .... As a creative person, it was one thing to actually be able to build the things that went on the media, but to be able to build the media in a totally customizable fashion - we haven't even wrapped our heads around that really."
Alex agrees with the many people who've said our world is fragmenting, falling apart, but through this disintermediation, we are opening up: "You're reading about celebs one second and Iran the next. And you didn't really make it a plan to stop and check out either one, at least I don't."
And that was when he suggested we try to incorporate this somehow, "The issue itself could take on a little bit of the randomness social media has." What better way to show this than to throw the actual content into the crowd? "Is it possible to do some CrowdSpring kind of sourcing of the design, or something?"
Some say CrowdSpring harnesses the power of the many to produce work that could not have otherwise existed; others charge it encourages low-rent spec work. "It's a complicated area that's been really poorly executed by a lot of other people," says CrowdSpring cofounder Ross Kimbarovsky (who is an attorney focused on intellectual property by trade).
The year-old company recently added industrial design to its offerings (joining graphic design, Web design and photography), attracting more sophisticated projects like one from LG, which ran a competition to design its next mobile phone, offering 43 awards for a total of $80,000 (the top pick got $20,000). The next step is to add copywriting services - which Kimbarovsky says there has been great demand for - making CrowdSpring a one-stop shop of sorts.
"What's neat about it is it's all transparent," says Bogusky. "All of the submissions are viewable by everybody, and they kind of seem to build on top of each other."
In describing how the process worked, he figured that graphically we could show it all: "You could use the entire page of images that were created as the imagery for the article, potentially."
After this conversation we posted an assignment to design the cover for this issue to CrowdSpring. Alex tweeted about it. We blogged about it. In 10 days we received 281 entries, which is many more covers than we've designed in the entire history of the magazine.
At some point, for some unknown reason, the crowd got the idea that the future of media was monkeys. A string of entries came with all manner of 2001: A Space Odyssey gorillas, cartoon chimps and see-hear-speak-no-evil monkeys. We had never made any simian suggestion, but a few designers had like-minded thoughts. The crowd moves in mysterious ways.
The cover we picked, the one you saw when you picked this magazine up, incorporated the text of Alex's Twitter feed into a familiar image of him and transformed our masthead into the brief we posted for the assignment, making the cover as much about the process of constructing it as it is any prediction of the future.
"What I think will happen with crowd-sourced things is people who are really good will find careers, and they'll begin to charge more even within the venue of crowd-sourcing," says Bogusky. But he concedes that there are those who will find this sort of change a frightening proposition.
"Yeah it's a marketplace," he says. "But if creativity is a commodity, I want to be the one to get there first and realize that first, rather than try to protect what exists now. That hasn't worked for anybody. The music industry blew it."
Bogusky was as good as his word, and shortly after our cover design project ended, he posted a project to design a logo for Brammo the eclectic "powercycle" company that had won CP+B's services in an auction on Ebay. Some designers were none too pleased, denigrating the project as "spec work" and launching a social media campaign against it, which ironically ended up all over CP+B's newly socialized homepage.
The crowd-sourced model has to be based on speculative work, says Kimbarovsky, "which has some strong connotations in the graphic design world. We spent a great deal of time thinking about what we could do to address those concerns." But he sees no threat to agencies or creatives from his community, saying the focus is on small businesses that couldn't have otherwise afforded this quality of work.
"From the very beginning we established minimum awards on all our project categories. While we really wanted the buyer, the client, to set the price, we did not want to be the McDonald's of design marketplaces." They set the minimums pretty low at first - well below market rates - and then gradually, the minimums began creeping higher. However, averages tend to be much higher than the minimums. "We've been able to move the price up, which is very unusual. If you're familiar with marketplaces generally ... when you have competition among designers price trends down; in our marketplace the competition is actually among the clients." In the first year of business CrowdSpring has paid out more than $2 million to designers.
"It's one of those things where agencies are extraordinarily threatened by it; it's potentially commoditizing some creativity," Bogusky said of CrowdSpring in that first meeting. "It's going to find some sort of balance somewhere, but it is very threatening."