Yesterday saw the launch of Startup Britain, a "private-sector led initiative aimed at helping people set up businesses" with the full backing of the government.
Political views aside, it's easy to at first get behind such a positive initiative... except a look at #startupbritain on Twitter at least would suggest otherwise.
At the heart of the complaints is a Governemnt backed (but not funded) site that has various links, resources, and help for people wishing to startup their own business. Of their top 4 tips, "Create a Logo" sits there - and where does it point? To 99designs.com - a USA based company that offers crowd sourcing.
This raises 2 points that have got my back up.
Startup Britain... as long as you're not a designer.
Firstly, directing British businesses to an American site for their graphic design requirements is pretty counter productive to the ethos of encouraging new British businesses. Moogaloo don't do graphic / brand / logo design ourselves, but we know people who do, and do it very well. We also know the value of a strong brand, and how that can set yourself apart from your competition and give you the confidence to grow your own business. To then find the government publically backing an initiative that is directing potential clients overseas is a pretty vicious kick in the guts for those graphic design startups. I thought the Conservatives were supposed to be champions of the small business!
Why promote crowdsourcing?
Secondly is the questionable ethics of crowdsourcing in the first place. Used well, an organisation and it's customers can benefit from it - Uservoice and to an extent Threadless are two that spring to mind. 99 Designs on the other hand falls firmly in the camp of encouraging designers to work for free and themselves profiting in the process. I've just posted a longer blog on the dangers of spec work both to clients and the design industry. On the surface, it may seem an excellent and cheap way for a new business to be able to chose between dozens of designs and only have to pay for the one they like. Look a bit further and using these sites is not only reducing the value of design work down to a cheap commidity, you're asking other people to do work for free, and you're paying for "design" work that has no relational connection, no consultation, no emotional engagement, something that almost always will creates poor quality work that does nothing positive to your brand. Good design is not about it just looking nice, but actually solving problems of language, tone and values in a carefully considered manner, something that can only truely happen when there's a two way relationship.
We're all for British startups getting a good start - as a product of redundancies, 2 and a half years ago, we know it's a tough but rewarding decision to set something up on your own. If you're doing the same, please don't sell yourself and other British industries short - so often you do indeed get what you pay for.