We “like” so many things online, that we do it almost without thought. In our wake, we leave a long list of self-approved videos and images: my neighbor’s housewarming party, a picture of a friend’s dog and a video for potato chips have all been given the thumbs-up within my Facebook realm. With our ceaseless appetite to approve or deny, companies have begun to look to us for major decisions.
By turning to crowdsourcing, companies take the reins from their qualified staff, allowing the masses to make decisions. This is a loaded methodology that doesn’t always sit well. Last year, when the U.S. Department of the Interior decided to crowdsource a design for a wearable logo, the AIGA — the American professional organization for design — wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, “articulating that developing an identity and a brand is an activity that benefits from expert advice and consultation between a designer and a client.”
Once-exclusive institutions are also jumping into the game. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra thought they hit on a brilliant idea when they decided to let the public choose a new musician to perform with the orchestra. Not only would they discover new talent, they would capture a whole new audience for classical music. The project was a disaster. First, the PSO struggled to offer up 8 of the 20 semifinalists they had projected. Then, once the public narrowed the finalists down to four, the PSO canceled the competition after deciding the remaining contestants weren’t up to snuff.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra overestimated the point to which user-generated curation could create a meaningful result. “[The PSO’s music director] overlooked the fact that those voters don’t have the same stake in the performance as members of the paying audience,” wrote Eric Felton in a Wall Street Journal article about the snafu. “More than a few of the electronic voters seem to have made their choices for reasons not exactly performance-related.” Voters were more likely to select a finalist based on a personal connection, rather than the performer’s talent. “My choice was a student of mine in elementary school,” commented one voter.
One of the major problems with crowdsourcing is that it assumes the voting public has a personal investment, but clicking a thumbs up button is a small gesture when compared to the careful selection of artistic works to be presented, in-person, to a broad audience. It is a major goal for any institution to remain relevant and enticing to the public by developing new means of engagement. But is there a line when some decisions are best left in the hands of professionals?
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.