Has Social Media Cheapened Creative Talent?

pulpfictionOne of the basic concepts in social media and online networking and marketing is about giving, yet there seems to be a lot more taking going on lately. Although I agree that the participation in the social web absolutely needs to have that element of helpfulness, it doesn’t mean that professional creative services should be expected to be given away for free or for a few bucks. Here are a few recent scenarios that have come to my attention:

In various LinkedIn discussion groups:
Someone asking for “suggestions” for a new tag line for their company.
Someone asking for “suggestions” for re-branding of a web domain.
Someone asking for the best solutions to market their brand.

Craig’s List:
Someone asking for product designs on spec: Create it, design it, give it to us and if we like it, we’ll pay you.

A prominent children’s brand looking for a product designer to work unpaid for 3 months which “may lead to a paid position.”

Numerous online news or information sites:
Writers provide free content or content for a few bucks an article in exchange for “exposure.”

Online printers:
Offering a free clip art logo with every printing job.

These are just a few of the myriad of examples of businesses looking for and/or taking free or nearly free, design, marketing or content to build their own businesses. There’s nothing wrong with helping people, offering advice and yes, sometimes offering limited services for free or at a discount, but there seems to be a disconnect somewhere that discounts talent and quality which, in turn, devalues and cheapens creative work.

A good example here is the case of the online printing service offering a free clip art logo with every printing job. This company is not a graphic design house, they are a printing house. A more appropriate offer might be to giveaway an extra few pieces of whatever is being printed. Giveaway the printing, not low level clip art logos. Yes it’s a logo, and yes, the customer might need a logo, but it’s not doing the customer any favors by offering them a logo that looks like it was designed by a 5th grader. There actually is no value in doing that, because even if their customer doesn’t realize the low quality, the marketplace probably will, and a poor unprofessional image will be projected.

It seems that it’s becoming a common practice to not only ask for, but expect creative work for free or virtually free. There is that old saying that “you get what you pay for.” This isn’t to say necessarily that the more expensive something is the better, but it’s safe to say that most professional quality work is not going to be found for free. The problem here lies in when businesses don’t see or know the difference between professional quality work and low level work that appears to fill a particular need at a particular time for a bargain or lower than bargain price. Is it really still true that content and quality is king or is a bargain the new reigning ruler? Is this a larger cultural question? Let me know what you think…

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What’s wrong with this sign?

Walking around town the other day, I came across this sign in the window of a local store:

I also saw a similar sign today that read, “Free Wood For Sale.” Actually, I didn’t see it, my son did while we were driving home. He swiftly noticed the irony in the message and reported it to me (that’s my boy!). Maybe I’m just a little nuts, but stuff like this drives me crazy. Didn’t anyone read these signs and realize how ridiculous they were? Tops on my list of pet peeves are errors and visual offenses in signage and print ads. Misuse of possessive vs. plural is particularly annoying to me. This is one of my strange obsessions I guess, but I always look at signage and ads in search of errors, verbal and visual.

Just as there are rules for grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling, there are also rules of graphic design. A graphic can become visually ineffective, confusing, or outright visually offensive, simply by the choice of font style, font size, color, placement, and shapes.

It all comes down to attention to detail. If you can’t spell, then use spell check. If you are grammatically deficient, then have someone edit and proofread for you. If you can’t write, then hire a writer. If you can’t design, then hire a designer. It’s like one of those poor tone-deaf people auditioning for American Idol, truly thinking they can sing, only to put themselves on national television for the ultimate in public humiliation. Before you go ahead and plaster grammatical, syntactical, spelling or graphic errors and offenses on the front of your store, on a billboard, in an ad, on your blog or in any public forum, stop and make sure that the message is clear and the visuals are appealing. Presentation is everything.

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