Gap, Logos and the Question of Crowdsourcing
Gap's actions over the last week expose some deep problems—problems that even great design can't fix.
The new Gap logo is old news. If you've been following their marketing train wreck you know that after getting tarred and feathered by the online community they backtracked by announcing they would crowdsource their brand in hopes of finding an identity that really gets the job done.
Besides the fact that their agency who created the new logo, Laird+Partners, must feel pretty unhappy and that Gap's management must be under intense shareholder scrutiny, the idea that a crowd is the solution is just wrong.
For the uninitiated, crowdsourcing is a problem-solving and production model that broadcasts a challenge to the public, asking it to put the power of a distributed network to work. It's been a hot topic ever since Wired's Jeff Howe coined the term in 2006.
I'm all about the idea of distributed networks and leveraging the power of thousands to get a job done. In fact, I love open source software, like Drupal's awesome CMS. It's a great example of a type of crowdsourcing as people all over the world work to make Drupal better, fixing problems, collaborating and generally delivering an awesome solution.
But, the people working on Drupal are all programming experts; they’re specialists. There are no good natured retired factory workers with a little spare time hacking code—unless of course they know code! If you're working on Drupal you're a programmer.
Gap's proposed solution is to throw the doors open to anyone with MS Paint. Forget any qualifications, experience or skills. Gap says they think you can fix their brand, and that's troubling on two levels.
First, does Gap disrespect their brand so much that they are willing to let just anyone work on it? Can a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, all based on its brand, actually just throw that brand out to the crowd and think that's responsible brand management? Forget the fact that a huge corporation that makes millions of dollars is asking hundreds of thousands of people to work for free. What makes Gap think the masses can fix their failure? Why don’t they understand that they need the help of experts?
Second, is Gap is really being sincere in asking the crowd for help? If they respect their brand and they know they need the help of experts, then they don't really think the crowd will have the right answer. Crowdsourching is just a PR ploy; manipulation to put a good face on a really stupid move and to get everyone to just shut up. If they don't expect the crowd, their customers, to have the right answer, then why insult them by asking for help? And let’s face it, if they really believed in crowdsourcning they'd put all their clothing designs up for grabs.
Gap does not respect its brand or its customers. They have a problem that runs much deeper than a design or marketing issue. They've got a leadership problem. I don't care how good a design solution is, paid or crowdsourced, great design can't fix a lack of integrity or broken leadership.