The bird logo from Twitter is being trotted out as a evidence that crowdsourcing works. First, it’s not a logo. Second, it wasn’t crowdsourced.

In the ongoing back-and-forth debate (well, not exactly a debate – more of a series of talking points and opposing vents) about so-called design crowdsourcing, design contests and spec work, there are arguments floated, often by people who should know better, that beg to be looked at a little more closely. Here’s one such example – The supposed “crowdsourcing” of the Twitter ‘birdie’ graphic that sits on the homepage of the increasingly popular social media site.

“Oh look!”

people who are all for spec work and “crowdsourcing” sites exclaimed breathlessly,

“Even Twitter crowdsourced their logo, and paid six bucks for it. Take that you snooty designers!”

Wired Magazine got into the action, heralding on their blog that Twitter Paid $6 or Less for Crowdsourced ‘Birdie’ Icon (they later changed “Icon” to “Graphic”), and in the middle of their feature plastered this complete non-sequitur :

“Some designers claim crowdsourcing is evil because it devalues their work by driving down prices, allowing amateurs into the game and forcing people to work “on spec,” meaning that they don’t get paid unless their design is chosen. Others see it as a natural evolution driven by supply, demand and technology.”

The Business Insider took up the baton with a Twitter Paid Designer $6 For Its Icon post, as did a whole bunch of others, and it was off to the races. The news began to spool out across the internet and landed on Twitter itself, where it was heralded by people not-opposed-to-spec-work, including spec-driven Crowdspring, who were obviously thrilled with the insinuation, tweeting this little pearl –
twitter-crowsourced-logo-crowdspringWell, IF the Twitter birdie WAS an example of design “crowdsourcing”, then it might make a powerful argument FOR the value of design contests, spec work and “crowdsourcing.” Imagine, paying only six bucks for an iconic image that has become part of the online experience itself. Users on Twitter (never hesitant to re-tweet any news that seems remotely relevant) began to send the news through their feeds too.

twitter-proof-crowdsourcing-worksGuess that settles it. After all, Twitter is the latest and greatest thing. They used a “crowdsourced” graphic as their logo. Ergo, if design “crowdsourcing” is good enough for Twitter, then it’s good enough for everyone. Conclusion – spec work is all dandy, thank you very much, and six dollars is a reasonable rate for any graphic design services.

Ahm – let’s not be too hasty.

Firstly, the Twitter bird graphic wasn’t “crowdsourced” at all – either by the accurate use of the word, or the amusingly inaccurate repackaging of the word by outfits like Crowdspring and 99designs. The Twitter graphic was stock art, limited rights to which were purchased from istock photo.

No crowd. No sourcing.

No gaggle of designers working for free, vying for some prize. Just an illustration that a solitary Japan-based designer called Simon Oxley had uploaded to iStock Photo. The use didn’t include ANY exclusivity at all, and the graphic was (and I believe still is) available to anyone with a credit card and an online connection. The designer hadn’t actually made six bucks on this particular artwork, but several THOUSAND, as the rights to use the artwork (an important distinction) had been purchased hundreds of times over. And while it could certainly be argued that Twitter were cheap bastards, it can’t be argued that they paid six bucks for their logo or “icon” (but why would we let something like accuracy stand in the way of a compelling story on why “crowdsourcing” is cool).

It actually proves something else..

But wait – it gets even better. See, there’s this website, called (no doubt set up to snare people who misspell the real Twitter – notice the missing letter ‘T’), that’s nothing more than a spam hub with lots and lots of Twitter related affiliate links which may, or may not, be valid. Or even legitimate. And lookee here – they’re using the same ‘birdie’ graphic as the real Twitter, probably paying six buck to istock as well.
twitter-graphic-on-another-siteI’m sure that didn’t happen by accident. And now, lots of people landing on this page, by misspelling Twitter in their browser address window, will see the iconic bird and believe that they’ve arrived on the real McCoy. They won’t question all the spammy links presented, trust factor of a brand and all that, and there ain’t a thing that the real Twitter can do about it, because they don’t own the graphic, the trademark or the copyright to the stock artwork.

Riding a brand coattails..

So, as it turns out – the $6 “crowdsourced” birdie logo that somehow proves “crowdsourcing” works and is great value, ain’t “crowdsourcing”, isn’t a logo and if anything, proves that ready-made stock logos are a particularly bad way to create a corporate brand, at least if you want to avoid people riding your coattails. And attempting to fool your users into believing they’ve arrived on your website.

When they haven’t.