Artist and author Nikolas Allen shares his experience with crowdsourcing, and the insights it can provide.
Artists often create work in a vacuum, then put it on display and hope their audience likes it. For the most part, this works fine because, while we value the opinions of our audience, it's not like we want them in our studio guiding the creative process.
However, there are times when our own opinion isn't enough; when we need to reach out to others for feedback that will help guide our direction. In those instances, crowdsourcing can prove invaluable.
Typically, crowdsourcing is used to gather ideas, designs or solutions from a group of people. It can also be used to gather opinions, which helps artists determine which course of action will resonate most with their audience. I'm pretty sure we can all understand the value in that.
A Lesson in Crowdsourcing
In 2013, when I was preparing to publish my art marketing book, "Death to the Starving Artist", I wasn't sure if the cover should have an orange background, or a green one. I posted both versions to Facebook, and got the most engagement I had seen in a long time.
People came out of the woodwork to chime in on their favorite colorway. Plenty offered unsolicited design advice also because, well, that's what people do. A side note: Hearing something once is an opinion, which can often be ignored. Hearing the same thing six or more times is a trend, which should probably be addressed.
The green vs. orange color battle ended in a tie. Since the opinions were split right down the middle, I got to make the final choice. However, this was now an informed choice rather than a guessing game.
Fast forward two years. I'm currently writing my first novel. While I have designed my own covers for the two marketing books I've published, I was curious to see how another artist might interpret the cover of my debut novel.
I hired three designers to present designs. One of them missed the mark completely. Two of them were quite good, but I wasn't sure if either one of them was THE ONE. I decided to go against my initial instincts and create a design of my own.
Of course, I loved the result (yes, my opinion may have been biased). I was confident that I had a winning design on my hands, and I should know because the artist knows best, right?
I posted three designs to Facebook (without mentioning that I designed one of them). The feedback was grand. There was a clear winner, a close runner-up, and waaaaaay back at the starting gate, my "perfect" design sat all by its lonesome with two measly votes.
The tribe had spoken: 65% of the people polled would pick up (or click on) one design over the others if they came across its cover.
So, did I ignore the clear message the public was sending? Did I get defensive and try to explain all the reasons why people should have chosen MY awesome design? Did I shake my fist at the heavens and berate all those ignorant fools who "just didn't get my work"?
I emailed the creator of the most popular cover and congratulated him on his winning design, which will grace the front of my debut novel when it drops next year. Lesson learned.
As artists, there are plenty of creative decisions we need to make on our own. That's what gives us our own unique voice. However, I believe that soliciting opinions and feedback from our audience can often help us elevate our craft. It also demonstrates trust, helps forge connections, and allows your audience to feel invested in your work.
Plus, when you know what resonates best with your audience, you're better prepared to provide it for them. And that's just good business.