Outsourcing and design
If you’ve had lunch with me recently, then you’ve probably heard me rave about my experiences using elance.com to outsource various tasks.
Here’s how it works: you describe your job, and providers from around the world bid for your business. You can see each bid amount and read reviews from previous employers before awarding the contract. Elance provides an escrow service and some nice tools for managing the workflow and communication with your provider, or you can just email or IM with them if you prefer.
We had our wedding last month in Florence, Italy, and we used elance to create a cool travel guide to Florence for our wedding guests, using creative commons content from wikipedia and wikitravel, but with lots of personal touches. We printed it using 48hrbooks.com, which has a rough website but produced a beautiful book same-day at a reasonable price.
I’ve also outsourced several small programming tasks online, with great results. The vendors I worked with were in Pakistan, India, New Zealand, and the Czech Republic.
If you want to try this yourself, my advice is the following:
- Be as specific as possible in your public job description. This really pays off. In one case, I was so specific about a programming task that two different bidders had already implemented the project by the time they bid on my job.
- Post the job, and then forget about it for a couple of days while the bids accumulate. You’re not saving yourself any time if you keep reloading the site. Check back after a few days, evaluate all the providers, and choose one.
- Some bidders will ask to discuss the job with you on skype or IM before they submit a bid. Avoid this. It’s a waste of your time to interactively discuss the job in detail with a single provider, to the detriment of all the other bidders. It’s better to invest that time in improving the job description.
- Don’t just choose the cheapest provider. Read the reviews from previous employers, and look at the providers’ portfolios, before you select one.
- In my experience, elance is the best website out there. I prefer it over guru.com and rentacoder and the others I played with. You may have different results, though.
One area where I have not yet tried to use outsourcing, however, is design: mocking up web pages, designing workflows, etc. But this morning I’ve been thinking about it.
There are two websites that provide an interesting model for outsourced design: 99designs.com and crowdspring.com. The way it works is, you post your job, and dozens of people compete for your money by submitting their own designs. As an example, it seems that the US House of Representatives will be awarding $1500 for a new website design, and they’ve already got tons of proposals submitted.
Some people say these sites are evil because they devalue design and remove the client from the design process.
I’m not sure these sites are evil, but I agree with the spirit of these concerns, especially the second one.
It’s probably OK to outsource certain superficial aspects of design. But it’s dangerous to completely outsource design, because your user experience should be driven by your understanding of your customer. And the one thing you don’t want to outsource is understanding your customer. What you know about your customer is your central asset. How can you outsource that?
That said, I do think that it may be possible to use these sites in a way that works, or as a recruiting tool, to find designers with whom you build a longer-term relationship. So I might still try them.
(Update: odesk.com also has a great selection of providers. I’ve been using them recently).