Mark Busse: The Dangers Of DIY Culture

Mark Busse: The Dangers Of DIY Culture

Cutting corners with crowdsourcing and DIY can be expensive when it ought to be something that can't be owned or trademarked.

Mark Busse, Industrial Brand
  • 13 may 2014

We live in the age of DIY, with “creation culture” a part of daily life. It’s a world where ideas are plentiful and the Internet offers an army of willing contributors, donors and buyers. Qualifications, experience, business acumen, feasibility and audience needs all take a back seat to the pervasive idea that everyone has the right to be a designer and maker – even if ability says otherwise. Combined with the intoxicating idea that there is easy money to be made online, it’s no surprise DIY culture has permeated creative industries.

Technology has become democratized, with the Internet serving as guide, teacher and tool kit for an entire generation convinced they can do anything. And who’s to argue they can’t? There are plenty of celebrated success stories about albums recorded in bedrooms, tech startups created by dropouts, and do-it-yourself websites and logos. Heck, with the inexpensive purchase of a 3D printer, anyone can be a product designer these days.

Hot on the heels of this has been debate about the merits and ethics of design contests and crowdsourcing, especially as the business community has glommed onto these concepts, defending their use as a way to engage audiences and maximize results through distributed collaboration.

Industry pundits argue that research is skipped, assumptions abound and often-unethical choices – such as repurposing existing graphics – are made in order to produce work quickly for pay below industry standards. Those selling these crowdsourced design services counter with claims that plagiarism is infrequent and that there are many trained and experienced designers participating.

The reality is that, more often than not, businesses use these services simply to save money. But cutting corners with crowdsourcing or even DIY can be expensive when the work purchased turns out to be something that can’t be owned or trademarked or violates copyright law.

Even on sites with copyright policies in place, the vast crowds who contribute to them aren’t typically professional designers and will lift and repurpose elements as they try repeatedly to be the winning submission. Those participating are almost always immune to punishment for violations of intellectual property rights in any practical sense.

By the time anyone notices that work is recycled and is often not even the property of the designer who submitted it, it’s the business that is left with the problem.

We’ve experienced this. Our client, Trinity Western University (TWU), hired us to develop a brand and identity design system for the Spartans athletics program. It invested the time and expense on an experienced team that engaged in research and study before developing and testing multiple concepts in pursuit of a unique design TWU could own. When the final concept was chosen, it was unique to the university, appealed to its students, alumni and staff and was a solid brand identity. TWU trademarked the final logo.


Recently, it came to our attention our design had been copied and was being presented as the original work by a freelance designer on a design collaboration website. The designer faced legal action for what he argued was just repurposing a symbol he found online into a new logo. This attitude that it is acceptable to repurpose found work is increasingly common among people who’ve grown up in DIY culture and view the Internet as a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration.

Fortunately, this designer responded quickly and took the project down, presumably starting over, his client unaware of the bullet it dodged. But when we used Google image search, we uncovered 18 other plagiarized copies already in use by other companies, schools and teams that now also face legal action. Consider the cost implications and embarrassment these organizations face as a result of not hiring a professional designer who understood how to create an original design solution.

As a certified graphic designer and Society of Graphic Designers of Canada member, I abide by a code of ethics that forbids me from unethical practices like these.

The benefits of creation culture are real, but they come with risks and costs.

Instead of criticizing and fighting DIY culture, all designers should focus their time and efforts on raising the bar for design and better demonstrating what a professional actually does. Good business leadersvalue experts who take the time to learn their business, their challenges, their audience and ultimately consider the problem carefully before executing. And that’s worth paying more for up front.

Originally published in Business in Vancouver.

Mark Busse is a founding partner and managing director of the design consultancy Industrial Brand, host of CreativeMornings/Vancouver, and VP Public Relations of the BC Chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.


Modular System Lets Musicians Create Their Own MIDI Controllers

Arts & Culture
Travel Yesterday

Mercedes Reveals Dazzle-Free LED Headlights

Digital Light offers great precision with a resolution of over two million pixels

Product Launch Yesterday

Nissan Is Testing A Digital Car Sharing Program In Europe

Nissan plans to launch their new service in Paris sometime this year to trial the profile-matching service


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Social Media Yesterday

Your Favorite Tweets Are Now Wearable

This temporary tattoo allows fans to wear their most favorite moments from the social platform

Health Yesterday

This Mirror Tracks Your Dark Circles And Fine Lines

HiMirror is a device snaps a photo of your face every day to provide feedback on how to care for your skin

Related Expert

Dong-Ping Wong

Filtering Pool in Hudson

Sustainability Yesterday

Biodegradable Furniture Made From Pine Needles Could Be The Next Phase Of Sustainable Living

Premiering at Dutch Design Week 2016, the collection fully utilizes an often wasted material

Syndicated Yesterday

Madrid's 'Robin Hood' Cafe Charge The Rich To Feed The Poor

The charity restaurant makes money from customers by day to offer homeless people meals at night

USA Yesterday

Amazon Launches Cashier-Free Store For Ultimate Efficiency

The retailer is looking to make shopping even faster by letting customers instantly pay as they walk out the door


Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Creative Director: Navigating The New World Of Founder-Brands

Richard Smith, Creative Director at Sullivan, explains how visionaries like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg approach their branding and why it’s important to apply brand thinking to founders’ products

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

Augmented & Virtual Reality Yesterday

Marble-Like Mini-Worlds Invade Miami Art Week And Your Mobile Screen

The gallery world's sphere of influence seems to be expanding into the realm of Pokémon Go—why that's a good thing

Technology Yesterday

A 'USB Stick' That Can Detect HIV Levels

The simple device developed at Imperial College London measures viral load in less than 30 minutes

Customer Retention Yesterday

Crafting The Personalized Retail Experience

Marriott International's Christopher Baer shares insights into how the hospitality company is strategizing customer service

Experiential Marketing Yesterday

Zagat's Cafe Offers Tiny Replicas Of Classic NYC Dishes

The restaurant rating service created buzz for its new guide and app by opening a tiny food cafe

Children Yesterday

Experience The White House In Augmented Reality Using A $1 Bill

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is an AR app designed to help people learn about the history and significance of the United State's capital building


Conference Built Around Report Launch

Travel Yesterday

Portable Computer Monitor Opens Up Like An Umbrella For Travelers

This mobile screen and projector means work can go anywhere and still feel like working from home

Food Yesterday

Starbucks Is Selling An Automated Temperature-Setting Mug

For those looking to keep their coffee hot on their winter commutes, the coffee chain has created a device that keeps beverages exactly at their desire temperature

No search results found.