In need of a fresh logo quickly and at low cost, one Lake County town put out a request online -- and had it filled by someone in Indonesia.
Rather than a strike a traditional contract with a design firm of consulting company, Gurnee used the crowdsourcing website 99designs.com to start what turned out to be worldwide competition to design the village's new logo.
Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she initially was skeptical when told about the proposal to crowdsource for the updated village logo. However, her doubts didn't last long.
"I absolutely was so delighted," Kovarik said. "Within 24 hours, we had two dozen designs. And three of them right away were just amazing -- absolutely amazing."
Crowdsourcing is defined as obtaining services or ideas from social media users or the Internet in general. The concept is that many ideas from the public to fill a need are better than a few from a company or individual hired for a task.
University researchers and government consulting firms have been analyzing the public sector's gradual entry into crowdsourcing to save money or generate more ideas. Experts say tapping into a crowd is good for certain services or surveys that have been handled by traditional contracts, but may not be suitable for major strategic decisions.
Deloitte Consulting's public sector research director, William Eggers, reviewed Gurnee's $1,599 logo deal with the crowdsourcing website at the Daily Herald's request. Gurnee received 325 logo proposals from 74 designers across the world and had to select a winner within three weeks.
"This is a great example of using the power of the crowd to obtain a public benefit faster, cheaper and with more competition than if the city had gone through conventional government purchasing," said Eggers, who has studied crowdsourcing in the public sector.
Jack Linehan, Gurnee's assistant to the village administrator, said the new logo was needed quickly in December -- and at a low cost -- for a website redesign this month. The old logo featuring a black-and-white vertical lamppost was not compatible with current digital platforms.
Linehan said the crowdsourcing idea surfaced after companies that sought the website work offered to create an updated, digitally compatible logo for $5,000 to $10,000. Linehan found that the small Wyoming town of Afton received a new logo for $200 from 99designs, and he decided to give the concept a try. Gurnee's $1,599 business package from 99designs included full licensing rights to the logo, letterhead and business cards. The village got to see ratings and online profiles of the competitors.
Linehan said competitors were directed to include the lamppost and "Community of Opportunity" tagline coined by the late Mayor Richard Welton. Elected officials, administrators and others reduced the field to 20, then whittled it a final five before selecting the winner, a professional designer from Indonesia known by the online profile of "Anang." His color design featured the lamppost and a swoosh incorporated into the "N" of Gurnee.
Linehan said there were challenges working with someone so far away. "He's in a different time zone," he said. "English was probably his second language. It's different from working with a designer out of Chicago or something."
However, village officials said the volume of submissions from professional designers through crowdsourcing likely produced better results. And Gurnee didn't have to work through a competitive bidding process because the job was well under the $25,000 state threshold.
Several suburban governments have updated logos and slogans in recent years, and they were content to use traditional contracts for the work. Kovarik said Gurnee would have done the same if the village had wanted a large-scale rebranding similar to what Des Plaines recently received.
Des Plaines last year paid $88,000 to NorthStar Destination Strategies of Nashville for a package that included a new logo with an interlocking "d" and "P" and a fresh tagline of "Good Move."
On a smaller scale, the Fox Valley Public Library District paid $2,125 for Graphic Solutions to produce a new logo in 2014.
Library spokeswoman Christine Cigler said Des Plaines-based Graphic Solutions came up with roughly eight designs for the new logo that wound up being a fox doubling as an open book, with its nose in a second book.
Daren C. Brabham, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications, said governments are increasingly turning to crowdsourcing for ideas or services in an effort to save money. Brabham has become an expert in the subject and has written books, including "Crowdsourcing in the Public Sector." He said it's much more than logos that cost-conscious public agencies can obtain through crowdsourcing. Other examples include online traffic ticket payment systems through open-source software, document conversion into languages uncommon in the United States, and advice for a municipal project.
Although a potential drawback to government crowdsourcing is not spending public money with local businesses, Brabham said it would be difficult to criticize Gurnee for not staying "true to home" in an effort to save money for a logo. "Most people wouldn't care where it (the logo) was from," he said.