If you're involved in the world of design, whether it is by trade or business necessity, then you are probably familiar with the term "spec design", also known as "crowdsourcing". The basic principal behind crowdsourcing is working for little or no compensation. There are entire companies devoted to spec design. For example, a company called 99 Designs posts projects, otherwise known as "contests", for businesses. If you're a company in need of design services, you only need to log on to their site and post your contest. These can range from a logo design, t-shirt design or a full-blown website design. Hundreds of designers compete for the prize—an obscenely low amount of money—but only one designer wins. So at the end of the day, designers are being rewarded with a prize instead of a paycheck. Designers are sourced from places such as Croatia, Romania, Serbia and, yes, many from America.
In my own company, we have been forced to participate in "design wars" with other agencies—that is everyone submits a design and only the company with the chosen design receives compensation. I use the word "forced", because if all the agencies had unified and refused to produce work for no money, then the client would have been forced to decide on one agency to complete the work. As it was, everyone agreed to play the game and those who didn't win lost two weeks of time without compensation.
One might ask how free commerce comes into play. After all, a little competition affords your company the best price. To this, I would say, "You don't go into a restaurant and sample everything that looks appetizing and only pay for what you liked best." They would be out of business within months. If you don't have a particular agency you favor for design, then by all means, bid it out, and go with the best price. However, ordering the product up front and then deciding at a later date whether or not you want to pay for it is a different story altogether. There are no other companies in existence that allow this to take place.
Let's discuss the product, or design, itself. When reputable designers receive a job to create a logo, they begin to conduct research on the product or company requesting the logo. A coffee shop logo, for example, would require a visit by the designer or design team to the establishment to get a feel of the environment, the customers, and the owner. In my travels, I always check out the local coffee joints, and I can tell you no two are the same. They each require their own unique logo. Taking it a step further, that logo will need to transfer to menu design, sign design, cup designs, napkins and so on. It's a much larger picture, and it's called branding. This is what good design teams take into account. A stranger on the other end of the computer who has never heard of your company and is trying to make a quick 100 bucks is not going to consider your company's future. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.
Whether you're a designer submitting work to a site that supplies crowdsourcing or a business owner requesting work that you have no intention of paying for, it's time to put an end to design on spec. To take a stand against the crowdsourcing trend, just log onto www.no-spec.com. If you're a designer and you don't take a stand, you might be out of a job sooner than you think.