What is the problem with sites that promote 'design competitions', 'spec work' or 'crowd sourcing'? There are several very popular sites available, and they seem to have lots of designers signed up.
The way these sites work is simple - they allow a prospective client to provide a brief of the job they want (lets say its a logo). The brief then goes out to all the designers subscribed to that site who match the client's requirements. They are each invited to submit a sample design or designs.
After a set period of time the client chooses the designer he likes best. He then is provided that design in high quality or can work with the designer to improve or refine the design, whereupon the designer is paid.
From a cleint perspective this may sound appealing - lots of designs to choose from, and because of the competition - a possiblity of an amazingly cheap price.
And for the designer who won, it is possibly also a good deal. I might argue that the designer might have missed out on the essential deisgner - client relationship, but more on that later.
The biggest problem, and it is a problem, is for the many (sometimes hundreds) of designers who worked on the brief and did not get paid. they are possible all excellent designers. Many of them would have worked hard, perhaps several hours, on the design brief. But they didn't get paid. Now you may argue that this is the essence of competition, only the very best deserve to win.
What other industry in the world operates in this fashion? To make it clearer allow me to provide you with a different example. Imagine if the house painting industry worked the same way; You want to paint your house, so you contact several painters in your area. You invite them all around to your house and have them, one by one, paint the house. At the end you decide which one painted it the best, and based on that, pay him for the painted house (after re-painiting it of course).
Sounds absurd doesn't it, but this is exactly what you do with crowd sourcing. You are asking lots of designers to work for you, and then you don;t pay them.
In the exapmple of the painter you would, in reality, find a bunch of painters in your area, checkk availability, get a quote form them, look at som eof their other work in your area and read some testimonials from past customers. Choose one, engage them, and then pay them.
You can select designers in the same way. Using an online directory, find designers in your area. Provide them with a brief, get a quote, view their work and look at examples of their work. Choose one and let them get the job done for you.
I have found in talking to serious professional designers, that there is a degree of upset with the crowd sourcing process. It devalues the work of designers, and turns many designers, mostly new designers in the maket place, into highly underpaid and unappreciated labour.
Lastly, then, what of the designers that sign up to the process. They do it because they do not beleive that anyone values their work or time, and that they can not get a job any other way. I very much understand the fristration with trying ot get work, so any opportunity is better than none. When it comes down to it the likelihood of a designer putting his very best into a design job that he has a maybe 1 in 200 chance if getting paid on is very slim.
A recent example is a friend of mine who decided to try this process for a logo of a new business. He showed me the design he choose (and paid market rate for too). With in seconds I found the design coming up in the first page of Google Images - it was plagerised from another business selling a similar product.
It points to the fact that designers probably need to learn some marketing skills, and some business skills when studying their art. I would love to see designers refusing to use crowd sourcing sites. And I would love to see potential clients finding designers in their area and building up a real realtionship with a designers. And perhaps getting what they really pay far.