With the economy that has been headed south faster than a Lynard Skynard tour bus, the topic of ‘spec’ or ‘crowdsourced’ design work seems to be coming up more and more from some of my clients as a cheap design option and among my friends as a continuing source of frustration. For anyone who isn’t sure what I am talking about, speculative or crowdsourced design work is done through a web site like Crowdspring.com where a client posts a project asking a designer to do a job under the loose promise that they will be paid a small amount of money if and when the client likes the final product. It can be a sexy proposition for young designer who want to jump into the fray to do some real work and appealing to designers in other parts of the world who see the promise of the digitally enabled flat world full of new clients. I see it as a model that reduces designers to a priceless, faceless, minimal value cattle call commodity and favors companies short-term greed over showing our industry and my profession any respect. I would say that if you just do it to build up your portfolio you will get a lot more experience and value by donating your time to a charity, becoming an intern or a freelancer.
This is a well documented topic that has been written about by designers and bloggers for years. There is now a fledgling organization called AntiSpec that is trying to get designers to understand their role in fighting spec work. It is still in its formative stages but I would check it out and keep an eye on how many companies are really using this technique (you will be surprised by some of the names).