I have been thinking a lot about design crowd-sourcing in the last couple weeks. The impetus was a radio ad I heard for, a new-ish graphic design marketplace. Essentially, clients create design contests, establish their prize, and a network of designers produce speculative (spec) work, hoping that their design will be chosen. From their site:
A typical contest has dozens of designers competing to produce the best design. The more money you [the client] offer, the more designers you'll attract.
For some reason, I found this really bothersome. Who is this site really for - clients or designers?
And then, in the last few days, a new site popped up: Their mandate:
Spec(ulative) work is a cancer within the design industry and all designers need to understand their role in fighting it.
This site - and the topic of spec work - seems to be dividing designers all over the internets: those in favour and those against. I am still having trouble formulating my stance on this topic (hence, this post). While I am aware of the overall globalization and "democratization" of online media and labour (n.b. the microstock photography industry in the last 10 years, or more recently, Amazon's Mechanical Turk), I can't help but feel a little shafted as a designer. Design contest sites are taking advantage of designers by creating a sweatshop environment (there's always someone who will do the "same" work for less). And by doing this, these sites are devaluing the graphic design industry as a whole.

I just participated in a crowd-sourcing design contest (the Logo for Human Rights), so I feel a little hypocritical saying that all crowd-sourcing is wrong (prominent designers Tina Roth Eisenberg [Swiss Miss] and Erik Spiekermann were even on the judging panel!) I thought my intentions were good at the time, but perhaps I will think twice before entering another contest, even if it is not-for-profit. As they note on
You’re better off contacting a charity and designing their website for free to add to your folio rather than pissing into the wind at a crowdsource website.  
Sadly, I don't think this trend can or will be stopped anytime soon. As designers, we will have to make the best of it. And we will.