I believe Vish is located in India and, as such, he is one of those figures that I believe the Eurowesterner crowd might stand to learn plenty from. Perhaps if you prod Vish as I have been doing, we might be treated to some blogging regarding his thoughts and perspectives on Libre software, art, design, and other areas.
Having a good deal of respect for Vish, I thought answering his comment with a follow up comment wouldn't quite do it justice. Further, I believe some of his concerns are echoed in the minds of others.
To this end, I've chosen to escape the four megabyte boundary and answer his comment here. While I hope it serves to further flesh out my concerns with contests and requested speculative work in the Free Software / Libre design community, I also hope it hints at a much greater concern.
Reading through the post I was hoping,at the end, you would be offering some suggestions as to how to fix this problem. Throwing stones at a glass home to illustrate the bad design is good, but who is going to rebuild it? How?
I tend to think that far too many of the vocal folks in Libre software profess to have solutions. Upon examination, however, most of the solutions I have been privy to appear a little shallow in substance and grossly oversimplified for the scope of the problem.
For example, I find the obsession with collaborative art and design software the stuff of myth. Wikis, mailing lists, dreamy collaborative art sites, galleries, etc. are all avoiding the core issue in my mind.
If we can frame a problem, I do believe we can make some success. Indeed it seems that some don't even see a problem at all. My first desire is for those around this community to at least offer a concern for the practice of contests and speculative driven art / design requests.
Is there a team of artists/designers who support 'No Spec work' and boldly say that they would do the work?
If we speak of mainstream contracted graphic artists, designers, and such, then yes there is a core of people that express a negative feeling toward speculative contest driven work. Such is not the issue here however.
I would ask a question in place of an answer: How many people involved in Libre artwork are approached by projects to become involved? How many Libre software projects feel they even require an artist, designer, musician, experience engineer, etc.? I strongly suspect the issue is one that precedes your question. How can we educate projects of the benefits and gains of involving a particular class of creative?
How do you suggest people in FOSS get designers to do the work? Contact each and every designer they can imagine and ask them if they are available to do some pro-bono work?
Let's face it, the hopes of involving a mainstream commercial graphic artist, illustrator, designer, etc. are extremely slim to none. There are two issues dragging this down.
The first, is the simple fact that many of those individuals are supporting their families with their work. As such, hoping that they would take on a pro bono project is probably slight.
The second is far more menacing. The culture of Libre software has a negative stigma attached to it with regards to creative individuals. I'd hope you have already seen the derogatory stance in threads at Typophile or other such mainstream creative watering holes.
It is very real. It is very ugly.
So when you add the first issue to the second, the chances of a mainstream established individual being attracted to a project is... well you can speculate.
If we avoid the whole mainstream issue altogether, I'd return to the previous question: How many projects have actively sought out a creative? How many value their participation in a project? How many view the role of the creative as anything more than a passing need for a 22 pixel icon?
Challenging questions for certain, and likely tied into the mainstream creative perception of Libre software.
How many designers should they contact? Can this be feasible? If every designer they knew was busy at the moment, what do they do next?
This one is easy.
Treat the involvement of a creative as any human resources department would. Figure out who you would like to involve and why. Why do you want them? What about their work makes you believe they would be a good fit for the project?
If you create a short list of people, simply start at the top of your projects list and work down. A little mutual respect and a hint of passion goes a long, long way.
In short, yes I believe it is feasible.
Also, AFAIK, almost all the famous skyscrapers in the world first request design proposals and then they decide on the final design. [...] If not, how is it that 'Spec work' works for architecture but not in FOSS?
Well beyond my ability to comment with any degree of credibility outside of a loose understanding of the contracting process. Don't confuse speculative work with budgeting and bidding on a project.
To the best of my knowledge, most contract work in this area is pitched with a proposal and budget laid out before the work is commenced. Who gets hired? The lowest bid? Or does track record and previous development play into the decision? Is there prestige associated with hiring a given architect?
Remember, the focus here is speculative or contest driven work as a process. This means that speculative work is solicited from a group. Offer up the work and then someone will judge it. One individual "wins" and the entire community loses.
The weakness, again, comes on a few fronts.
First, the decision makers. All of the top work is moot if the person in charge of the creative decision is shy on ability. The art director is effectively the person making the judgement calls. With most of what I have seen, the people choosing work are so poorly equipped to be doing so that it is almost shameful. A brilliant kernel hacker or space traveler does not a wise art director make.
Second, the work skips out on process. There is no iteration. There is no brainstorming. There is no questions with answers. There is just some often ridiculous design brief filled up with cliches and horrible simplifications.
Third, the minds attracted are of questionable merit. Most folks involved in the creative world tend to have a valued view of their craft. They may have studied their field for four or more years. They may continue to practice and educate themselves. They are unlikely to be attracted to the blatant trivializing of their trade or craft. When those people exclude themselves from such efforts, who is left in your talent pool? What long term benefits to the project are they likely to contribute?
I would probably first expect the 'No Spec Work' evangelizing designers/artists to join together and form a community. And only then can someone get the ball rolling. Otherwise, everyone will keep talking in their own private blogs and nothing will ever change anything.
If the sole issue here was banding together as a community, I doubt there would be much issue.
How many among us are so delusional as to believe there is a wealth of skilled creatives in our culture? Would such joining together amount to anything? Is that the issue?
And returning to an earlier point, ask ourselves what projects appear to be actively attempting to develop a creative core mindset within them? Is that even remotely in view?
If this who or how ground-work is not done by the knowledgeable? How do you expect the powers that be,who as you mention clearly don't understand, to fix it?
I suppose this leads to my own personal and subjective opinions on this matter. I make no assurances or assertions to their validity.
- I believe there is in fact a problem with our creative culture. I don't believe we have one. I don't believe we are passionate about cultivating one. I believe this creative culture neglect to be core issue number one.
- I believe, as a result of historical origins, the realm of the creative was even in view until it was so flagrantly exploited by the mainstream world recently. Design thinking, artists, industrial designers, and other creatives are all words that skulked about in the shadows until a large gorilla put them centre stage. I believe the origins of Libre software set forth a trajectory that will require aggressive counter-energy to alter. I believe this problem of origin to be core issue two.
- As a result of a long track record of poorly executed visual and experience design, I believe we are struggling uphill against our own momentum. That is, core issue one and core issue two have managed to create not only apathy toward compelling creative work but also conspire against it. We in Libre culture have established and cultivated an anti-aesthetic and creative mindset that, in our unfortunate cycle, reciprocally reinforces it. Solid artistically relevant work stands very little chance of support in this culture. I believe the stigma and conspiring anti-creative-culture that has resulted is core issue three.
It's not an easy task to make the change, but a few people need to walk the talk, get their feet bruised, to let it be known that there is an alternate path.
I agree 100% that the task is not easy.
So what are some things we can do to make some progress?
Core Issue One: Cultivate a Culture
If one accepts that core issue one has some validity, we need to focus on watering and growing a creative culture. At the very least, this should start with avoiding the inadvertent creation of an atmosphere of creative repulsion.
Speculative group sourcing and contests are beacons to a creative audience. Speculative group sourcing and contests offer no long-term upsides to projects nor enrich a community. Speculative group sourcing and contests deliver underwhelming results that stand long after the contest has ended as a blinking neon sign of poor craftsmanship.
Core Issue Two: The Problem of Origin
Scratching one's own itch has evolved. We have migrated into a new realm where we are beginning to desire greater breadth and scope. This means evolving past the shallow self indulgence into the scratching of other's itches. Emotions, visual design, art, and the rest of it is all resting in the subjective world.
By recognizing that our circumstances have changed, so too might our processes. We should be far more proactive in team work and, as such, realize that we require different positions to be played. If the old process is indeed failing, we would be truly foolish to expect a different outcome by adhering to it.
Core Issue Three: The Problem of Anti-Culture
If we can consider that there is at least a glimmer of a negative stigma that creatives view our culture with, we need to shift that.
We could go a long way to helping this by letting the proper minds make appropriate decisions. David Revoy is an established artist that already is using Libre software tools. His unique vision would almost overnight benefit a project regarding visual design far more than allowing a customer support person with very little passion about art and design that decided to self label himself as an artist.
Slowly, if we begin to applaud and endorse solid creative work through proper appointment of art and creative directors, our landscape will change. With patience, the bleak and empty creative landscape generated from carelessness and neglect may begin to sprout a new direction.
How to 'fix' this? In short, the problem of not perceiving a problem at all likely makes it extremely difficult to 'fix' anything. Any such 'fix', in the true nature of Libre software, must be desired and created from within the greater community itself.
That community is the "powers that be" and always will be. That community exceeds any singular company or tribe. That community, while currently potentially weak in the soul, is also a fount of absolute strength should we exert the effort. That community forms the core of the issue and holds the key to the solution.
Objects in motion attempt to carry on in that motion. Our culture is no different. As a result of momentum set forth long ago, our culture has spiraled away from the creative culture we so desperately need.
As with objects in motion, additional energy must be applied to overcome a given trajectory. If we fail, we risk ending up further along the trajectory and further isolating ourselves from the creative culture.
If we succeed however, we become a culture that creative minds desperately desire to be a part of. A world where other passionate and dedicated creatives thrive.
And from there, the rewards might just lead onto bigger and better things.
Thank you all for reading.
Back at you Vish...
 See The Gap debacle as a case in point. It was a near unanimous vocal outcry. A few articles make some valuable points on it.
 But it would never hurt to attempt and make a passionate case for your project. You never know. Remember, pro-bono work is in an entirely different class to contest and speculative driven attempts.
 While some may believe that we cannot escape the need to scratch one's own itch, Michael Terry at the University of Waterloo has suggested that positive feedback creates intrinsic motivation.
 Search Typophile for a sadly poignant thread. It shames me too much to read it. Whether true in fact is irrelevant, as the almost unanimous voice clearly illustrates there is ill will there.
 I treat terms such as artist with a great respect. I equate the usage of those terms with others such as intelligent, beautiful, or the like. I question the people that self label themselves accordingly. Struggle like mad to do good work and let others do the labeling.