An unpaid design submission means that a client will be getting an inferior and superficial response to a brief. And a designer will be instrumental in devaluing their own work.
As designers – our ideas are our primary product. That’s the unique thing every designer has to sell. A concept can take days or weeks to come up with (not to mention the years in university or professional practice). When clients ask us for free concepts, they are fundamentally are asking us to give away our product and our expertise for nothing. When a designer agrees to do this, they are usually either inexperienced or desperate. To give away ideas for free they will probably be forced to either; spend as little time as possible on the work with minimal contact with you (in which case you’ll only get a superficial design response) or they’ll rehash old ideas from other failed pitches (superficial design response), or they’ll spend days/weeks working for free in the desperate hope they’ll get the job (which is a pretty unethical thing to be part of). Asking for free design concepts from a professional designer is kind of like saying to a surgeon – although I can see that you consult at several hospitals and are registered with the AMA, I’d like you to have a go at doing my operation for free before I decide if I’ll pay you to do it properly.
It needs to be done properly from the get-go. Otherwise it’ll be a bodgy job. And if it’s done properly it’s going to take some time, and designers need to get paid for that time. Research designers, look at their work, call them for a chat or better still – sit down face to face for a thorough briefing. They’ll then be able to give you a comprehensive quote. And you’ll know by then if you like their work and feel confident and comfortable with them as a person. It will save you a lot of time and heartache down the track, I promise. It’s the best way to make sure that you and your designer are on the same page and they don’t miss anything…or fix your appendix rather than your heart!
Here’s some more information on the subject.