Talking about Graphic Designers and Speculative Work

 It starts off simple enough. A prospective client calls and says, “Show us a few mock up ideas and we’ll pick which one we like.” Unfortunately that is exactly how speculative work or “spec” work originates, which is immensely frowned upon in the graphic design industry.

graphic deigners and speculative work - should you give your work away for free

A Conversation About Speculative Work In Graphic Design - A Plain Explanation.
by Maryann Smith Little, Owner, Big Bull Creative

It starts off simple enough. A prospective client calls and says, “Show us a few mock up ideas and we’ll pick which one we like.” Unfortunately that is exactly how speculative work or “spec” work originates, which is immensely frowned upon in the graphic design industry.

The designer has seemingly put forth effort, time, and research into the mock ups only to have a client choose one, for not even a penny of payment yet. No contract has been signed, therefore should the client decide not to choose ANY of the mock ups, the designer now has lost valuable time, energy and money. This is why speculative work devalues a designers experience and skill.

The above scenario is just one way spec presents itself in the graphic design industry, but there are many others. A popular way seen in countless regions all over the internet is the “Design Contest”! It reads something like this; SUBMIT YOUR DESIGN TO US AND WE WILL CHOOSE THE WINNER! The company holding the contest gets loads of free designs and only the winner MIGHT get compensated OR maybe not. It depends on the terms of the rules. Technically you’re competing with hundreds or even potentially thousands of other designers, amateurs or even kids drawing in their basements and you don’t have a guarantee of payment whatsoever and you just took time, energy and research to come up with this design you’re about to submit.

We as designers must educate our clients and the public about the misconception that speculative work is acceptable. You certainly wouldn’t have an architect render drawings for your new house and decide you don’t like his initial concepts and therefore not pay him would you? The scenario is the same as asking a graphic designer to put forth effort to design a logo, ad or some other form of marketing collateral for you, and in the end the guarantee of payment is absent. Speculative work flows throughout the graphic design industry like a bad disease and constantly devalues what good designers strive for every day.

It’s a designer’s job to get to know the client’s needs and market before starting a project. Graphic design isn’t try before you buy. The industry is slowly making strides to unify and present clients with contracts and terms of service BEFORE a project has begun. This not only is positive for the designer, but any client as well because everyone has a clear understanding of the goals of the project. Too many times a client may have no idea exactly WHAT they need in terms of design, and a designer’s job is to assist them with that direction, but only AFTER a value of services has been decided upon and contract has been signed.

There is no room for speculative work in the graphic design industry anymore. The longer it’s tolerated, the longer it will take the public at large to view designers as “professionals”.

For more information about speculative work, please visit http://www.no-spec.com/articles/just-say-no.



[tags]spec work, working on spec, speculative work, design on spec, speculative design, graphic arts, design, graphic design, web design, freelance, freelancers, freelancing, consulting, free-lance[/tags]

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  1. Jenny
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I agreed! In most directory companies, sales will require spec ad before they meet a client hoping to up size their next edition ad from the current size, hence, increase the revenue. It’s better if sales or designer has some input prior to design a spec ad so that advertisers in the directory industry will ‘buy’ the ad. However, most of the time, what we face is sales just pass the job rep asking for spec ad without knowing what the client wants.

  2. Sergio
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Great article man. I and other Desginers will agree with you 100%. It’s terrible when you are working hard on a design and they client says they dont feel like doing the project anymore or they just take your design and have a friend do it.

    1 word of advice, CONTRACTS…

    every designer should have his/hers :]

  3. Posted October 22, 2007 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Nice article. I do agree with it. As a designer, pleople tend to think that you can do sample work for them without getting paid for it.. and what about the time, effort and research you put into it ? I think only once they finalise on paying for the services of the designer, one should discuss the concept or ideas and show sample designs for that to choose from.

  4. Posted May 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    There’s not excuses for designer to start a job WITHOUT at least a 50% of the job price. It would be suicidal (and unprofessional) not to have a design proposal and/or contract that clearly explain how the project will run and how much each step will cost to the client. If the client ask for speculative work, that a HUGE red flag and you should walk out of it.
    If you don’t play in a professional manner, your business will not be taken serious.

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