Mention the word ‘spec’ in a room of design professionals, and you will hear resonating boos and witness faces cringe in discontent. Why you may ask? Well it’s a slap in the face to say the least to the design and advertising community.
What is it?
Spec work is any type of work done by a creative individual (designer, copywriter, illustrator, etc.) for a potential client or future employer with no guarantee of compensation. On rare occasions, if the client likes the work provided, he/she may pay you, but probably not what the work is actually valued at. Crowdsourcing is just as unethical as spec. Basically, a company or a person announces a design job that’s available to everyone. Once they’ve received and reviewed all the free work that was submitted, they pick a winner. The winner would be the only one that gets compensated. Everyone else – suck it up buttercup. This may stump many people outside of the design industry. After all, what person in their right mind would work for free and have it actually be the norm? Exactly my point here. It’s ridiculous, and it should stop.
Where does it happen?
Better question – where DOESN’T it happen? When the US Department of Interior is crowdsourcing , you know the US is in trouble design-wise. Recently, the department announced they were in need of a new logo for their 65,000 plus employee agency. This would be a big job for a design firm or a professional freelancer to add to their portfolio. Instead, they went the cheap route and offered a mere $1,000 to the victor. Due to the fact that this is a government agency, it has stirred quite a bit of outrage within the design and advertising community. The actual value of a logo, which represents a company and is an integral part of their branding is NOT $1,000. According to The Graphic Artists Guild’s (Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines), the cost for a logo ranges from $20,000 – $50,000 which usually includes buyout of copyright.
Another well-known company that is doing the deed is…Huffington Post. They’re having a HuffPost Politics Icon Competition encouraging anyone to enter and posted this:
“Do you know your way around Photoshop or other design programs?”
So do they get paid? Not monetarily. The winner’s compensation is that they will use the winning logo and credit will go to the designer.
Does it really benefit client?
They seem to think so. They figure what a great deal to have a plethora of diverse logos/artwork to choose from and for cheap or even free in some instances. Here is a small list of reasons it actually hurts the client:
• Unoriginal and poor quality of ideas and designs
• You could be sued for trademark infringement
• “Designer” doesn’t have the time to ask questions about your company or service. They are not intimate, so chances of them creating a design that reflects you accurately is dim.
• Poor to no communication between the client and designer
• No time for research
• Chances of seeing a version of your design somewhere is VERY likely
How it hurts the designer
The way I see it, any designer who knows the value of their talent, experience, and skill will not and should not participate in these practices. It could possibly leave a scar on your design career because you are devaluing yourself. In today’s economic climate where design is not considered a commodity, it’s even more important to boldly claim your worth. For those young designers who are eager to get their work out there – THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO DO IT. Here are some reasons why:
• One by one, it devalues the entire design and advertising community
• Endless hours of design with no guarantee of compensation
• You as the designer are not protected when it comes to copyright
• Client chooses the design he/she simply likes, with no chance of the designer presenting his work and the rationale for his design
• Little time and usually no opportunity to revise designs
One way to do pro-bono work that is ethical is to check out some non-profit agencies and community groups who are in need of a logo or branding collateral. Another route could be to ask a friend or family member if they have any design needs and in return can offer a trade. This way you make it known that your work has value.
Is there ever a good opportunity to do it?
Spec work has been around for a long time, especially in advertising. Different firms may be offered an opportunity to present some initial concepts to a potential client in the hopes they will win the account. Previously, agencies made their money from media sales, and so creative work was given away as a way to profit from the media. Now this is not always the case, and each agency employs a different structure. An agency that’s starting out may be more inclined to include spec work in their proposals, whereas, a stable one wouldn’t dare. They figure they have paid their dues to be the strong agency they are – and they would be right.
No one is going to push you to do what you don’t want to do. The choice is yours. It’s based on your ethics and principles. I just caution you to be very careful and answer this question:
“When is the last time you went to the doctor, mechanic, attorney or grocery store and told them after services were rendered you will gladly pay for their service/product if and only you were satisfied?”
…Yeah I thought so
Links and Resources