Wee Nudge

Teach your clients about the mysteries of the web

Spec Work

Spec work (speculative work) is when a designer creates something without a guarantee that the potential client will choose and/or pay for it. While this type of practice may be common in industries such as Architecture, it is intensely looked down upon within the web design community.

Design contests are one example of spec work, where the client has provided a brief (e.g. a new logo) and some sort of 'prize' for the eventual winner. Participating designers will submit their piece of work and the client will then select a winning submission. The winner will receive the prize/contract and the other entrants receive nothing.

The idea of receiving a large number of designs for free and then choosing the one you like may seem appealing to a client, however for a variety of reasons this is not a good idea for both parties involved.

Bad for the designer

There's a few key reasons why a designer should avoid spec work.

  • High chance that you will not be chosen and/or paid for your work.
  • If you are chosen, your time and work will not be given the respect it deserves.
  • Your credibility and that of the design industry as a whole will be reduced by participating.
  • The winning fees in a design contest are often embarrassingly small.
  • High chance that your work may be plagiarized even if you don't win.
  • Little or no protection if your work is plagiarized.
  • You have little or no interaction with the client during the work.
  • By participating you are adding to the belief that spec work and free labour is ok.
  • Legal risks regarding intellectual property and trademarks.

Bad for the client

While spec work may seem an attractive option, it has a number of downsides for clients.

  • It's unethical.
  • You are immediately giving the impression that you don't respect designers, their work and that free labour is justified.
  • The quality of work you receive will most likely be quite low as entrants will often put little time and effort into it.
  • You're establishing a harmful relationship with your designer and/or future designers.
  • The designs resulting from spec work will not answer the brief as effectively as work created through a proper design process.
  • You have little or no interaction with the designer during the work.
  • This is an ineffective way to see the designer's potential.
  • Legal risks regarding intellectual property and trademarks.

Better approach for designers

There are many ways of getting exposure as a designer that don't involve spec work. Here are a few recommendations.

  • Work on creating an attractive portfolio with a wide variety of pieces and let those sell your skills rather than by entering a contest.
  • Refuse to participate in spec work to help raise the respect given to the creative industry.
  • Create a strict pricing model and stick to it, but most of all respect your talents and your time.

Better approach for clients

There are a number of more effective ways of working with designers that will yield better results than spec work.

  • Respect designers and their work.
  • Check out the portfolios of various designers and speak with them about your project.
  • Spend the money on working together with designers towards the best solution.
  • Avoid offering 'exposure', 'experience' or 'something for their portfolio' in exchange for their services.
  • The bottom line is that you get what you pay for and spec work is a cheap solution with disappointing consequences.

Useful links on Spec Work

Learn More

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