Its that tried and true debate within the design community – To spec or not to spec? No matter how many times this has been discussed its still an important and relevant topic within (and outside of) the design community.

What is spec work?

In case you live under a rock and don’t know what spec work is – let me define it for you: Working on the speculation of getting paid. This often comes in the form of crowd sourcing or design contests.

1) Spec work devalues the design professions and the design community.

Designers are highly trained professionals that deserve to be respected and paid a decent wage for their work. (For more on this read the article: Why logos should cost more than $300)  We are trained to think, analyze, research, and produce thought provoking design that meets our clients needs and business objectives. We are not Photoshop monkeys! There is no ‘logo’ or ‘website’ button on or keyboards. Good design takes hard work and time. The results of spec work often lead to sub-minimum-wage rates and poorly constructed designs. Often times amateurs get lured into spec work and often end up copying or stealing others work. This sets the bar for what these clients see as ‘good design’.

2) Spec work harms and misleads the client.

Spec work teaches clients to devalue design. This type of work encourages clients to think ‘how cheap and fast can I get this done?’ Clients are mislead into thinking that the are getting more bang for their buck. Have you ever seen the triangle diagram – Good, Fast, Cheap? Pick two. No really – think about it you cant have all 3 at the same time!!!

Clients need to be shown that good design will help their company’s establish an identity, sell products, raise awareness or visibility – which in turn helps them make more money and make their business more effective.

3) Spec work damages (or completely disregards) the client-designer relationship.

When work is done on speculation the designer-client relationship is either fractured or completely ignored. Communication between the designer and client is essential to the design process. Good design does not happen in isolation.

4) Spec work often takes advantage of young or inexperienced designers that don’t know better.

Spec work can lure young or unknowing designers promising ‘exposure’ or ‘more work’ if their work is chosen as the winner. This is extremely harmful and often times the ‘rewards’ for producing design work on speculation don’t adequately compensate the designer for their hours of hard work.

5) Spec work does not meet client needs.

Design briefs for spec work are often filled unrealistic expectations and descriptive words (make it pop!) that don’t aid the designer in discerning an approach (or solution) to the project. Often times clients know what they ‘want’, but not what they need. Its our job as designers to discern clients needs from wants in order to meet their business objectives and make their businesses successful.

*But, wait!!!! I thought you said designers should never work for free!??!!

Well, there are a few circumstances that *I* would donate my design services. Let me place emphasis on DONATE (and not working for free). In fact – I think its worth it to send invoices to these type of clients to show them what you WOULD bill them and then make the final total 0 or donation.

  1. Charities
  2. Non-profits
  3. Family Members

So what now?

So now that we have talked, and talked, and talked amongst ourselves as to why spec work is bad now what? Its time to take this discussion outside of the design community and educate our clients and show them the value of real design work. We need to charge decent rates for our work and include our clients in our work process.

Further reading on spec work

Read and watch what others have to say on this topic. Be sure to listen carefully to others opinions and then form your own!

Adii Rockstar on spec work (he’s in favor it spec work)

Zeldman on spec work

Aiga’s (american institute of graphic artists ) Position on spec work


The Great Spec Work Debate

99 Designs – A site that facilitates spec work and design contests

SXSW panel discussing spec work:

What do YOU think about spec work?

Have you participated in spec work? Leave a comment and let me know what you think or how it went. Do you have spec work? Chime in! Tired of this debate? Let me know that as well! I’d love to get a good discussion goin in the comments!