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There is an ongoing trend or practice in the designing industry these days that border on unethical and acceptable where creativity is concerned. Spec work has become an option for many who want their creative requirements done without too much hassle (or so they think).

Spec work or speculative work refers to a job done or assigned by a client who expects to get variations of designs first before finally choosing and paying for what he chose. It’s also called free pitching or crowdsourcing in some instances (but the latter could be a bit more acceptable concept than spec work).

Spec work, in most cases, equates to no compensation for work done. Since the client only chooses one from the many designers who have complied with his call. You work for the client’s speculation and you hope you get paid for your work.

Spec work could be seen in different forms:

  • Contests
  • Voluntary work
  • Internship
  • Pro bono

Companies (potential clients) broadcast their requirement and many hopeful individuals who see that slim chance of winning would submit their entries. Creative people who approach businesses or offer their services for free for private use or for the good of the public may also fall into the gray areas of spec work.

Why Do Speculative Work?

On hindsight, spec work already gives a doubtful impression, but many designers still go for it – they take a bite at the bait for some reasons:

  • They see a level playing field where they could get that one chance to hit it big.
  • There’s a choice for them out there for work.
  • This is an opportunity to gain experience.
  • This will be an add-on to a portfolio (or probably the first item there).
  • There’s a chance for monetary reward.
  • There’s the opportunity to meet people and learn to deal with them.

Looking at how spec work is being perceived as a stepping stone or fallback, there are so many ways that this practice could be unethical. Designers should avoid participating in spec work if they could help it. Here are some of the cons of doing spec:

  • The value of the design industry is lessened.
  • You do a lot of work for nothing.
  • No legal protection; no copyright.

The winner is chosen based on the client’s taste or perception of what looks good and not about what will work.

  • There is little or no interaction with the client to polish the project for an excellent result.
  • You spend a lot of time for nothing.
  • On the client’s side, there are so many reasons not to get involved in spec work:
  • Plagiarism is rampant and often inevitable.

The designs may not be original and could be recycled work.

  • There is no legal protection.
  • Low-quality output.
  • No research was done in the development.
  • There is no option for revision.
  • Illegal, unethical practice.
  • Little or no communication with designer.
  • Negative foundation for a long-term business relationship.

The Downside to Speculative Work

The downside of spec work for both designers and clients would often always outweigh the positive things that some claims to see when they go for spec work. The venue for spec work has opened this second-rate option for designers who may have the potential to really make it big in their careers but have clearly been derailed for want of a faster boost.

While clients may find this practical and easy, many are not too quick to realize the disadvantages when you look at it from a long-term perspective. The strength of the traditional way of how we do business lies in the way people adhere to certain vital steps first. Research, which is a very important element in the creative process, is omitted in spec work.

Because designers do not necessarily become that committed to the client (because of the huge possibility that they won’t end working together anyway), clients can expect so-so products in the end. Plagiarism is a very real thing that could knock on their door one day and point to that logo as something that has already been done before.

As a designer, you are on a more level ground if you are given due recognition and compensation for a job well done.

The Bottom Line

Spec work is a shortcut a client and a designer shouldn’t take. The longer road to the development and design of a product is always THE much safer one to tackle. Granted, the longer route requires more work and dedication, but the result is more authentic and rewarding.

For designers, clients who do not want to pay upfront or get involved with milestones are not the ones they should opt to work with. Clients should know that any creative work that is of high quality should be paid well and they should know the difference between what is professional and what is not.

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Posted by Igor Ovsyannykov

I'm a digital nomad and entrepreneur bouncing around South East Asia. When I'm not working here, I'm out taking photos. Follow me on Instagram: @igorovsyannykov

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