Kaishin Chu

Systems Thinker | Strategic Problem Solver | Experience Cultivator

Hey Designers and Agencies, Stop Doing Spec Work! | Dave Harper Design

I had a recent experience where during the end of my pitch to a prospective client, they asked if I’d be willing to do some spec work in order to help them decide between me and the other competing agencies. I said no, explained why, and got the job a week later.

To Designers

Every designer knows that clients and co-workers have misconceptions regarding the design profession. Being a graphic designer means not only problem solving, but educating the people we are hired by and hired to work with. If we fail to look for and take opportunities where we can provide accurate information to those around us regarding what it is that we actually do, we will doom our profession and ourselves to a life of pixel-pushing production and order-taking. Not that there’s anything wrong with producing someone else’s design concept, but that is not to be mistaken for what a graphic designer does.

I know that in some marketing and advertising agencies, it is a common practice to engage in producing design comps for potential clients without payment, in the hopes of getting a job. Potential clients ask for this service so that they can more easily decide which agency would be the best fit for them.

In my experience, I’ve never heard of an advertising agency that’s had a good experience stemming from doing spec work. Seeking to win the attention of a client by saying “yes” to their every request is cowardice, and debases the profession of design. Strong client/designer relationships are built on trust and respect, not on being a yes-man.

If you work in an agency that engages in this practice, you should seek an opportunity to tactfully inform your employer of the standards set for professional designers by the AIGA and a group of designers who have created the NO!SPEC campaign.

To Clients

Please understand that asking a designer or agency to engage in speculative work without the intent to pay is wrong. Do not ask for it. If you do ask for it, the individual or company who accepts to do this work for you is not meeting professional design standards and you should find someone else to work with. Spec work is in conflict with standards set by the professional association for designers, the AIGA.

Just as it is inappropriate for someone in need of plumbing to ask a handful of professional plumbers to fix a “small leak” without payment, in order to more easily judge between each plumber’s ability, it is wrong to ask a designer to do work, however small it may seem to you, for free.

This is why agencies and designers have portfolios and case studies of their past work, so that you can accurately judge their abilities.

You may be hesitant because of the risk involved. What if the design misses the mark? I would suggest asking your potential designer if they would be willing to do paid work on a small-scale project, where less risk is involved. In my experience, I have found this practice helps to ease any doubts that a client may have at the beginning of a partnership.

May all your future design needs be met without spec.

This is what I live by also. Have practiced this since the beginning, even though I’m not a full on Graphics Designer, I still value my time and work as an artist. You would ask a painter to paint you a picture on spec, so why would you ask of this with any other artist?

Designer and artists out there. Stand your ground for what you are worth and let’s educate those who do not know better and allow them to understand how to appreciate the intangible art ‘magic’ we can do 🙂

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