Thinking Of Taking A Project For Free? Why Designers Should Avoid Spec Work
We’ve all seen it: That contest that could get us instant exposure or a cash prize. Some even promise employment to the winner. Or simply a client wants to “see your style” and asks you to design some pieces for free to determine if they want to hire you. This is what the creative industry refers to as Speculative Work, or spec work as we’ll call it. Spec work is very widespread and many companies and organizations use it to trap designers into working for free or for very little. Today we’ll tell you a little bit about different kinds of spec work, and give you some reasons to avoid spec work altogether.
There are three main types of spec work, each of which have one thing in common: you might not get paid. Bottom line. In fact, the more people who enter their designs, the lower your chances are at winning.
Spec work usually comes in the form of a company contest which pits everyone on the team against each other to win a position or bonus. Some are a contest from a company in which they ask for designs from hundreds, sometimes thousands of designers and pay the person who does their favorite design. The last type of spec work is when an organization asks multiple designers and firms to do a mini project, and the best designs win the client’s contract. All of these are usually a waste of time for anyone who is really serious about being a designer.
Why, you ask? Well, we’ll tell you:
First of all, would you ask 1,000 architects to draw up plans for your new house and only pay the one who did the best, or have 50 chefs prepare their specialty for you and pay only the one who made your favorite? We thought not. Unfortunately, in the design field, this type of abuse is common and tolerated, but only because it has been allowed by people who are desperate to prove themselves as designers, or are simply badly in need of work. We have also witnessed in which the company takes your design, and then gives it to their chosen firm. Nothing is worse than to come across your design, yet someone else got to execute it, claim it, and got paid for it. And you didn’t. You gave it away for free.
Which brings up the next issue; there are too many people who are willing to take these jobs, and far too many who do it repeatedly. If all designers took a stand and decided not to do spec work at all, we wouldn’t have this problem.
Even if you do win the “contest,” you probably won’t be able to use that particular client as a reference, since the design wasn’t created with their input — there’s no creative process to talk about. All you’ll have is a design that you pulled together out of the blue for a spec contest, with very little to no deep understanding of the client and their needs. Graphic design and website design is a process. How you achieve a great design comes from collaborating ideas with the client, getting to know them, and sharing their story in the form of art. By “guessing” their ideas on how they want it to be executed is just setting you up for failure. You need to be informed of their wants, desires, and personal tastes. All that comes from time and research with the client.
If you’re thinking that you’d like to do some spec work in order to bolster your portfolio, consider some better options:
• Do a little company research, then re-design the logo or menus for a local company and show them the designs. Offer them to purchase it from you.
• Create the identity for a friend’s business venture. Offer to do a trade instead of cashing out.
• Design something for a local charity organization — that can even be used for a tax write-off. It also is a great way to give back to your community.
Spec work can be very tempting. Some of the projects are very fun, and the prospect of creating a design from start to finish without having to deal with push-back or changes from a client until the very end can almost be too much to resist. But remember this, you are a professional, and professionals work to get paid. So pay yourself and your industry the ultimate respect and avoid spec work at all costs. Of course, we all have at least one horror story about working for free and guess what — we want to hear them! Post your story or comments below so we can get the discussion started.
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