Spec Work

Spec-work, or designing on spec (speculation). A topic near and dear to my heart. It has it’s plusses and minusesssssss (however you spell minusesssss). The plus side is rather small but does include the experience that can be gained by students or young designers trying to find a way to get some experience or recognition for printed/published work. The minus side, however is far greater. For example, many firms, design and otherwise, exploit the circumstance that young designers find themselves in. The non-design firms may do this unwittingly, offering contests or prizes for the “best design” proposals. They may believe they are doing something good but are in fact asking for young professionals to spend their time, money and energy in the hopes of maybe having their design chosen and therefore gain portfolio projects or experience or both. The reality is, however that all but one of the designers who place their energy in such pursuit get no compensation what-so-ever. The firm got a bargain—a huge variety of design options to choose from without paying anyone but the “winner” for their efforts, their intellectual property—not to mention the time this took away from all the other designers pursuing more profitable and worthwhile design goals, and instead speculating.
In addition this practice continues to promote—to the client-world—a false sense of how the design process should work. The result is that stores, organizations, firms continue to ask for design proposals under the guise of contests or Call-for-Proposals. This greatly influences the cost of all design in a very negative way, keeping it at abnormally low prices. No other profession operates this way. It really is up to designers to educate the rest of the world about why this practice is so unjust.
Alternatives would be:
  1. to simply hire a designer after a normal interview and job application process, then give her the brief for the project needed.
  2. Have a call-for-proposals, indicating that the process is a phased approach with phase one applicants receiving some compensation for an initial idea and if approved move on to round or phase two where each of those applicants would receive additional compensation for their efforts and finally, from a final three applicants chosen to go to the last round, two would receive compensation and the “winner” would be hired, either temporarily or permanently.