What is Spec Work?

In the design world Spec Work is short
for Speculative Work and that means it’s kinda like when you uh… it basically means working for free. It usually comes into forms. One: A client asks several designers or
design firms to complete part of a new project. The client picks one winner, gives them the
job and the others go home with nothing for their hard work. Two: A client starts a contest and gathers
submissions from hundreds if not thousands of designers. They pick one
winner, pay a modest fee and the rest go home with nothing for their hard work. So what’s wrong with this? If you are a client the best design work
should come out of a healthy relationship with a designer, where
your needs and wants are understood and ideas are developed with you from the
ground up. Just because you get lots of free
designs doesn’t mean any of them are good and in fact many maybe blatant
ripoffs. Spec contests have actually created an
underground system whereby some unscrupulous designers will quickly
enter as many as possible as they copy work from the web and present it as
their own. So that new logo of yours may actually
already be someone else’s. If you’re a designer you just shouldn’t
work for established companies for free, period. If you need to build up your portfolio
there are other ways. Design for a local charity or your friends new
business or just spend the time creating your own projects. Spec Work would seem absurd in most
other professional industries… Could you ask several chefs to prepare
your next meal for free and then only pay for the best one? Could you hold a contest in get hundreds
of lawyers to write your will and then only pick and reward one? Didn’t think so. Perhaps it’s time we started to treat
designers… you know, just like everyone else? Think about it. Video by Topic Simple. www.topicsimple.com

100 Replies to “What is Spec Work?”

  1. The biggest problem with spec work is that it affects everyone not only people who participate.This is because clients who normally to a design agency, now go to a design contest site, therefore there is less and less paid work for everyone. The scary thing that it's driven by people's susceptibility for gambling. "I will win the next one! Surely I will win next time…." Therefore it is unlikely to die off. In this way soon a whole industry will go down the drain.

  2. this video was made as part of a contest. the winners got to be featured on youtube

    just kiddddiiiiiiinnnngggggg. great video. 🙂

  3. Never ever work for free. Because there's always someone making money off of your shit. They make money, you get paid. That's how it should be. Period.

  4. Here's a variation on this theme: If you're a graphic designer, what do uncles, aunts, in-laws, cousins and all your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband's friends and relatives have in common? They are all people who think you should do free graphic design work for them.

  5. I go to the state fair and hope to win. Basically, it is all about getting more exposure. When you start out you have no rep. This comes with time, but people want to become a big name. How do you expect that to happen if people what a list of clients and you got none. Often you get no job if you have no experience. This is a vicious circle for me. Nobody wants to work for free, bur what other choice is there for us?

  6. This is why I don't work for free. The only competitions I enter are those that don't use the entries commercially, such as art competitions where the work is displayed in galleries instead. Exposure is NEVER a good compensation. Who looks at an ad or banner and wonder who the artist was? There's no guarantee the audience of the business will even like your style or type of artwork. Use your own social media for exposure, I get 100+ views a day and climbing.

  7. That's awesome. I think I'll do this from now on, or at least the result will be equivalent to "free" work – a couple scribbles here and there.

  8. I'll be referring clients to this video from now on when they want to know why I'm charging for something because "It's fun for you to do so why should we pay?". 🙂

  9. Looking at the artist's list of samples they provide in their portfolio is enough to know whether they're qualified for the job. If they don't provide one, don't hire them.

  10. This sadly is the case for online job boards and freelancing. unfortunately I have no choice but to spec work or take (test samples) because too many other designers are willing to.

  11. i think this is mostly due to the fact most people can't differentiate good designers from bad ones, as there are no straight forward qualifications unlike most other professional industries

  12. let me clear something here "not everybody can learn the job". you can actually learn how to use a computer or even a software BUT the artistic knowledge,(the way of building a website page design, or a magasine that won't make your eyes bleed when you read it,or how to draw a body/flower/animal, how to use right colors for a right purpose and more….)IT TAKES YEARS TO LEARN THIS.

  13. there a psycological fact that is important and true. if you work for free or with a lower price the client will think it's cheap and not good (even your skills are great 🙁 ) if you decides to put a higher price the clients will think that you have great skills and will respect you more.It s difficult for everybody and as an prof artist i have a part time job.

  14. Unfortunately, it has been proven that design work can be done for cheap. Whether that be spec work or by individuals in developing nations, such as Indonesia, Malay, or China. If you don't like the reality of a global economy, design might not be the field for you. 🙂

  15. It's amazing to me how many of my friends still don't get why spec work is an abomination. They start up small businesses, and think logo contests are the best way for them to get good work, rather than forming a collaborative relationship with someone who will sit down with them and discuss their needs and vision for their business, and personalize the logo based on true information about what they're striving for.

  16. can someone tell me how to reject the request for spec work from a random employer? I submitted some of works.. and the employer felt like my work is not original enough and not "out of the box" enough and wanted to submit more designs… how can I reject this in the most polite manner possible?

  17. That question about chefs' working for free is already a reality since hell's kitchen and master chef TV shows.

  18. If everything is provided like material, food and a bed during the competition and the price is 1 million not just a common salary for cooking, is more like an internship. It is a totally different situation.

  19. Unbelievable people are out there. I got similar situations almost every month. But i do not accept something like this anymore. I am so tired of such clients. They want all the good stuff for 10000 Bucks, but like to pay 1000. I do my very best to be proud for every project i made. And push much more work in it as i get paid for. In most cases you don`t get a "Thanks" for it. Very sad. . .

  20. Yes, because only the graphic design field can be outsourced or done for cheap. It has never been heard of in the programming, IT, manufacturing, engineering and many other fields… oh wait… it has… never mind then.

  21. You can't be serious… in my experiences, employers demanded a resume, cover letter, a portfolio and spec work. You think you have it bad? Think again. What's wrong with spec work you ask? Would you want to spend a day working on one re-design in order to have a small chance at an interview?

  22. Client: Dear God, I would like a sample of my thoughts please. I'm not sure which one is the best option.
    God: *Facepalm*

  23. This applies to every industry not just for designers. Sport, finance, accounting etc. Working for free is not gonna get you nowhere! You deserve at least minimum wage. That's why it's there for.

  24. It wouldn't happen if so many people didn't want to be designers. Quite literally, there is a surplus of people willing to do the work. Its basic economics.

  25. Now that I know the problem, what are alternative solutions? I realize that businesses do this because it's a low-risk solution that they can get away with, but obviously, it becomes a problem for everyone.

    Alternative solutions:
    * payments at the end of multiple milestones
    * half now, half at the end of the project
    * pay per hour

    What are solutions that you use?

  26. Im saving this video forever and ever. Thank you for this helpful URL link I can send to anyone who says "Keep going until I see what I like" or "Can you take a stab at this before to see if it looks good" or the many others. This video is clear, unoffensive, and unapologetic.

  27. love this video, i dont know why people want designers to work for free!!??
    come on, its 2014 and people still want us to work for free

  28. very nice video. easy to understand and nicely illustrated. and I really approve of this message. design is serious business; treat us right!

  29. thing is designing is so fking easy, all you know is how to use a program, the rest is fking bullshit so why would they get payed at all? 

  30. Absolutely! A good project for the creative and the client is one that involves collaboration and where the creative is allowed the insights from key decision makers. These contests and bidding war sites never made any sense to me. It's a disease to our profession.

  31. I thought defence contractors do this too.
    When the USAAF wanted a new bomber, boeing submitted the B17 (but the prototype crashed, so they had to withdraw. the plane was adopted anyway) Martin the model 146, and Douglas the B-18.

  32. Best way to do Spec Work is don't compete ask a great company if you could do something for free and if they like it they would endorse it. I am a copywriter and built my reputation on spec work, Vaynermedia did the same

  33. Taking spec work farms like 99designs seriously as a design service is equivalent to thinking farmville is agriculture.

  34. Sign the petition against the Canadian government's 2017 logo contest: https://canada150.gdc.net/node/add/petition

  35. Presumably your winning entry isn't "The work" . Your entry is the thing that lets you actually begin the real design work which presumably is much more in-depth. It's true many instance of SPEC work aren't like that. Additionally I don't have any sympathy for the "I don't want to work for free" argument. In MANY industries you do a lot of work to "win the deal" .. or not win the deal. That's the cost of doing business.  And I'm ok with that. In IT we do tuns of Proof of concepts, we do tuns of RFC responses, we do tuns of "rough design" work. I would expect that "pre-contract" you do not more work than 10% of the value of the deal at most. 

  36. I have a question, and I'm not trying to be rude. Anyone can feel free to answer. 🙂
    What would you suggest as the best alternative for asking an artist (just ONE unless the result is unsatisfactory) to work on spec, in order to protect the purchaser from a finished work from an UNscrupulous artist who gave me the short shrift at the end of the day and just produces a low quality piece? Or if the piece is simply unsuitable and the artist is/was unwilling to make the necessary changes at the appropriate times (such as the sketch phase) even if it is otherwise technically "good"? As a private entity, my pockets are not bottomless, but I do not want to shortchange an artist, so what's the best buyer protection option for all parties?

  37. The lack of job opportunities has let designers to retaliate. This ranges from design teachers telling their students "their time has value" and other ideologies that get stuck in these kids minds and make them ignorant. Yes it is true, some industries don't have speculative work but they do a lot of free work when they are studying for their degree which is usually harder, longer and more rigorous than arts. (lawyers, like you so happen to mention, do lots of free work from mandatory public service to the initial study phase where mandatory tribunal times are needed. None of these times are paid.)

    Btw almost all industries do contests that only 1 person gets paid or wins, let me list a few: IT, business, culinary arts, civil engineering, music, ALL SPORTS, actually when you think about it, all competition and contests only have 1 or few winners

    tl;dr – if you want to get paid, get an actual job. if not, don't complain about it cause it's probably your own fault for not being able to get paid for your work.

  38. The problem with this video is there are far too many people who think they are designers, musicians, etc., but don't actually have the talent to execute even the most simple idea. No one wants to have to pay for work that they don't feel is up to par or have to deal with numerous revisions with an artist that can't follow directions. If someone doesn't want to work on spec they generally don't have enough faith in their own ability. Most of these types of fields are highly competitive, and if an artist doesn't want to work on spec no one is forcing them to, and there are plenty of others who are not only happy to work on spec, they have enough confidence in their talent to welcome the challenge. Topic Simple clearly has an agenda here and is just whining about apples and oranges tasting differently. If a chef prepares a lousy meal you send it back and don't have to pay for it.

  39. I've done one contest! And will never do it again EVER! I've spent years getting to be good at what I do. Hire me and build a relationship and talk to me. You get a better quality all around when you build a report with someone rather than selling out the cheapest and most demeaning way that insults my education, expertise and experience in my field.

  40. Basically, if it's a client that is asking for something that would look good on my portfolio then I say yes to the spec work.

    If I also have time to do the spec work, then I say yes to it, and I stick it in my portfolio.

    I have done the Doritos commercial just about every year, and have gotten clients with that spec work. Just seeing a real company in my portfolio adds value.

    But if it's a client asking for spec and it's something that I have in my portfolio, then I refer them to that.

    Also if it's a big pay client, then I'll do it for spec.

    But you make sure you watermark your stuff as well.

    I also make sure that I create a relationship with potential client so that their experience is more than just my work.

    I do agree with the video. But I think you also gotta do what you gotta do.

  41. Pizza company held contest to redesign their packaging, winner will be rewarded 1K. About 100 designers take up this challenge. Among all submitted design they choose 10 they like most, out of 10 they choose one of the best to be the winner so they paid the winner. The other 9 design can be used in future that's save a lot. In their T&C they normally listed you give them permission to use your design in anyway if you want to participate the contest OR they simply change here and there a bit and claim it's their own design so you can't sue them.

  42. I'd love if you could do a video on why the client should pay extra for layered(native) files and why designers should stop being bullied into giving them away for free!

  43. As would be expected, spec work is mostly restricted to fields where the work is fulfilling. This makes these fields over-supplied with amateurs and professionals who will work just for the love of it. Fields where work is more taxing or soul-destroying pay better on average. Choose.

    I never use spec for design work because I have no talent in the visual arts, so see their work as magical. I however do a lot for free computer work because I can't see that others likewise see my work as magical.

  44. im wondering whos behind all that spec crap!! mostly i think they are owners of companies or bosses who think they can treat everyone like they want and not to pay because they seriously think we have to desperate offer our services and they buy it if they want

  45. Well, I paid a designer to sketch me some logos for my business and honestly they all looked like crap(to the point i could do better on MSPaint). Ended up drawing up my own designed logo on photoshop and just asked that same designer to make it into a vector based logo on Adobe Illustrator. Turns out,…the graphic designer didn't even know what a vector based logo was… Wasted my money on someone that knew less than me.

  46. couldn't agree more with it. But no, there's wayyyyy~ too many twats out there who will enjoy free handjob, and yes, there's wayyyyy~ too many wankers out there who love giving hand jobs for free 😀 hahahahahahaha

  47. Because everyone with a Mac is a would be designer, it creates a glut in supply, to the point where people need to work for free. if you're a good designer, 10 mins free for a 1 month contract and a future relationship is not a problem.

  48. thanks for this info,,im new to this ,,actually im going to make for spec work,,but when i watch and read i doubt to accept the work,,even i can add it on my portfolio but i feel im like a slave so i decided to stop it

  49. Great great clip ! Would love if this could be adapted beyond designers. Photographers and other professions within visual arts, are all going through the same BS.

  50. Now, for part 2 The contest: image the requesting party is a government/public agency giving out a subsidy and is inviting parties to come with proposals…. Is that deemed immoral as well?

  51. Could you ask several chefs? Actually, yes. That's exactly what happens when selecting a Wedding Caterer.

    There is nothing wrong with a modest level of Spec Work to determine the skill of the service provider. There IS something wrong with exploiting this model.

    The pendulum has swung too far for free work; however, don't pull it too far back either.

  52. The worst answer people give to justify spec work is, "you should have enough confidence in your talent" – How about respect to your talent? No one should work for free, and if you're any good at what you do, you will probably get job offers without exploitative ones.

  53. Its funny how different industries work differently and see things differently.For a writer, writing contests are a wonderful way of getting your work out there and getting some money. Writers do a lot of writing without pay, and then submit it in hopes that somebody will publish it. Of course the difference between graphic design and writing is night for day. I don't know how long it takes to make a graphic design, but a novel can take years depending on what genre you write for, whether you spend all your time on really high quality nice stories or you write in a single mainstream popular genre (say romance) one novel after a novel for stable pay. A more equal comparison would be, maybe, a journalist, writing every single day for a newspaper. You wouldn't ask five journalists to write about a news story then pick the one you think will sell the paper. (for the record, I agree spec work of the kind shown in the video here looks sketchy, I wouldn't do it as a writer. Writing contests are different, there are many legitimate ones and are considered in the writing community to be good for writers.)

  54. A tech firm told me to create a banner for an event of their's, in exchange for a lot of exposure. I told them to hand me an invite to the event so that I can make sure I am there to witness the exposure. They said it's for people who've either paid for the passes, or have VIP invites. I asked if any other workers are gonna be there, like sound experts, light experts, waiters, janitors, security etc. They said yes. I asked why can't I be there then, I'm also working and contributing toward the event. They said it's because there will already be a lot of people, and they don't want things to get crowded. I said find someone else. They said they can get an art student to do it for free. I congratulated them on that and let the door hit their asses. And turns out, they did end up getting someone to do it, I do not know whether it was for free, or paid. But I did end up doing some free work for them. I used my graffiti skills to paint genitals on walls right outside the event venue, and also drew the owner of the tech firm fucking a goat. It didn't change the event much, or the income from it, but it was hella funny just watching people laugh at it before entering. 😛

  55. There's something I'm not getting here about contests, I think. What is so wrong about them? Isn't that how any interview process works? You ask a bunch of people to manifest their desire to work in an environnement, show their skills to attest of their qualification, and then pick the one you deem the most employable. How else would you fill vacant spots in your business?

  56. The potato chip company, lays, doing the same crap. They have this contest for a new flavor. They make tons of money on all the flavors, but the only guy who gets paid is the so-called winner

  57. This is sad situation in industry. At the begining of my design career I used to work in agencies in my cities. I made it from 0 to lead designer for 2 years. But economical situation in my coutry is really bad and salary very low even if you are lead. I quit the job and went online. I started working on spec sites like 99designs. Next 2 years it was a long but terrible journey though pain, humiliation, dissapointment and frustration. Yes, sometimes I made a good money on spec sites, like 3000$/month but it was a real luck. This lucky success instigated me to enter more and more contests and try to do as good as I can. But when you put the best efforts into design process and doing your best to present design with a great story behind it, and then your work just been declined with no comment and feedback it really frustrates. And then win gets some generic stock design. It demotivates so much. This happens every time – some minor success and then a line of declines and ignorance. Sometimes I had a very good feedback from contest holders, many asks for revisions and assurance
    that my design is a favorite and then they just pick another as a winner. This influenced very bad on my nervous system. In one day I decieded to commit suicide becase I did not realize myself in profession, I cannot make a living, my work getting declined almost every time and I didn't see any way out. Thanks to my girlfriend she saved me from suicide. But now I quit design work. Now I am just selling useless chinese shit to stupid people on the internet just to make a living. FUCK spec sites.

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