“Spec” Work and the Devaluation of Design

Spec work and the devaluation of design

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Years ago, professional designers came to realize how doing speculation work (aka, unpaid work “on spec”) took away from the value and compromised the quality of the work. Often times an unscrupulous company would take a design submitted and have another designer work on it who placed a lower bid on the job. Another problem came simply from companies expecting initial work to be done up-front, for free, and without any contractual agreement.

Collaboration is key …

For print and web design, the best work can be obtained through collaboration and thoroughly exploring a client’s needs and objectives. This simply can not be accomplished though an RPF that asks for a general concept. For companies looking to take this route, I would highly recommend purchasing a pre-made template, but remember, you get what you pay for. For professional design, working with a single designer or company to achieve a customized, unique, branded appearance is a far superior approach. A professional designer should be able to produce a Creative Brief, in lieu of concept designs, that explains in detail how an end result will be achieved. Also, it is customary (and encouraged) to request samples of previous projects by the designer to get a feel for their work.

Professional standards …

Design standards such as those set forth by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (http://www.aiga.org), should be followed to not only uphold the integrity of the field of design, but also to educate the potential client as to why “spec” work is detrimental. When a potential client asks for original work to be produced for free and without a contract, it demonstrates not only a lack of understanding, but also a lack of respect (often times, without them being aware of it). A great analogy would be, would you ask three plumbers to fix a problem in your house and say you’ll actually pay the one whose work you liked the best? A professional designer is highly trained and skilled in their field, and should be paid accordingly for any actual design work provided. Through a well written creative brief and a strong portfolio, a potential client should have enough information to choose the right candidate for the job.

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