Spec work means producing a piece of work for a client without any guarantee that your work will be published in any way – or will be paid for. If you think you’ve never done this before, look back when you submitted designs on 99designs.com. Websites like this one make lots of people work for free, with only a handful of them actually getting paid. We will look today into this type of work and I will bring in arguments against it; in the end, we will wrap up with a discussion through the comments and I hope you will leave better informed.
Lack of general understanding
One of the biggest issues with these types of clients is that they don’t have any idea about what works well for them or what doesn’t. They know they want a nice logo and obviously don’t know their company as well as they should if they start up a contest where a hundred people enter, but only one gets paid. Understanding “what works” as a company or business, is not something everybody is capable of, and unfortunately in these situations, more often than not, the company chooses a design that “looks good” rather than one that represents their brand. If you do Spec work, all that you do is encourage choosing designs based on what “looks good” instead of what “works well”.
Image by Coastline Windows & Conservatories.
Plus, let’s face it, if you’ve been submitting design concepts for years and never won, at some point in time you will start submitting work that is not original – that is if, for who knows what reason, you will continue doing this. So the client doesn’t benefit at all, as you give him is work that is recycled.
Spec work is something new designers go for very fast, because they hope to “catch a big fish” and get some experience and build a portfolio at the same time. Well, I would not encourage you to do it, not even in the beginning. If you want to do something good, find a volunteer organization, a small business, a charity, something or someone you can do good for. They will appreciate your effort much more – we will talk about this point a bit later on.
Taking the shortcut
What Spec work is can be translated into taking a shortcut instead of going the long, safer road. This is because most of the clients asking for Spec work don’t offer to pay up front, milestone payments, contracts or meetings – they are not the type of client we are used to working with.
As said earlier, they know they need a logo and ask for it. You are the designer so you should know how to make it – but they have no idea that even behind a black & white typeface logo there is much more than the looks. And they also want results really fast and as cheap as possible. They might even choose a cheaper version just because it’s cheaper, not because they like it more.
Image by giveawayboy.
A client who uses this method to get their designs created is clearly not an expert, so he will not notice a difference between an original piece of work and something plagiarized. This is why asking for Spec work is also harmful for them. Spec work is something beginner designers do, or designers from poorer countries. They do not want to invest two weeks into creating a visual identity. They spend two days and move on. The probability of paying for something plagiarized is high – and when the original artist comes and asks for money from you, where will you, the client, find that guy who won your contest?
As mentioned earlier, clients don’t always know why we take so much time for a “simple logo”. It should be much easier in their opinion. And today they found out design is something many people do – and there are some of them who do it fast and cheap. Why not start a contest and see if one of them pops in there? Nobody wants to be “over charged” by someone who actually spends time thinking about potential solutions and concepts, right?
No client relationships
Another thing designers long for is good relationships with the clients we work with. Even months after delivering a complete project to a small business they might come back to us because they want something new. Knowing how to always leave the door open for former clients is something all of us need to be better at. We all know there are some people out there who we just love working with – probably because they appreciate us, they follow our advice and are always kind. You will not find this in the Spec world.
Image by Bes Z.
Even if you are a successful Spec worker, doing this for a long time might get you into an unhealthy working rhythm; submitting one design after another, finding another client and moving on – this is all you do. And there is also the uncertainty of not getting paid. Productivity and confidence might also have to suffer if you meet the wrong client. If you want appreciation for your work, the Spec world is not where you should be.
Always keep the rules in mind
There are some things which you definitely need to take care of when working with a client. Never work without a contract, it is crucially important. If you can’t write one on your own, there are plenty of well written templates on the internet which are free to download, modify and use. That’s where everyone should start.
If you do some work for someone you don’t know, ask for a deposit first. If the client doesn’t want to give you anything, then move on. It is probably a client whom you don’t want to deal with anyway. If he doesn’t pay a small fee at the beginning, how do you expect him to pay the full price at the end, when you already hand in the project?
Oh, about handing in the project… never do it until you get the full payment. There are clients who might not be willing to pay until they have the product. Offer them a preview or show them the finished product on your computer, then after getting the money release the work. It is less risky and it will get rid of headaches for you.
Image by NobMouse.
The copyright for your work is owned by you until there is a clause in the above-mentioned contract specifying otherwise. Make sure clients know that adapting your work in any way can only be done with your approval if you still own the legal rights. However, most of the time designers prefer to offer full legal rights to the client for a small fee on top of the one for the project – make sure to stipulate this in the contract.
Pro bono vs. Spec work
There is a huge difference between Spec work and Pro bono and I promise to come back with another article about it soon enough. People should understand that there is nothing wrong with doing pro bono or volunteer work, but the reasons behind it should be different.
While most communities, charities or small businesses will give you something back for your work (maybe some references or advertising), the ones in the Spec business will most likely not, even when you win a contest and get paid. But I will get back to you with another article about pro bono work some other time.
The only way of solving the Spec work issue is by not taking part in it. There are clearly very few (or no) advantages of doing Spec work for people who won’t acknowledge your efforts. Just think how proud will you be of your design career in ten years if the only thing you do is Spec work. Let’s face it, Spec work is for people who are not acknowledged as professionals worth paying for. You are not one of them. Act professionally and avoid partaking in Spec work.
What do you think about submitting designs for contests on 99designs.com or similar websites? Have you ever done it and if yes, why? What made you stop doing it?
Christian Vasile is an enthuziastic Romanian web designer currently living in Denmark. He is passionate for the industry and writes about design, usability, coding and freelancing and is a regular publisher here at 1WD. You can follow him on Twitter at @christianvasile or visit his web portfolio by clicking on the link above.