1. Ray

    I once spent a weekend doing spec work at 99 designs. I gave the best of the designs just to find some looser design awarded the contract. That was the last. I highly recommend other designers to not use it, even when u have free time on your hand.

    • Ray, yes, it is so.. You cannot expect very professional outcome, maybe sometimes you will get lucky..but that’s not suggested way to get your fresh design. Better use premium template until you can afford to get your site designed professionally! Thanks for feedback, Ray!

  2. We have 8 years working on web design development and design, every time we have participated in a test for spec work we have never got it, and that’s because one simple reason, you don’t get all the information you need for the work as if you were already paid for that job and never get the same attention as a paid job, so you work guessing. Then we have notice that the offered spec works where we had participated, are projects that never saw the light of day or were made very poorly for the cheapest agency, so what’s the case to work hard when all it matters for companies who does this kind of request is to pay the lowest rate? I hardly suggest that you never do this, let the customer hire you because of your portfolio and rates, let him know that you’ll make your best effort to place him (sure with some limits) but don’t work for free, it’s unfair, you don’t go to eat, ask for food and if you don’t like it don’t pay (that would be nice) but is not real, so don’t let people abuse you and let abuse others.

  3. Suhail

    I am not agreed with it.
    As a designer we don’t get rights where I live and I can’t leave this state because of high responsibilities. I am working as senior graphic designer in biggest newspaper of my state and they earn millions of dollars by my work but I get paid only 2000 Dollars in year for my work from my firms and there is no small firms in our state for such job then this where i work (Simply Capitalism). I tried to find clients on elance and other freelance sites but failed to find one. I am in the profession for 6 years but I have earned only upto 12000$ from work in so long time. Last Year I found and some other crowd sourcing sites I started to work for these sites and my this years earning has raised from 2000$ to 10000$ that is a great thing for me.
    I if you think that’s bad it could be but for you not for the designers belonging to countries such as mine.
    And you if write these kind of articles please write the alternatives for Spec work so that we could also move on like you.

  4. I briefly tried to become a freelance writer on sites like oDesk and Elance. The majority of the opportunities seemed to be asking for spec work or “milestone” payments with no up-front. It sounded good in theory, but I never saw a cent. So I agree very much with this article. It feels like a harder road to say “no” early in your career, but it’s worth it.

  5. Tessa

    Thanks to know about the Spec work and your post describes well about the risk factors which is involved in Spec Work.

  6. alex

    Well, nice article but with some wrong premises. This is going to be a rather long comment, beware… :)

    The first one is “Websites like this one make lots of people work for free”. No, they don’t. People who participate there aren’t forced to do it, they chose to do so by their own will. You don’t enter in an binding agreement with such site obligating you to design anything. You are free to choose project which are of interest to you etc.

    Second: “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 might be true (if you generalize), but that’s why most of those sites have some kind of a reporting system. *Everyone* who notices a stock vector, a logo stolen from somewhere else etc. is free to report it as such. Such “designs” get removed.

    Third: “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. 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.” – Why do you think so? Any evidence? I have a counter-proof: in my own experience, I have established successful client relationships through such sites. Lasting for years now. Clients are happy with my work, they come back to me when they need something designed, and no, I don’t charge pennies.

    Fourth: “submitting one design after another, finding another client and moving on – this is all you do.” – again, wrong – see above.

    Fifth and last: “Let’s face it, Spec work is for people who are not acknowledged as professionals worth paying for. “. As this might be true, I personally have to disagree. Again, based on my own experience. I happen to have an MA in Graphic Design and Visual Communications (not bragging, just mentioning to explain my position). I worked as a designer and as an art director for years – great salary, sometimes idiotic clients but hey, I had a job and was successful. I quit the job because of the working hours which gave me no time for having a personal life (sounds familiar?). In the last couple of years, because of so-called “global recession” affecting the industry in the country I live in, most of my colleagues got fired. Just like that. And there is very little chance that we would find a regular job here, at least not in the next couple of years.

    And what do you do when you don’t have a job?
    Do you engage in pro bono work, hoping that someone someday would recognize you’re a great designer and wish to hire you – and in the meantime, the bills are paid by themselves, you beg around for food or ask your parents – if you’re lucky enough to still have them – to support you until further notice?
    I don’t think so.
    You do everything you can to keep up working and at least supporting yourself with what you’re educated and trained to do. Even if that means joining “one of those” notorious design crowdsourcing sites and shopping for new clients there, simultaneously filling up your portfolio with some great works.
    IMHO the only thing which matters is not to give off your professional and ethical standards, no matter where or how you work.

    P.S. I’m not, as you state in the article, “designer from poorer countries” – I’m from Europe.

    I’d be very interested to read everyone’s comments on this, and what would they do if they were in my shoes. Thanks in advance.

    • Christian Vasile

      Hey, thanks for the honest comment. I’ve heard before I am “good” at generalizing situations, I might have to change this :-)

      Well if I would be in that situation (and I’ve been, just so you know) I would do everything to land a freelance project. The advantage is that once landed, you will also get paid in the end. There is no guarantee about payment if you do Spec work and as you say, the bills don’t get paid by themselves. And I would rather do 10 designs for a cheaper fee than 10 designs for a “possible” larger fee.

      • alex

        @Christian – You’re welcome. From the short info about you below this article I could guess you have been in similar situation, yes. If I generalize ;)
        So you might as well understand that I would rather make 10 good designs, even if I end up not getting paid for them or the client doesn’t like them, but in the end at least I have brushed up my skills a bit more (having a degree doesn’t mean you can just sit back, stop improving your work and think you are God almighty) – and there is a huge possibility that few of them will make a point and I’d get tons of follow-up work. I’d rather do 10 designs pro bono OR for a “possible” larger fee than 10 designs for peanuts.
        But I guess we’re all different.

  7. Steve

    Is it the first or the second face that wrote this article? Why make no mention of your own use of spec work contests (I hate using crowdsourcing – that has a different meaning and is actually a good thing) and what you have learned from and since then?

    • Yeah, that was a big issue several months ago. The author of this article wasn’t aware of that issue, I believe, and in no way was he one of the decision makers for the tournament. In any case, here’s my view on the matter since I oversaw the whole case:

      1. We were about to release our official statement and halt the contest, but we were instantly faced with knuckles and gritted teeth. It could have been much simpler, and ended swiftly, but no, the lashing didn’t stop. What do you do when your girlfriend is shouting at you before you can even explain?
      2. The original idea was to give everyone, even amateurs without portfolios, the chance to have a break. But designers who are already up there are so against spec work that they didn’t seem to take notice one of our main reasons. I have a friend who was a freshman college at the time, he expressed his desire to join the contest when I told him about it. Being less than an amateur, he’s really great at doing such, but he doesn’t have a working portfolio to show the world and enter freelancing at a young age. In which case, it appeared to him that the freelancing world is somewhat elitist.

      3. Now, ignoring the condescending tone, we will no longer associate ourselves with spec work. We have employed a couple of designers for all our future work.

      What do you think about this? Should amateurs take their hands off work and let those who spent 4 or more years earning their design degree do the business side of things?

    • Christian Vasile

      Hi Steve! As my author box says, I have been employed by 1WD in September 2011 and I was not here when that contest was running.

      Moreover, even if I would have been here, I don’t see where the problem is. I am allowed to have my own opinion – in the end, it is my own opinion that I am paid for. Therefore even if 1WD would allow such contests to happen here, I would still be allowed to have a different, personal opinion and write about it. It would not be recommended, but I am sure no one would have something against is.

      As Rean answered a bit earlier, 1WD doesn’t allow Spec work contests here, I hope this is assuring enough for you.

  8. Peper Pascual

    You just can’t play with the new game. We poor designers benefit, you rich designers don’t, then time for you to move on.

  9. I agree with this 100% – spec work is just another form of exploitation in the world. Pro Bono work has opened up many opportunities for me through the years – I did it when I started out and never stopped – I spend about 30% of my time on Pro Bono work – it nice for me to feel like I am giving back, and it also creates goodwill for my business (it builds my reputation positively) – I have definitely found that brings in leads and paying work as well.

    We should all boycott these spec sites and mentor young/new designers to not throw away their talents and {VALUABLE!!} time like this. When you do unsatisfying work, especially if there is no reward, you will only get discouraged and more likely to give out and burn out.

    • Christian Vasile

      If you have experience with Pro bono work, I would be glad to hear your opinions about the article I will soon feature here about the topic. Could use your experience and opinions to turn more people into doing it.

      • Absolutely, I would love to. It has worked for me and I think it has merit. A – it helps you promote your business and B – you “give back”, a very positive contribution you as a designer can make to the world you live in.

        I think one has to be careful though, many people will try to get you to work for free and claim “Pro Bono” status – but it has to be something you believe in and feel passionate about. (For example, I am currently working on a Corporate ID and website for an organisation called “Cleft Friends” – it is a resource and support network for parents of babies born with cleft palates. I have already seen what a difference this organisation has made for people – so I am very happy to be able to contribute in my own unique way.) I have often found that I do my best work for pro bono projects – I think that is because when I feel strongly about the message, my creativity flows so much better. I WANT the project to be great, I feel like what I do MATTERS, and also because Pro Bono work usually gives a lot of CREATIVE FREEDOM!

        I think the debate between “Spec” work and “Pro Bono” work comes down to personality types. I am not a competitive person, I have no interest in flexing design muscles against others – I want to be exceptional at what I do, and I don’t believe comparison is going to help me develop my skills. My time is my most valuable resource, and I am not going to waste it on designing for a prospective client who does not value my field of expertise enough to trust me or another good designer with their project. Also, one of my pet hates: clients who don’t know what they want – TIME WASTERS! My personality type makes me a socially conscious ‘Lets make the world a better place’ kind of person who wants to mentor future designers to be the best THEY can be (not clones or drones) and impart the above mentioned ideals and shape their outlook on their role in society. As designers, what we do matters. If the world is an ugly place, find ways to make it more aesthetically pleasing. If someone needs a voice, help them get their message out in a way that will grab the right people’s attention…

        Oh dear, I wrote an essay! Over and out :)

  10. Kris

    Great article, I nearly went down the spec route as im still a beginner but instead i found it better to do favours for people so i am at least getting some kind of return on the work albeit small.

    • Christian Vasile

      I took a look at your portfolio. If you do Spec work or favors to friends, at least showcase your work. Few pictures will not land you that dream job of yours. :-)