Why We Don’t Do Spec Work

Why We Don’t Do Spec Work

posted by vanndesign on 06. Jan, 2010

Or How I learned to relax and trust the portfolio.

Spec (or speculative) work is done without an agreement for compensation. This type of request often comes attached to a Request for Proposal (RFP). The idea is you compete with other firms by creating design solutions for a given project or campaign. The client reviews the entries and awards the project to the most creative entrant. From the client’s perspective, this seems like a win-win. All of the designers get a chance at the work and the client gets the best design for their project.

The problem with this idea is it devalues and compromises the creative process, and fails to recognize that the primary product of a design firm are its creative solutions. Creative thinking is complex and time consuming. By requesting off the cuff design work based on a brief description of the project, you bypass the fundamentals of the process. The result is a superficial solution that does not take into account strategic, competitive or brand considerations.

In addition, requesting this work for free reflects a lack of understanding and respect for the value of design or the time of the professional asked to provide it.

Accepting spec work adds to a studio’s overhead by increasing the number of unbillable hours it must absorb. This is an unsustainable business model. Imagine asking six bakers to bake cakes for your event, but only paying one for his effort. Or asking several accountants to complete your taxes, but only paying the preparer of your choice.

There is an acceptable way to compare design firms. Simply ask the designers to submit appropriate samples of their work along with a written description of how they would approach your project.

In the end, this approach respects the design process and benefits both the designer and the client. Additionally, it gives you access to a creative pool you would have otherwise missed, since most reputable design firms will not entertain requests for design work on spec.

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