I’m blogging today because I want to tackle a monster that rears its ugly head in harsh economic times. We call it spec work and its a phenomenon that refuses to die in the design industry. Spec work is essentially an agreement to work for conditional compensation. Clients want to see creative work or “delivered goods” and then determine if they wish to pay for them or not. That way clients have liberty to explore free design work with virtually no commitment on their end. Like having a meal at a restaurant and then deciding if you wish to pay for it or not.
Spec work can be rationalized by comparing it to other industries like architecture where firms bid competitively on big city buildings. Architecture firms present design work in a competition with other firms in hopes of winning the project. Another industry I’ve seen comparisons to is recruiting, where head hunters are only paid if clients hire the candidates they provide. Where these industries fail to be analogous to the creative industry is in their compensation scheme. Recruiters are paid a considerable percentage of the hires’ first year salary which usually translates to a hefty fee, thus making up for time wasted on candidates not hired. When an architecture firm wins a building, it becomes a project that employs its services for a number of years. Not so in design. We sell our expertise, time and materials. Its often not seen as a value proposition for the long term and this is huge problem.
How did spec work penetrate the creative field? In a word, because creative professionals let it. Particularly in tight economic times, the drive to acquire work and make clients happy at any cost has pressured designers to make endless concessions in the hopes that someday, eventually, we will be rewarded long term, on-going work. Sadly, this is often a fatal business model. Businesses personnel change; the way they market themselves changes; they find other designers who are willing to work for less; or they just go out of business.
Paul Carew of Carew Co. does an excellent job explaining why spec work is not in the clients best interest. Particularly how having many logos to choose from does not ensure the one you are choosing is the best.
My pledge to all designers or creatives that read this: try to consider yourself an ambassador. We literally are stewards of the design industry. We need to respect the process and its value. Don’t sell it cheap and justify it by saying you have bills to pay. This is America: be an entrepeneur and find alternative revenue streams to supplement your life. Because in the end, we do it for love. If we don’t respect it, then how can we ask a client to?