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On Spec Work

Speculative (spec) work, as defined by the No!Spec campaign, is any kind of creative work made and submitted by a designer to a prospective client/employer before securing a means of compensation. Common examples include contests for a company logo where thousands of designers submit their entries, but only one person or a small percentage will win any kind of prize. At first glance, this seems to be a win-win situation for both parties because designers publicly showcase their portfolio while clients pay the minimum to see numerous designs.

Campaigns such as No!Spec and AntiSpec argue spec work is unethical because designers who submit their entries to such contests usually lose all the rights to their work and not get paid at all. However these designers have a choice. They are aware they may not be compensated for their work and no one is forcing them to participate. If people choose to work without compensation, that is up to them and there is nothing wrong with exercising that freedom. As Nick wrote, spec work exists because people choose to participate in it.

Spec work forces designers to undercharge themselves to try and stay ahead of the competition, thus devaluing the profession. Again there is nothing wrong with this as it’s simply the reality things are valued differently. For example if I was hungry, I could choose to eat at McDonald’s for five dollars or spend fifty dollars at a more elaborate restaurant such as The Keg. If everyone didn’t value the nutritional quality a steak provides and started going to McDonald’s for food, The Keg might go out of business. We wouldn’t say it’s unethical to choose cheap food over a gourmet meal. Saying that, it’s up to the clients if they want to pay for a cheap design through spec work.

Although I agree many times it’s not in the designer’s or even the client’s best interest to participate in spec work, I do not see anything unethical about this practice. The success of sites such as Crowdspring and 99designs suggests spec work will be around and designers should find a way to adapt to the system.

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Categories: Global, Life
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