The Dark Side of Designing on Spec

When I posted the entry about designing a logo, I didn’t expect to get the kind of emails I did about designing on specs. I didn’t think about the issue with such “contests” where a business posts its requirements and offers a set price. People would respond with their creations and then the business picks the winner. The winner gets a few bucks and the business a new logo, design, template and whatnot.
Since I’m not a designer and don’t participate in design discussions, I wasn’t aware of the controversy behind spec work. However, I do know that it is controversial in the writing world. Some businesses post a spec job where the writers create a direct marketing campaign. The selected piece gets paid and the others get nothing except wasted time or a potential addition to their portfolios depending on the quality of the work.
But those who think spec work is OK say that it’s a way for beginners to enter the field. There’s one major difference between design and writing specs — design requires software and the people designing the logo could be doing it on pirated software. Is that something a business wants to associate itself with? You might think “What you don’t know won’t hurt you…” But when you hire and work with a specific designer, you know you’re working with a professional. Software is just one of many issues with spec design.
A designer’s perspective — from an email

Places like Sitepoint Design and others like it are very frowned upon in the graphic design industry. They devalue design and treat it as a cheap commodity. These sites exploit designers, and often any skill level can participate. Usually these sites pull in young designers looking for a quick buck. The focus is more on how to get the most design looks for one low price rather then to find the right designer who’s working style, talent and experience will meet the company’s advertising and marketing needs.
The designs are often done quickly with no research. Some designs are not original and are stolen which can also can cause legal problems with copyright infringement. There is also no one-on-one interaction between the client and a designer to develop a custom solution.
The other problem is this site and others like it base the job on spec work. This means work done for free by designers in the hopes of “winning” a contest of some sorts. In the Sitepoint case the prize is often low amounts of money, way below industry standards for that type of work.
For example, if a client contacted you and asked you to put hours of your time into writing a technology article for the chance that you might get paid if your piece is better than all the other writers that submitted articles, would you waste your time? I doubt it. You want people to come to you because they like your work and value your talent and experience, not because they are trying to get something for nothing.
It is just not professional to invest time and resources into a project that you may not receive payment for in the end, unless you are offering your services pro-bono to a charity.

No!Spec provides a lot of information on the topic.

7 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Designing on Spec”

  1. Thanks for this excellent, thoughtful follow-up post, and for including such a great variety of researched links.

    This issue tends to foment, er, heated exchanges. So it’s nice to see something smart and calm said in defense of fair pay.

  2. Completely agree. Sites like those are degrading our industry.

    Some points to add:

    You forgot to mention the website running the contest usually get a % of the prize.

    Also they dont ask any ID confirmation, or documents (if not they would loose 90% of their audience, teenagers).

    Anybody pay taxes either.


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