Design Contests are Spec Work
Speculative or ‘spec’ work can be described as “providing design services to develop creative concept work for free (or a nominal fee) as part of a new business pitch.” Kudos to the RGD for providing us with this no spec description! So what does spec really mean? Well spec work could be when you enter a design contest where a company is collecting compositions for a logo, photographs, or other promotional materials to choose from and only selects one winner. The winner is usually compensated with money, a certificate, or a gift. In return, the company will completely own the winner’s design and all rights to the design you submitted, using it in which every way they wish. And what happens if you don’t win? Well the company owns the designs too.
Why Are Design Contests Happening?
Design contests are running rampant on the Internet these days because there’s so many novice designers looking to gain experience. There’s also a bunch of people who have no interest in working as a full-time designer, so they submit a logo to simply win a prize. The problem with this kind of contest is it devalues the profession, creates an oversupply of designers in the industry and drives the hourly rate for the designers doing it as their full-time day job down. Entering these types of contests completely devalues the industry because not only are you undercutting the whole industry, you’re giving it away for free. Stop engaging in spec work now! I’ve outlined tips explaining how you can learn extra money as a graphic designer and how to find a job in part one and part two of how to find a job as a graphic designer without devaluing your profession.
Spec Work Shows You Don’t Care
Do you care about protecting the graphic design industry? Do you want to put value on your work? Offering your services for nothing, just to see if you’ll land a client totally leaves you in a position where you’re basically yelling from a mountaintop, I don’t care about my work, it has no value! Value is pretty simple to understand. It’s when you define worth or merit and importance to a trade or profession. You certainly wouldn’t see doctors offering free medical advice contingent on whether or not you’re happy with the treatment.
Make the Right Choices
If you want to give your services away at no cost, do it the pro-bono route and work with a not-for-profit organization. If a company is for profit, they should compensate you for your design time, including communication, research and all iterations of the designs from mockup to final compositions. If they can’t, don’t do the speculative work to land their business.
If you are approached by a company who wants you to mock up designs without the intent of paying for it until they ‘like what they’ see, I highly suggest you pass on that opportunity. Saying no protects you, your fellow designers, the industry, educators, and future clients. Avoid a non-paying client who’s going to guilt you into sending them multiple iterations without ever paying you a cent, only to see your design in print months later. Instead, work on graphic designs for a charity you believe in. And don’t forget to offer your design time pro-bono for complete creative freedom to help build your portfolio with great pieces.
If you want more info about ethics on spec work check out the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario and AIGA position on spec work.
Tell us about other disadvantages of spec work. Have you been involved in contests? What was your experience? Leave your comments below!