Say NO to Spec Work

Spec Work is short for speculative work. Defined by AIGA (The Professional Association for Design) as “work done before engagement with a client in anticipation of being paid.” Most common in the design industry, such as website, graphics, and so on, but it does happen in other sectors such as software design. Spec work means the designer does not get paid. There are five types of unpaid work common:

  1. Speculative Work
  2. Competitions
  3. Volunteer Work
  4. Internships
  5. Pro bono

How it hurts the designer

Often designers who are usually starting are lured into doing speculative work, with the usual spiel of “gain recognition and exposure” or “Increase your portfolio” or “I just want to get a feel, and we can work on refining it” (Cass, 2009). What happens is that spec work very rarely leads to more work, profit or referrals. The “client” will get the complete job for free, won’t pay, and then cut all contact. Designers are often left in the dust holding nothing. Their rights to their work are gone, and the experience will leave a bitter taste, especially since designers pour time into creating the work. If the company wants to see the quality of one’s work, a portfolio, references, and experience should be enough.

How it hurts the company

The best work is done through collaboration and developing an agency-client relationship (Oetting, 2015). This allows trust and understanding to be built. Spec work does not create his kind of relationship. Often companies who are using spec work are looking to reduce cost and gain variation. This may be the case but in the long run, what you receive is low-quality work, the chance of plagiarism, no revisions, unethical, and no relationship is built (Cass, 2009).

Why it persists 

It has mainly been standard practice in the past few decades. There has only been a recent push back against spec work (AIGA, 2016). It has also been perpetrated due to the boom of the internet, which has allowed for forms of crowdsourcing, ease of finding new targets, and a large pool of desperate workers (Owyang, 2008).

Designers deserve to get paid, and they deserve to be able to make a living, just like any other job. Say NO to spec work.


Videos to Watch:

Here are two videos that really hit the points on the unethical nature of Spec Work.

Zulu Alpha Kilo – Spec | #saynotospec

The viral video by Zulu Alpha Kilo – a person goes around asking other people in non design occupations to provide spec work.

Mike Monteiro: F*ck You, Pay Me

A half hour lecture that highlights personal experience and give practical advice in being in the design industry.