To Spec or Not To Spec, an opinion.

While looking for paying illustration gigs I found some that looked peculiar.

This morning I did my daily Craigslist job check. I rarely find actual projects here that are worth while, but every so often a good job comes along.

One job caught my eye because it was a re-post from an angry designer who was flagging this project as inappropriate. As I read the ad I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is one of those “design a logo” contests but with a twist. The client was charging designers an entry fee of $15 to enter their logo design! So in fact this company is saying ‘pay me to design my logo, and if I like it I’ll reward you $200 which I made taking in entry fees from the naive designers who may not know better.’ ARGH! This made me want to scream.

Then I decided to tweet this because I was so incensed by this and I hoped to start a discussion. To my surprise a friend of mine who is works as a in-house creative let me know that he uses spec design site Crowdspring to hire out work being done. This shocked me tremendously that a creative who’s been in the business for so long would choose to have work done through this method rather than going about hiring a designer in the traditional way. I thought about doing work on spec and why I have done my best to avoid it over the years.

Yes I have done some pro bono work for worthy causes and work for trade but no way would I design a logo for a company or group then HOPE they pay me for it let alone pay THEM for the opportunity.

Why not do work on spec?

This argument comes up time and again. Especially now there are websites popping up like Crowdspring and 99designs that have built a business using this model. On the surface it would seem that sites like these are good for businesses who have small budgets, but I think this is a lose/lose situation. Designers lose because they are not being paid to work, so the clients also lose because they may have a logo that will work temporarily, but will not stand the test of time and then they will need to hire another designer to fix the problems.

These sites also promote the idea that anyone can all themselves a “designer” and set up shop on one of these sites again cheapening the education of design over all.  It also perpetuates the myth that just because you own photoshop and a mac that makes you a designer. I might go out and buy a snowboard, but that doesn’t make me Shaun White.

Students or designers early in their careers can be tempted to try a site like this. Yes, they might get some practice, but they will not be getting the guidance or training that would serve them better if they were to work at a company or under someone else before setting out on their own.

I think Spec work is gaining prominence because of some people who think designers and illustrators sit around all day just drawing away for nothing but self gratification.

An artist paints because it is a means of SELF expression, and if someone wants to buy their work all the better. The business of graphic design/illustration does not work this way. When a client hires a designer they are paying for custom work to be done specifically for THEIR business. Designers don’t sit around designing random logos all day because they want to express themselves. Its not about the designer, its about the client.

Spec design sites miss the point of the process of design. They place the expertise in the hands of the client. Meaning the client who needs to hire someone to design a logo because they themselves are not capable are now judging what will work best for their business. Yes the client knows their business but that does not mean they know best how to communicate their identity.

When a client hires a designer they are hiring an expert to guide them and help them understand what will work best for their business. Meaning the person who designs your logo becomes a partner (albeit a temporary one) in their success as a business.

That is all I have to say on spec work, for now.

So I just needed to say all of that to get it off my chest and hope that I’m not the only one out there in the world who feels this way. Actually I’ve found some people who share my feelings, like Andrew Hyde who wrote the post Spec Work Is Evil/Why I Hate Crowdspring. He brings up excellent points including how the AIGA feels about spec work. There was a great discussion on this subject at last years SXSW called is Is Spec Work Evil? The Online Creative Communities Speak which featured arguments both for and against using sites like these.

Thanks for reading, I just hope to educate people who might not see the value in design or visual communication.

**UPDATE- MARCH 2, 2010**

So I just visited the site again of the company who was holding this spec design contest and was charging a $15 entry fee. Well it looks like they dropped the entrance fee, and I’d like to think maybe I had something to do with this. Still a logo for $200 is RIDICULOUS especially when it must be “won” in a contest where the entry is free work. I suppose it’s less salt in the wound at least. Another thing I just realized, they gave no brief, description or anything on how this logo should work for their company.