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Spec’ This! (again*)

*This was only the second post at Speak Up, so it didn’t get much attention. I think people were still trying to cope with all the pixels. I woud like to bring it up again:

Everybody has already asked you if you do speculative (spec for short) work or not. You have probably answered no, but at some point in your career you have done so (c’mon, we all have). My questions now are:

-Do you give your best effort for this type of work?

-Is a junior designer usually “in charge” of these types of projects?

-How many awards have you gotten from spec work?

These and many more questions intrigue me. I can’t write all of them, so any answers and insights you can provide on this matter are welcome.

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ARCHIVE ID 1265 FILED UNDER Business
PUBLISHED ON Oct.09.2002 BY Armin
WITH 12 COMMENTS
Comments
plain*clothes’s comment is:

> c'mon, we all have

in my experience, the clients who give these sorts of requests are the same who would appreciate the logo work you asked for discussion on earlier. those who agree to do spec work harm the industry in the same way as those ID companies -- IMO, not at all. I don't want work from these clients. if they don't see it my way after a short discussion I don't work for them. really it's quite simple.

On Oct.09.2002 at 12:25 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>the clients who give these sorts of requests are the same who would appreciate the logo work you asked for discussion on earlier.

Sometimes yes. But I know, for a fact (I won't name any names), that fortune 500 companies ask bigger design firms to do spec work too, so it's not only small businesses bothering small firms or freelancers with these requests.

It's a tough spot to be put in, specially when the economy isn't at it's best.

On Oct.09.2002 at 12:50 PM
steven lyons’s comment is:

I think it is applicable in some cases. I worked on a LOT of spec work when I was working for an agency and it was mostly for larger corporations going through a change in agency of record. They wanted to see the quality of work they were going to get from an agency they were going to sign a contract with.

Now for your mom and pop companies or small corporations, I don't think I would do spec work for them. In too many of those cases I have seen people ask for spec work just to get the idea and pass it off to their brother-in-law who'll copy it for $500. I know that is neither the norm nor a frequent occurance, but it still worries me. Besides, these people are not going to sign a contract with you. It's a project to project basis. I wouldn't mind showing them some early concepts that I had drawn out, but I certainly would not build a finished piece for these people without knowing the job is mine.

Time is too precious to waste on that. I guess it really boils down to the fact that large agencies can get away with spec work because they can handle not getting the project better. I as a freelancer cannot, because it is a waste of time if I don't get it. It's kind of like sitting at the high rollers table in Vegas. I don't because I don't have the money to blow.

But, to answer your questions, we always gave our best effort because it meant we would get a large contract or project as the result. We always built a full team for it (creative director, art dir., asst. art dir., prod. artist, copywriter). And out of five spec projects that I got to work on, we received two addys. Both of those came on spec projects that the clients DIDN'T pick. Two others were picked.

Win some. Lose some.

On Oct.09.2002 at 01:02 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"It's a tough spot to be put in, specially when the economy isn't at it's best."

It is? I've never found deciding whether or not I want to work for free to be a difficult decision.

That said, spec work in Architecture is the norm. Which probably explains why their rates are closer to half that of a graphic design firm.

"How many awards have you gotten from spec work?"

Why this question? Are awards any more important than getting paid for a job?

On Oct.09.2002 at 01:37 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Why this question? Are awards any more important than getting paid for a job?

Nope, I'm just asking.

>It is? I've never found deciding whether or not I want to work for free to be a difficult decision.

But it might lead to more work and, presumably, getting paid.

On Oct.09.2002 at 01:40 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"But it might lead to more work and, presumably, getting paid."

Well, again, let's go back to plain clothes' comment. Working for free is arguably much worse for the industry than working for cheap ala your previous post about cheap logos.

It doesn't matter who's asking you to do the spec work...whether it is the local bakery or Microsoft, either way, they are asking you to do work for free. Period.

I've always been perplexed as to why the architecture industry doesn't seem phased by the concept of spec work. You will often see 'open calls' for designs for large public building ventures. Architects will climb over one another just to submit a free design. I can only attribute it to self pride being more important than livelihood.

Which brings up the question about awards and spec work. I am, admittedly, a bit jaded by (or is it 'of'?) the whole graphic design community, so I am biased, but my personal belief is that a lot of the design work you see in annuals is not spec work, but rather 'fake' work. I see lots of awards for things like 'dog condoms' or 'a documentary of shoes' or 'hard ass beer'...all design projects that look more like student projects than a real client walking through the door asking for help. I have a hunch that these firms just look for the most cliche/obviously humourous/risque business in their 'hood and do some free work for them just to submit it to design annuals.

Or maybe I'm just in a foul mood today...

On Oct.09.2002 at 03:23 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Or maybe I'm just in a foul mood today...

You've been kind of snappy today ; )

I don't know how true (I don't have any facts, so I can't say) the comment about design firms submitting fake work is, but to tell you the truth I wouldn't be surprised. Year after year it's much the same stuff, one year it will be, and I quote, "hard ass beer", the next year "letterpressed coasters". It's not fair to generalize, because you also see original work for real clients with real problems.

On Oct.09.2002 at 03:41 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I don't know how true (I don't have any facts, so I can't say)

I don't either. That's just my theory. ;o)

It's not fair to generalize

Yea, I know. ;o)

On Oct.09.2002 at 04:18 PM
Todd’s comment is:

It's odd how disparate ideas intermingle. Something we just covered in my International Trade and Investment class applies directly to this issue. Dealing in intangible assets like information and intellectual property involves "information hazards." There are three idiosyncracies of information (which design basically is, ideas) that make their sale and tranfer difficult or hazardous. The first is particularly applicable to working on spec.

The first hazard is determining an idea's value. In order to properly value information, it must be revealed. But revealing a design idea is nearly the same as transferring it. When doing spec work, the client is saying "show me a design and I'll decide if its good enough to pay for." But as soon as you show it to them, they are able to take possession of the idea without paying for it.

The second hazard is transferring an idea. Although the client may be able to "steal" your idea in the above case by requesting spec work and then not paying for it, there is no guarantee that they will be able to exploit it without your help. They may even do tings that damage the idea (improper use of identity items can erode a brand, for example) But, this is even the case with legitimate work we do for clients.

On Oct.10.2002 at 09:05 AM
David Thometz’s comment is:

"But it might lead to more work and, presumably, getting paid."

Argh. In 100% of cases where I have done spec work (and even reduced rate work), I've found that the client expects more such work in the future, and has absolutely no qualms about taking business to the first designer who is willing to undercut my rates.

It's sad that this is the case, as presumably the client should appreciate the deal you are willing to offer. But the sad fact is that spec and discounted work only serves to reduce the perceived value of design in general. This is probably one of the main factors in the growing perception that anyone with a computer and Times Roman can call him-/herself a designer.

David

On Oct.10.2002 at 01:15 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Argh. In 100% of cases where I have done spec work (and even reduced rate work), I've found that the client expects more such work..."

I was fortunate (?) enough to get seriously burned by spec work while I was still in school. Since then, I can only agree with David COMPLETELY. I've found, in general, the less a client wants to pay, the more they expect. That holds true for spec work. The client wants to pay NOTHING for something...which is arguably the biggest disparity you can get.

Once you start down the path of spec work, or even freebies now and then (sure, I'll do that quick update for free) you will loose site of the fact that the client is just after the cheapest vendor and WILL leave for another vendor without notice if they find someone cheaper.

On Oct.10.2002 at 01:51 PM
Rick’s comment is:

We're are losing our pricing power because of spec work. Perhaps an industry trade organization (AIGA?) could step up in a meaningful way and address this situation full on. Writing articles on spec work is good to bring awareness, any thoughts on what a next step would look like to bring about change?

On Mar.03.2005 at 05:40 PM