The Great Spec Debate: An Alternative


I am well aware that this is by no means a new topic, however it is a topic which I have seen countless creatives argue over recently. For those of you who are still unaware what spec work actually is, Spec work (or speculative work) is defined as producing a piece for a potential client with no guarantee that your work will be chosen and/or paid for. A clear example is crowd sourcing and competition websites.

From Experience

A few years ago I used to enter such competitions and work towards the briefs set by ‘potential clients’, as many would refer to them. As a junior designer I was looking for some easy money while searching for a full time job, without the contacts to start a freelance career properly. Many competitions went by as I worked hard on briefs that I felt I could do well at, but well was the extent of it. I put in countless hours to each project just to find that the work I had done was swiftly rejected.

Finally one competition came up to work on something which interested me. With the drive to be the best and the elusive prize of money and ‘exposure’ at the end of the tunnel, I perfected my design. As it happens, I had won. The money was a nice reward, but that was the only nice thing about it.

Nobody Ever Got Famous From Spec Work

The client decided that since they now owned the design, that I had no control over the copyright. No fame came my way as the company took all the credit for my design. I still do not have permission to feature the work in my portfolio (and neither do I want to any more). What I had hoped about design competitions had all turned out to be false. All the fan art and potential clients had stolen more hours than they were worth. The exposure that was promised turned out to be minimal.

It upsets me to see other young designers who, like I was, are tempted to work for no pay with the promise of exposure. The truth is exposure is a lie told purely to reel you in. And in hindsight I can safely say on behalf of myself and many others, that all the time spent working on briefs for clients who have no respect for your career choice could be much more effective when spent working on the work you want to do, benefiting yourself and promoting yourself, while developing a serious insight into yourself and learning new skills.

Addressing the Issue

I see it only fair however to address the issue of fan art, and the argument that companies should be able to release work submitted by clients. The example in mind is a comic book which asked fans to submit alternate covers, wasting time of hundreds of people which could be much better spent in other ways. What I personally believe is that these companies who want a unique perspective should ask fans to send them links to portfolios, similar work or work which shows their creative style and select a relatively unknown candidate who’s style fits in with the view they are looking for and then commission them and them alone to work on the full piece. This then promotes them working on their own style and focusing on their own needs and future, while avoiding wasting the time of the hundreds of other candidates who would have spent hours on the project for nothing.

I realize this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I’m sure a whole industry of creatives can think of alternatives that are fair to both the clients and the designers without damaging the rest of the industry by giving companies the impression that we are all desperate and bidding for their time.

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