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Why Our Agency Doesn’t Do Spec Work March 19, 2015

A recent topic of discussion in the graphic design industry has been spec work. You may have seen it on the national news this year when Canada’s 150 logo contest was famously protested by designers across the country. So, what is speculative work? To put it simply, it’s the “Try Before You Buy” outlook. In this day and age, it seems you can buy anything from a frozen pizza to a Cadillac with the peace of mind knowing that if you don’t like it, you can return it for a full refund.

With that in mind, it may sound harmless to ask to see some mock-ups before you decide if you want to work with a designer, but the truth is, someone’s time or services cannot be treated like a product. Let’s put that into perspective with other professions:

Photographer: “Take lots of photos but I will only pay for the ones I like.”

Hair Stylist: “Please cut and colour my hair. I will pay you later based on how many compliments I get.”

Contractor: “Build me the house and then I’ll decide if I’ll buy it. I want to show it to my friends and family first.”

“But some designers work on spec!”

Yes, some designers will work on spec, but this is a huge disservice to our industry. A proper logo takes around 30 hours to design. Do you think each logo on a crowdsourcing website has 30 hours’ worth of effort, research and backing? And if it does, is it OK that someone spent all that time making it and there’s a good chance they aren’t going to be compensated?

The bottom line is: if people become accustomed to seeing 25 logo options and only having to pay for the one they like, it leaves 24 designers out of a job (despite the fact that they already did the work).

“Surely, it doesn’t hurt to ask!”

Actually, it might. Requesting spec work in your RFP is a red flag and most reputable agencies will simply not bid on it. It’s important to realize that all members and affiliates of the Association of Registered Graphic Designers are forbidden to bid on spec work projects. The RGD actually encourages designers to report RFPs with spec work components and issue formal grievances.

“So, how do I know if I like a designer’s work?”

It’s a big commitment to sign on with a designer and have no idea what you’re going to get. I suggest looking at their portfolio to see if you like their style of work. If you have a specific project like a catalogue or an annual report, chances are they have samples of these that they’ve done for other clients. Don’t be afraid to ask to see these, as many designers’ work ranges a lot further than the top 10 items they choose for their portfolio.
My biggest piece of advice is to form a relationship with your designer or agency to build that trust. It’s just as important to us as it is to you!



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