The online postings and personal invitations
are tempting. The opportunity to possibly have
your design selected as the winning design for use as the identity
for a business or organization may be intriguing. At times there are even prizes cash
and otherwise to entice a designer to submit creations for the contest. Still,
such situations are nothing more than speculative, or spec, design.
With the introduction of the international NO!SPEC crusade I have asked identity designers contributing to past Logo Notions articles
to share their personal experiences, feelings and advice on the topic of speculative
Have I personally participated in such contests? Yes, especially
early in my career when I naively thought such efforts were a great way to
market and promote my work.
I never considered getting involved in such
activities when the recipient of the final work was a for-profit
venture. I even won several
such contests for
non-profit organizations until I really began to understand that my
participation in these speculative events was devaluing my own work. I was
also compromising my ability to actually make a living by directing my most
valuable resources my time and talent to attempting to win what
was a process that only benefited those conducting the contest.
I should clarify the difference between design contests and design competitions. Contests
are most often calls for submissions for designers to create new work
for the possible selection by an organization or, more and more often,
a for-profit business. In such situations, designers are being asked to submit
speculative work. Design competitions are events held to review and judge
created by designers for existing clients. Theres a huge difference
in the two.
Calvin Lee, of Mayhem Studios, has also been enticed by contest promotions
and participated in logo contests and spec work for prospective employment
when he was a novice designer, straight out of school and did not
know any better.
I think every new designer has fallen for the logo contest and spec work
in general and I understand where they are coming from, says Lee. They
think, that by entering the contest, they will receive exposure, experience
and great piece for their book and they don't realize that businesses are taking advantage of
Lee adds, I am totally against logo contests and any type of spec work
now. It's unethical and devalues the expertise and skills of designers everywhere. We
need to educate and increase awareness - to companies, businesses and designers in
regards to spec work being wrong.
During my career I have never participated in any such contest, according
to Madelyn Wattigney of Creative Madhouse. Everyone is out to get something
for nothing even if it means taking advantage of anothers talents and these
types of contest usually prey upon the young designer attempting to earn a bit
In the end the small amount of recognition earned is more detrimental to
the graphics community on a whole, Wattigney says. These contests
slowly defeat the efforts so many are trying to make in regards to graphic design
Cheryl Roder-Quill, owner of angryporcupine*design has never participated
in logo design contests.
I dont recall ever being asked to design a logo, in a contest type
scenario, where Im competing against other creatives -or my studio is competing
against other creative firms, says Roder-Quill. Design competitions
that Ive entered are for work thats already been completed for clients
so that doesnt really apply.
Ive never done a design contest that offers compensation for the
winner - and I see this type of contest as the worst kind of spec
work because its so misleading and it targets young and inexperienced designers, according
to Fresh Oils Dan Stebbings. In reality, its an insult to young
designers to suggest that they need this sort of boost - even if it is a big
name thats offering the contest.
If companies or organizations want to give young designers a boost; ask
for portfolios, identify the best candidate for the job or project, and hire
them, Stebbings adds. Let them get real experience.
Judith Mayer, of Keyword Design, has not found herself in logo contests either.
However, at committee meetings she attends for various fund-raisers someone
often suggests a contest for event artwork.
They always think it would be a great way to include kids and I usually
explain that I think a child might not be the best choice to create their marketing
materials, conveys Mayer. I explain that in getting 100 kids to work
for them and only compensating one they are exploiting the children and
that usually works to sink the idea.
Gianluigi Tobanelli, of Studio GT&P, says that he has not seen the contest trend
yet arrive in Italy. He claims his biggest problem as a designer is getting
paid once the work is finished.
A history of spec doesnt make it right for today
John Wingard, of John Wingard Design, brings up a historical perspective
on speculative work. He mentions that, although he doesnt agree with the cattle
call approach, spec competitions have been happening for
a very long time and arent limited to the profession of graphic design.
In 1418 Brunelleschi got the gig to design and oversee the construction
of one of the most amazing structures in Renaissance Architecture the
dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, say Wingard. After winning the
contract he got 200 Flourins, which was the equivalent to 2-years pay for the
So, while the spec problem isnt new, there seems to be more and more
of them happening, Wingard adds. Ive been approached with these opportunities and
usually just say No thanks - and sometimes dont even respond.
Wingard also mentions that it is standard in the Advertising world to have
3-5 agencies competing for a piece of business. In these cases the potential
gains are substantial. Coming into the design profession through an advertising
education, I was taught to expect this as an accepted method of doing business.
Wingard says, Sorting out the differences between an RFP (Request for
Proposal), where several companies compete for business and a cattle
call for entries is the key.
Many of these RFPs include a request for creative concepts which
Ive always considered spec work. That is why I do not respond
to such submission requests. In fact, this manner of doing business is one
of the reasons I no longer work with ad agencies at all. Because weve
always done it (RFPs including spec concepts) this way is
not a good enough reason for me to accept the practice for my business today.
Wingard suggests that when asked to compete with other designers or agencies
it is important to ask yourself some important questions: 1.) How many hands
are in the pot?; 2.) Will this be a substantial piece of business?; 3.) How
much exposure will this give me?
Usually it's just not worth it, concludes Wingard.
Spec work as a condition of being hired
Over the years Ive received many requests for spec work as
a condition of being hired to do a job. I just dont participate in such
situations. When confronting such potential clients, with the explanation that
they should be able to judge my identity design capabilities by my past work,
they most often respond with something like: Well, there are plenty of
designers willing to present us some ideas prior to being hired. There
is the major problem - and the major challenge for the NO!SPEC campaign.
Just a couple years ago I received a call from an individual wanting to discuss
the creation of a new identity for his soon-to-open restaurant and bar. Such
projects have always been among my favorites. I prepared a marketing packet
- which included a brief on how I work, a range of costs, a project agreement
and other information and sent it to the man. We then set up a date
I should have known I was in trouble, and trusted my gut instinct, when
we first met and he mentioned that he hadnt even looked at my marketing
materials since he doesnt have time to read everything he gets in the
mail. Still, the meeting continued with the owner describing the identity project
and possible franchising of his interesting restaurant concept. Then he pulled
pages of rough designs he done on his home computer (second major red flag!)
to show me what he liked and wanted.
When finished displaying his concepts he said, Why dont you just
throw some ideas together and if I see something I might toss $50 or so your
Im sure steam was shooting out of my ears at that point. I was pissed
off and offended; yet I knew better than to respond with anger at that moment.
About that time one of the construction managers came into the room and, excusing
myself from the situation, I told owner I would be in contact with him. My
frustration and anger only grew as I drove home. At my computer, I typed out
a letter to the potential client, which included the following:
I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you and discuss your new project.
However, I am not the designer to work with you. I do no speculative work, or
concept design work, as a condition for being hired to create identities for
any business. Clients hire me based on my past design efforts and I do no work
for any client until I have a signed project agreement and a deposit check. This
is the way I have always run my business.
I then restated all the information I included in my original letter to this
potential client, including my rates, project agreement (contract) specifics
and the need for a deposit prior to starting any work. I ended my letter
for your interest in my work. I wish you all the best with your business ventures.
Madelyn Wattigney shares her most recent experience came from a potential
client, whom she will call Miss Atlanta.
This speculative project request was all cloaked in the pressures of Do
you know who I am?, This can be a very profitable venture for you, and
the famous line We will provide your name to all of our well known clients
and friends if we are pleased with your work, contributes Wattigney. My
attempts to work through the spec work prerequisites were only meet with more
pressures, rudeness and condescending attitude and I was left with no choice,
but to tell Miss Atlanta that I was not the designer for her.
Wattigneys standard response is usually, Thank you, but no thank
I have a policy of Hire-me-or-dont, and fend off anyone
calling with spec work by telling them experienced professional designers do
not do spec work, says Jim Charlier of JCharlier Communication Design. If
they find someone that will - go ahead and give them a try. (Im always
tempted to give the names of competitors!)
At the onset of a new business opportunity, I always try to express my
enthusiasm for the prospects project but I also have to be careful to earn their
respect as a business person, says Dan Stebbings. We also try
to introduce prospects to critical aspects of our process as early as possible
and present the way we work as a benefit to clients and assume that
theyre going to want to take advantage of it.
A strong portfolio and the deliberate mention of some working guidelines
is our first defense in warding off spec requests, and we look to impress the
client with the work done for other companies while we also try to give them
a realistic sense of fees related to the work, mentions Stebbings. Ive
learned that if a client is serious about their business then they will have
a real budget for their trademark.
Stebbings tells a story of a friend who is a home contractor, finding his
potential clients suffering from sticker shock upon reviewing his extensive
proposalfor the new home. After flipping through the proposal and thinking
for a few minutes, the future potential client asked the contractor if he would
do the job for many thousands less than the proposed estimate. Hearing this,
he asked the homeowner if they understood the scope of work involved or the
finish details that were included. They had no questions, but only wanted to
know if my friend would do the job for the reduced price. His response
was a kind but direct, Im sorry. Im not doing this for practice. He
then got up, thanked them for their time and left.
If I have a spec request in the near future, I plan to use my friends line, says
Stebbings. Im blessed to have a job that I love so much that I get caught
up in it, but when go home at night and see my wife and five kids, Im reminded
that Im not in this industry only for the fun.
What I've learned is that clients dont take you or your work
seriously if you are willing to do spec work (in all its various forms), Stebbings
adds. Designers who are willing to gamble their otherwise billable hours
on a chance to get paying work later, or who are willing to wheel and deal themselves
out of profit, loose credibility even with the clients who are benefiting from
the designers loss.
In the 18+ years that Cheryl Roder-Quill has been designing logos and identities,
shes had her fair share of speculative requests.
They've come from businesses of all sizes... from the little mom-and-pop
shops that Just wanted to see a few ideas first, then lets talk about
working together to the Shame on you, youre a major corporation
and should know better scenarios. Comments Roder-Quill, Ive
had individuals within companies approach me to design logos on spec under the
guise of Well, we had our in house designers work on a few concepts and
wed really like to add a few fresh concepts to the mix before
we make a decision - if yours is picked then... and the usual dialogue
In most instances, I've declined the projects because of the obvious reasons, Roder-Quill
says. Most of the requests are coming from businesses that can afford to
hire you for the project without seeing your ideas up front or having you compete
against other firms to win the account.
When asked to submit design concepts on a speculative basis, Keyword Designs
Judith Mayer sends in her proposal with the following cover letter statement:
I considered your request to provide specific design solutions for your
company as part of my proposal, but felt I could not change my policy of not
doing speculative design work. I have enclosed samples and background information
that should give your company an idea of my design capabilities.
Unfortunately, I have not gotten any of these jobs, yet, says Mayer. There
is always a line of people willing to do it, so the clients think I am the one
There are ways to approach competing for design business, but set yourself
some parameters to guide you and keep you from wasting time where it could
be better used. John Wingard says. Otherwise simply say No,
Do yourself a favor, Wingard contributes. Look in the mirror
and practice this often: No!
I do not do spec work because it is self-penalizing from an
economic point of view, but also because it gives the impression the work has
no worth, says Gianluigi Tobanelli. What is free, or is discounted,
is often undervalued.
NO!SPEC as a resource for professional designers AND clients
Where was NO!SPEC when I needed such a resource when I was just starting
out nearly 30 years ago? Where was it when I was required to deal with
above? The mission of the web presence is to educate the public about speculative,
or spec work. The target audience includes those who use creative
services, as well as creative professionals (designers, photographers, illustrators
and those in marketing and branding). NO!SPEC also serves as a vehicle to unite
those who support the notion that spec work devalues the potential of design
and ultimately does a disservice to the client.
Spec work requests have gotten worse over the past couple of years and
weve needed a site like NO!SPEC for a very long time now, according
to Calvin Lee. The NO!SPEC site is a great resource, for businesses
and students, which educates and brings awareness about the negative aspects
of spec on the creative community.
I believe the NO!SPEC site is a valuable educational tool for both creatives
and the public, say Cheryl Roder-Quill.
For the creatives - there are plenty of students and young designers out
there, trying to build their portfolios and would consider working on speculative
projects just to get the work. she adds. They need to be aware of
the fact that speculative work is an unfair practice and the creatives are the
ones that pay - with their time and with their talent and ideas.
Roder-Quill continues: For the general public - I believe this grassroots
effort will help educate the public about why it's important to treat designers
as you would any other professional - by paying for their services and not
expecting work for free or very little pay.
The NO!SPEC site is great and I want to thank all those responsible for
putting the site together, says Madelyn Wattigney. Its a valuable
resource in the visual communication industry.
In regards to the NO!SPEC web presence Gianluigi Tobanelli contributes: It
is very important to give information about the damages that spec work brings
to our profession and also give instruments to react to it. Beginners are the
ones more likely to accept these works to gain experience. However, the clients
themselves should realize they will not have any advantage from spec and
they may get less-than-professional work done quickly and often work that is
I will now give NO!SPEC out as a link if I do get approached by someone
wanting spec work, says Jim Charlier. I also talk to student groups
quite often and, without getting too bogged down explaining spec work and
its disadvantages, I'd send them to no-spec.com.
Since I have become aware of the NO!SPEC site, I direct all of my design
students there so they understand the harm that agreeing to do spec work can
do to all designers, Judith Mayer says.
Jim Charlier/JCharlier Communication Design
Buffalo, NY USA
Calvin Lee/Mayhem Studios
Web URL: www.mayhemstudios.com
Blog URL: www.mayhemstudios/blog
Los Angeles, CA USA
Judith Mayer/Keyword Design
Web URL: www.keyworddesign.com
Highland, IN USA
Web URL: www.angryporcupine.com
Park City, UT USA
Dan Stebbings/Fresh Oil: Design
Web URL: www.freshoil.com (temp
Pawtucket, RI USA
Gianluigi Tobanelli/Studio GT&P
Web URL: www.tobanelli.it
Filigno (PG) Italy
Madelyn Wattigney/Creative Madhouse
Web URL: www.creativemadhouse.com
Dallas / Fort Worth, TX USA
John Wingard/John Wingard Design
Web URL: www.johnwingarddesign.com
Honolulu, HI USA
Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative
Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, has received
over 475 regional, national and international graphic design
awards for his logo and corporate identity efforts. His
work is featured in more than 75 publications on the design
of logos, the business of graphic design, and small business
marketing. He shares his observations about the design
industry on his blog, bLog-oMotives.
Fisher is a member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory
Board and is also on the 2006 HOW Design Conference Advisory
Council. His own book, The
Designer's Guide to Success, was
released by HOW Design Books in late 2004. An excerpt from the book may be found
More information about Jeff Fisher LogoMotives is available at www.jfisherlogomotives.com.