Spec Work: A nasty four-letter word?

What is Spec Work?

Many designers and artists have heard this term and are quite familiar with it. Spec work is work done for free by the designer or artist in hopes of gain. Recognition, a job, experience (I’ve done it for these reasons too) or maybe just to share.


In fact as the Internet is filled with designers turning to websites and sites such as Fiver that take advantage of creative people with ‘5$ logo design’, the value of professional design work is undervalued.  Before you as a designer or artist turns to this outlet, think long and hard if this is the road you want to go down and how you want to establish your brand or work.

What are the pros and cons of spec work?
I’ve done spec work in the beginning of my career. I’ve also done spec work in hopes of landing a job where the client first wanted to see samples before committing. However, after building a decent portfolio of your work there really isn’t a good reason to do free mock-ups for a corporation or business that are in the business to make a profit.

But not all unpaid design work is considered “spec work.” Unpaid design work can include the following:

  • Work done for free, or crowdsourcing, in hopes of getting paid for  the work once the client see’s and reviews it. If the client doesn’t like the work, you don’t get paid. With crowdsourcing becoming more and more popular there are a lots of strong opinions about this.
  • Competitions: Many art publications will have competitions for artists. I wouldn’t consider this spec work. If your works wins, you win. This is a good way to get your work seen, however it should not be done as a way to build income in the art business.
  • Volunteer work: work done as a favor or for the experience, without the expectation of being paid. This is a great way to build your portfolio (preferable in my opinion than fiver sites). At the same time make sure you clearly establish the terms in which your work can be used.
  • Internships: a form of volunteer work that involves educational gain
  • Pro bono work: volunteer work done “for the public good”

Not all of the above are considered speculative work, and in fact many designers choose to do unpaid work for a variety of reasons. Students and professionals may draw different lines on what constitute unacceptable practices. In each case, however, the designer and client make the decision and must accept the associated risks.

The Risks of Spec Work for the Professional

  • Clients risk compromised quality. Little time, energy and thought can go into speculative work, which precludes the most important element of most design projects and processes—the research, thoughtful consideration of alternatives, and development and testing of prototype designs. In addition clients risk issues with usage rights if not clearly defined.
  • Designers and Artists risk being taken advantage of and spec work diminishes the true economic value of the contribution designers make toward client’s objectives. In addition, The designer in essence works free of charge and with an often falsely advertised, overinflated promise for future employment; or is given other insufficient forms of compensation. Usually these glorified prizes or “carrots” appear tantalizing for creative communicators just starting out, ending with encouraging examples like “good for your portfolio” or “gain recognition.” The reality is that they often yield little extra work, profit or referrals.

The position of AIGA

AIGA believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients. To that end, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into client projects with full engagement to show the value of their creative endeavor, and to be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.


The above article includes excerpts from AIGA.

The above article also includes excerpts from NO!SPEC .
For more FAQ’s on spec work visit http://www.no-spec.com/faq/