Work on spec, just say no!

The design community seems to be getting increasingly vocal in its opposition to work on spec, and it is none too soon.

no-spec180uThe internet, as it has the potential to do with most things, may turn the traditions of design procurement on its head. It is an increasingly complicated world, made even more complicated by the financial crisis. But I hope, that we as a community, can try to stem the erosion of value that spec work represents.

In order to give a diverse range of views I offer three perspectives that have very reasoned and thoughtful positions in opposition of work on spec; 1. The AIGA, the largest professional association of designers in the world, 2. Debbie Millman, its new President, and 3. a great website devoted to opposing work on spec., 

The AIGA introduced in May its newly revised guidelines on spec work. Richard Grefé, the Executive Director writes in his introduction to these new guidelines, “AIGA acknowledges that spec work has long been practiced, continues to occur and may indeed be increasing, particularly as the internet alters and augments solicitation, bidding, marketing and distribution practices.” I encourage you to review the resources available on the AIGA site, including a sample letter that can be used to respond to requests for work on spec. 

Debbie Millman, the new President of the AIGA, has been working hard to discourage the practice, and has a great post on her blog, called spec this, outlining the simple reasons, using a heartfelt personal example, why we should resist the temptation.

Lastly,, is perhaps the best on-line resource for information on the movement.

The issue of work on spec has been with us for ages. But the combined forces of a tough economy, a new worldwide design marketplace made possible by the internet, no clear standards for design procurement, a lack of established global guidelines on ownership and use of design, and the temptations brought on by unscrupulous or simply naive businesses, are all conspiring to radically alter the value of our time, talent and creativity.

If you are a young designer, resist the temptation to build your portfolio with work done for free.

If you are an independent designer, resist the temptation to contribute to one of the new on-line crowd sourced design resources. The chances of getting any compensation for your work on these sites is slightly above the odds of winning the lottery.

If you own a small design firm, resist the temptation from the very cool new client who says they will make it up to you next time.

If you manage the design division of a global agency, resist the request from your management, that we know you are getting more often, to throw in some design work as part of your agency’s overall multi-faceted strategic pitch.

Just resist! 

As Debbie Millman says beautifully at the end of her blog comments on spec work,

“Speculative work denigrates both the agencies and the designers that participate. If we give away our work for free, if we give away our talent and our expertise, we give away more than the work. We give away our hearts for free, and we give away our souls.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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2 Responses to Work on spec, just say no!

  1. Pingback: Our Top 10 List of Packaging Stories for 2009 « The Package Unseen

  2. Pingback: Crowdsourced Design: Commoditization or Democratization? (Poll Question)

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