A community of interest, with a significant number of both corporate and design firm representatives, came together to discuss the issue in a spirited yet respectful dialogue. It was an evening moderated by New York Supreme Court Justice Colleen Duffy, with a distinguished panel including,
The evening was billed as “a civilized dialog between advocates and opponents of speculative branding and design work.” The discussions seemed to focus on three areas of interest.
Is it really happening?
The obvious and overwhelming answer of course is, yes and more often than in the past. Virtually all design consultants in the room reported being requested to do work on spec.
Surprisingly to some, scale, whether it is the size of the client company, the scope of the assignment, or the stature of the design firm, does not seem to be a contributing factor. On one hand the largest global CPG companies are asking their largest design consultants to work for free in order to win pieces of business, both large and small. And on the other end of the spectrum a recent design school graduate talked about being asked to do work on SPEC to get a job!
What are the causes?
The panelists seemed to agree on at least seven leading causes including,
1. The increased involvement of client procurement groups
2. The inability of the creative service staffs in some organizations to make the case internally against the use of spec work
3. The economy
4. The increased ownership of design firms by advertising holding companies
5. The increase in crowdsourcing applications
6. The influence of the digital economy where “free” is the new currency
7. The consistent willingness of some individuals and design firms to work for free.
What can/should we do about it?
There was virtually no disagreement by the design firm representatives that we needed to take steps to change the environment in our industry that makes spec work an appealing and/or viable option for those who request it. And there was some discussion on how to address each cause mentioned above.
1. We need to educate the corporate procurement staffs on the value of design as a corporate asset not a commodity.
2. We need to find and/or develop tools that will empower our design comrades on the corporate creative staffs thus allowing them to make stronger and more reasoned case against SPEC within their corporate community
3. We need to do everything we can to support the growth of the economy. Hire a designer!
4. We need to demonstrate how our business model differs from the ad agency model, and how/why this model has worked. There was some discussion about the fact that we should not try hard to save a model that may be in the midst of at least modest change. But there was no detailed discussion or agreement on what the new model/models might be.
5. It was agreed that crowdsourcing is here to stay on the low end of the business. It is viewed by most as our industry equivalent of legalzoom.com. A factor that will be used by some, but not most, clients of value.
6. There was not clear consensus on the impact of the digital economy and its various free or mostly free business models. It was suggested that this influence might be felt more strongly as the millennial generation begins to have more influence on the business environment.
7. On the last point, most folks in the room said simply, Just Say No! But it was recognized that for various reasons and in various circumstances, there is increasing pressure to do work on spec.
The evening ended with a commitment by our chapter to continue this dialogue with the national AIGA leadership as well as other communities of interest, so stay tuned.
And, Just Say No!