1) You set yourself up as someone who will work for free
Spec work requires visual communicators to devote their time, energy, and creativity to projects that they may never be compensated for. Even if you do manage to get compensation, it’s highly unlikely that it will be in line with the resources you put into the project. Your ideas, time, and skills are how you make your living. Participating in spec work means that you are willing to give those away to anyone.
2) You risk your professional reputation
When you are a new graduate, you do not have the award winning book that will open doors for you. Because of this, your work ethic and professionalism are extremely important, in addition to your portfolio. Professionals do not participate in speculative presentations because it takes away resources from paying clients. To be taken seriously when you are just starting out, you want to act in the most ethical and professional ways possible. Participation in spec work does exactly the opposite.
3) You reduce yourself to someone who “makes things pretty” rather than a skilled communicator
Successful design relies on adequate research into your client, their competitors, and their industry. Because spec work is usually done in an extremely short timeframe, proper research cannot occur, and your work is reduced to decoration, rather than an effective communication solution.
4) You become a “yes man”
Spec work is highly dependent on the “I’ll know it when I see it” mentality on the part of the client. So rather than working with you to create a communication solution that will best reach the target audience, you cater to the whims of your “client”. A client who is more attached to their own ideas instead of what is best for their business only wants someone to perpetuate that mindset, not a visual communications professional.
5) You become part of the problem instead of the solution
Because spec work projects are often “one-offs” and not based on any real strategic plan, you help contribute to inconsistent branding. This does not help the client, nor does it enhance your skills, portfolio, or reputation.
6) You don’t learn how to work with your client
Since spec work is often done in competition form, with little to no interaction with the client, you don’t learn how to work with the client. You don’t learn how to listen to your client, and the client doesn’t learn how to provide the necessary information to motivate appropriate communication solutions.
7) You undervalue your own work as well as the work of your peers
Participating in speculative projects promotes the idea that this kind of work is acceptable both to the visual communications industry, as well as for those seeking the industry’s services. The “carrot” of potential future work makes spec work look appealing, even though it is highly unlikely that you will ever be compensated for this work. If you are, it will be well below industry standards.
8) You are not an ad agency
Spec presentations are often used in the advertising world to pitch to a new client. These pitches usually include fleshed out creative work. However, in advertising, agencies have a much greater chance of recouping the time and resources put into those pitches. Agencies’ compensation often includes media commissions – originally, that was the only way agencies made money. Designers, on the other hand, do not have the same chance to gain compensation for the effort they put into spec work. Especially when you are working on your own, the amount of resources you put into spec work are always going to be far greater than any compensation you might receive.
9) You get no respect
Clients who request spec work often do not understand the visual communications industry. They do not consider the importance of what our work does for their business, and have not budgeted appropriately for it. Likewise, a client should be wary of a designer who chooses to do spec work. What value are they getting? Would a professional designer engage in spec work? If so, why? If a professional designer has enough time to engage in spec work, a client should wonder why, since there is no guaranteed payout to the designer.
10) You risk losing your rights
Since spec work is almost always done without a contract, it can lead to a very tricky situation. Without a contract, there is no agreement between the designer and client as to who owns the right to the work created, nor is there a record of who is expected to provide what or what timeline the work is supposed to be created in. (Normally, a contract would also detail payment schedules, spec work usually does not involve payment.) There is nothing to stop a client requesting spec work from taking the ideas of one designer and taking it to another, cheaper designer for production, or do it themselves. Either one of these situations is a violation of intellectual property law, but without a contract, a designer is hard pressed to fight this in court. The trust between designer and client that is essential for a good business relationship is absent here, and the situation does not lend itself to creating such a bond.
Reprinting allowed with permission of author.