“This is definitely a topic with a lot of grey areas. However, designers should’t be expected to work for free under the guise of a competition or opportunity to be chosen. It’s not how the design process should work.”

Catch Charli on Twitter.

My thoughts on spec work.


Thanks for sharing my video! I’m so glad it’s sparked discussion on the matter. It’s important that we, as designers, call this out and try change the thinking that this is the way we should work!

I completely agree and get frustrated by the amount of people being given the ‘opportunity’ to work for free. Or asking for someone with a massive list of skills but saying they want a graduate as they have no money to pay that person.

I feel design can be undervalued which like you said, doesn’t happen in any other industry.

Great video!

From personal experience over the years the work that I did for free or cheaply (pro bono is a different story) only led to more of free or cheap work.

Very well-paid work always led to more very well-paid work… so it’s a no brainer really.

Absolutely, Sasha. Doing it once seems to set the standard for doing it again…and again…After all, if you’ve done it once, why not again?

Spec work is like gambling; a lot of effort for a chance at winning the prize. As Charli noted, this practice isn’t acceptable in other sectors, so why is it with design? “Try-before-you-buy” is not a good design business motto. Research before you buy, sure; but don’t expect a seller to bend over backwards for each prospective buyer…

The fault lies primarily with those designers who are willing to compromise–who are afraid to say “no” because it might “hurt their chances.” In fact, the opposite is true. If it became the norm for designers to say no more often to such unpaid “opportunities”, this wouldn’t be an issue.

It’s like Seth Godin said in a recent blog post: “No is the foundation that we can build our yes on.”

I’ve been through a series of interviews where they want me to do a project which seems kind of odd to me. Because more or less that makes me wonder if they even took time to look at my portfolio.

There is another aspect of “spec” but not really spec. Teaming up with printers or other vendors to create work that pays if it delivers. Although it can be a big time investment, more so on the initial build which you can then template out the process, time and components, the rewards can be huge and a big confidence boost. Because you are putting your ideas, skills, thinking and abilities on the line, it can be a huge reward.

You have to make sure you want to work with the vendor and you both see some things the same way, and always protect yourself legally and not get screwed.

But if it is a success, you have a new venue for business and clients, and the best part is, that because you put your time in, based on results, that you have a certain amount of creative freedom.

Perfect timing for me today. I have of this weekend been offered to create a logo for an essential oils distribution company (which I am very thrilled about).

They did initially ask me for ideas before looking at the brief and I had to respond by offering up a bit of negotiation and personal reasoning.

I stated that I was unable to produce ideas, designs, sketches (this initial phase) without some sort of retainment fee. Perhaps I could do it for cash with a 5% reduction so no tax claim.

However overall I simply do not create/ideate for free unless you are basically, the Queen of England (I didn’t say that exactly, but I utilized euphemisms of a similar conviction).

Also, with reason, company xyz. I really do not have a lot of info about you or what you do, what you’re looking for (which should be a briefing-type convo) so I feel I have nothing to be officially inspired by.

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