Curious about the video, I asked Steve to share more details (below).


If I get any time between or during client projects I like to create animations that are just for “education’s sake.” Previously I’ve created explainers similar to this one on HTML5 and Geothermal Heating. Designer friends of mine Jacqui Oakley and Jamie Lawson suggested I do one about spec work, being a subject they felt they always needed to explain to others. I had them over for dinner and it went from there.


An animated video like this would normally take between 100 and 200 “people hours” during a four-to-six week period. This one was on my own dime and time so I could only work in bits and pieces. It took about four months from start to finish.


I did the illustrations, although we often hire talented illustrators for other animations. I originally recorded the voice-over in order to time the animation to it, but hired a professional for the final, Greg Tomlin.


Often Illustrator, then Flash and After Effects for the animation. Soundtrack Pro and Audacity help with the voice-over and sound effect work.

On spec work

I’ve not been affected in the contest-type way, but we still get quite a few requests to do free animated videos in exchange for “exposure” on such and such a website. When working alone, an animation would take me more than a month to complete, so it’s always interesting, to say the least, when someone asks you for a month of your time for free! We also get RFPs (request for proposals) where the client is hoping that we’ll pretty much write the script and give mockups of the visual direction for an animation prior to even deciding if they want to work with us. I have to explain that most of that stuff comes after we decide to work together.

Design contest spec work

Thanks for taking the time, Steve.

Catch Topic Simple on Twitter. Via @MatDolphin.

From the archives:
Typical design contest ending


Love the video. Should be subtitled to share for the non-English speaking designers/world. I live in Caracas (Venezuela) and spec work is on the menu every single day.

Love the video, and I agree. About 20% of my portfolio has been built up from using sites like designcrowd. I am not against it, however I do agree on better ways for portfolios. Half the time my work does not get accepted anyways because there is no time for direction or educating the contest client. Like you said they choose the coolest looking one off the bat which really took no time or research which I find wrong. Anyways good job on the vid, I shared with some other designers as well. As far as using Audacity, It works for quick narrative audio, and does the trick. I have dug a bit into After Effects, and I am surprised they don’t offer an option to record an audio track. Maybe they do in CS6 but I have yet to buy it. Cheers.

Great video Steve couldn’t put it better myself. I think speculative websites should all be put down, they prey on the lack of experience of designers and the lack of ethics of clients. Isn’t obvious these sites are evil? Many use the argument of helping students to gain real experience and build a portfolio. If that’s the case, and these sites are such angels, why they don’t do it for free? Anyway, I think I just started ranting again, damm spec work!

I’ve spoken about this topic during presentations but this video really encapsulates the frustrating experience. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll be passing it along as well.

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