The Spec Work Design Debate at SXSW: Is Spec Work Evil?

The Spec Work Design Debate at SXSW: Is Spec Work Evil?

Pro Spec Work
Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester research argues, “Spec work is here to stay and is definitely going to increase during a recession as buyers have less money…” as well as due to increased unemployment and and increase concern with personal branding.
• Jeff Howe, the author of Crowd sourcing points out the conflict as being between Journeyman vs. Young Designer. How says, “its the classic Catch 22” for the young designer to get a job.
• The CEO of Crowdspring points out that his site, 99 designs, and similar designer website.
• “On the buy side we see a range of buyers we see everything from Mom and pop to people needing designs for their personal blogs.”

Against Spec Work
AIGA is against spec design work because “Spec is design in a vacuum.” Designer needs to provide a solution that understands and integrates the clients unique “Needs, goals, and challenges.” With spec work there is no “give and take” Money from a client, “shows a commitment to that relationship.”
• “Difference between…decoration and design.”

My Take on the Spec Debate
I find myself in the gray area, like the esteemed panelist from Threadless, but decisively on the pro side as long as protections are taken to ensure exploitation in the spec work process isn’t allowed to take place. In a world of globalization and weird economies of scale, this can be difficult.

I think spec work could turn into the equivalent of digital share cropping if prices go to low. Thankfully crowd spring has minimums–I hope other follow this model to help ensure some protection for digital artists. Companies like elance and odesk have no such lower limits to ensure designers are protected.

For more about crowd sourcing, companies in the crowd sourcing space, and resources about crowdsourcing check out the post at Compassion in Politics.

You can find Jeremiah Owyang’s coverage of the spec design debate here. You can also see Andrew Hyde’s speculative work is evil.

6 responses to “The Spec Work Design Debate at SXSW: Is Spec Work Evil?

  1. Pingback: Spec Work: What Would Jesus Do?

  2. Little company

    Actually as a small company spec work from a design contest gave us a professional logo for a mere £100.
    We returned to the designer for a site design 4 months later, and now as a larger company with ACTUAL STAFF ( we began with just me as a sole trader), we regularly employ the designer once every month or so.

    Spec work is not the devil as many designers believe it is, many industries are based on spec (I have to by giving designs for security systems on commercial property, and my business is on the up).

    Why would I suffer paying a large design to a design god, when shit like this happens even (especially?) at the very top

    Speculative doesn’t neccessarily mean free, maybe just that the best design wins.

  3. Pingback: SUSTAINABLE MARKETING BLOG » Blog Archive » Portland’s Designgate and the place of spec work in a sustainable economy

  4. Pingback: The “Pros” and Cons of Spec Work | meshdairy

  5. The “Bernie Maydoff of Brands”…..interesting.

    I wonder if some version of “fair trade” spec work could be devised.

    It seems to me that those in favor banning spec work:
    1) do a disservice to bootstrapping start ups
    2) do a disservice to upcoming designers, artists, and creatives

    Would have to:
    1) do away with non paid internships (which while unfortunate in one respect are incredibly helpful on the other)
    2) do away with crowd based contests/user generated content totally.

    In a world where people are giving away designs and creative–at least these types of communities give them a way to:
    1) benchmark their professional work with others
    2) get their name and designs seen
    3) a chance to earn some money while learning their craft

    Yes, those who don’t have design skills get left behind. Unfortunately, thats capitalism. Sometimes that means a learning process and sometimes that means they are forced to choose another vocation. Those who don’t like spec work, want to ban it, and want to stigmatize those who use it–are like those who magically want to get rid of capitalism. Its not going to happen–you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The best you can hope for is some sort of protection for designers or leveraging the system of capitalism/free markets against spec design websites (for instance by creating another community which respects the needs of designers).

    While these some of these folks take a hit now….they likely make it up in the long run in their careers. In fact, these spec design websites which allow firms to crowdsource design might help provide flexibility and income where it wouldn’t otherwise be (for instance they don’t have to take non paying internships or can have paying job while they learn the craft in their off hours while having the motivation of earning potential cash). Those who don’t like spec design forget the opportunity cost to those at the margins.

  6. More from Jeremiah Owyang on spec:

    Zeldman on spec (which links to the AIGA policy). You may also want to check out the No Spec website:

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