the pitfalls of doing spec work

no-spec, spec hurts everyone

[Anyone who’s seen my lectures and talks already has heard this before.]

  • Would a doctor be asked to do surgery on patients, for free, just to see if a hospital liked how they operate?
  • Would an accountant be asked to balance a quarterly report for free just to see how he ran numbers?
  • A pilot be asked to fly a major airline route without an compensation to see how he lands planes?
  • A fireman asked to battle some major blazes for no pay first before a check or even or insurance to see how well he fought fires?
  • Professor told he has to teach a semester free? A nuclear engineer at a power plant? An actuary? Architect? Police officer? Asked to do work for free before getting any compensation?

None of these careers are asked to do free work as a theoretical carrot dangling in front of them, the reality, most cases, you’ll get the stick.

Put it to you another way as Topic Simple did in an informative video, could you ask a chef at a fine restaurant to make you a delicious meal for free simply to see if you liked it? Or a lawyer to do up your will, but  you’d only pay him if you think it’s good enough.

A recent student I mentored awhile back wrote me about a potential job he was offered, but first, they had him design mockup web pages and logos for their new line of software. This company never had him sign anything (red flag), but he was hungry for the work, and potential employment. He spent hours, thinking, crafting, anguishing over designing beautiful web pages that would take the company to the next level and impress upon them enough that he would be a perfect fit for their oranization. They thanked him, he never heard back despite leaving message and emails, but they did use his work on their website. Not only is this borderline criminal, again, ask yourself, what other profession would this happen in?

It’s a story I’ve heard too many times, seen too many times, and the majority of times it ends badly. I’ve been on the hiring end of many creative talent, I’d never even dream of asking any potential hire to do work for free.

The AIGA, the largest professional association for designers in the world, official stance:

Fees: A designer shall not undertake any work for a client without adequate compensation, except with respect to work for charitable or nonprofit organizations. A designer shall not undertake any speculative projects, either alone or in competition with other designers, for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used. This applies not only to entire projects but also to preliminary schematic proposals. A designer shall work only for a fee, royalty, salary or other agreed-upon form of compensation.

Rather succinct.

So creatives everywhere, stop chasing free work. Unless it’s your Mom, a buddy, or something you’re doing for fun, say no. Saying yes hurts not only yourself, but the design industry’s legitimacy. I’ll add, the same goes for writers, programmers, or anyone in the creative or IT field, say no to spec work.

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