spec work and crowdsourcing

Speculative work, or spec work—work done without compensation in the hope of being compensated for the client’s speculation—takes a number of forms in communication design.

According to AIGA spec work includes the following:

• Speculative or “spec” work: work done for free, in hopes of getting paid for it

• Competitions: work done in the hopes of winning a prize—in whatever form that might take

• Volunteer work: work done as a favor or for the experience, without the expectation of being paid

• Internships: a form of volunteer work that involves educational gain

• Pro bono work: volunteer work done “for the public good”

Proponents of spec work believe that it’s a free trade system and actually gives young designers who don’t have a big client list or portfolio filled with work a chance to be judged on merit alone. They feel it gives these designers a chance to gain experience, build their portfolio, expand their network of contacts, find more work, and if the work is chosen, be rewarded monetarily. Clients that are fans of spec work feel it gives them more variety along with lower costs.

Opponents of spec work assert that it devalues the design business. It also puts designers at risk of being taken advantage of as well as not being paid fairly or at all for their services. Graphic designers sell two things—ideas and time. Spec work, by definition, requires a designer to invest both ideas and time without a guarantee of compensation. Clients risk compromised quality when research, the development of multiple options, and lack of testing fall by the wayside.

Crowdsourcing is any sort of outsourcing that involves a large group of people actively participating in the project. In graphic design it basically means that clients can send a project “out to bid.” This means that they say how much they are going to pay for a design, and any number of designers can submit work for consideration. Clients can then decide after time and effort have been spent by one, or many, which design they like and are willing to pay for. The graphic designers whose work has not been chosen receive no compensation at all. In essence this gives clients the freedom to have multiple graphic designers spending time and energy on their project, and then they choose whichever design they like best and pay only for that one.

Read blog posts on crowdsourcing.