A conversation on spec

Posted on Jan 4, 2011 in Thoughts

After writing my last post, I still wasn’t committed to removing myself from the Nokia Direct and Project competition, or making a film on spec to educate those in attendance at the gala. I spoke with a three different colleagues, Mark Busse, Todd Smith, and Shawn Hight on the matter. Below is a copy of the email conversation that I had with Mark, which only solidified my beliefs, and furthered my beliefs that more needs to be done to educate people about this ill practice.

On 2011-01-01, at 12:45 PM, Amanda Healey wrote:

I was contacted by Nokia mid December to enter a 30 person competition to make a film about anything with their new N8 phone that they would supply. I signed myself up thinking it was a great opportunity to have a video camera over the holidays and figured I could whip something up on my return. Thinking about it more and more over the holidays, I realized it was the regular old spec work nipping at my knees again. In design, it’s a no brainer, don’t do it. And there’s an organization to back me up on that (the GDC). But it seems in the film industry, where I’m getting more involved, spec work is perfectly normal and everyone does it to get a job.

I wrote a blog post about it here: http://amandahealey.ca/spec-work-in-different-industries/ and as I was writing this blog post, I was like shoot, I’m doing spec, it’s apparently ok in film, but not in design, who am I? what do I do? I think I could enjoy the best of both worlds and combine everything that I am (because that’s who I am) and make a film on spec work. Is that just combining the worst of everything and really not hitting the target for either, or is it a good idea? Should I just throw it back at Nokia and tell them I don’t want to do it? Or do I take the opportunity to educate possibly everyone that may attend the VAG party where all the submissions will be screened? I know you’re a busy man, but I also know you’ve always got an opinion on everything. 😀 Mind sharing it with me on this issue?


On 2011-01-01, at 5:04 PM, Mark Busse wrote:

There’s a phrase that comes to mind: “To succeed in politics, it is often necessary to rise above your principles.” You could substitute “politics” for “design” or even “your career” I suppose.

I don’t know any of the details about this situation, and there are always some scenarios that are better structured (ethically) than others, but no matter what, spec is spec.
When I look back at my own career, there have been times I’ve done creative work without being paid, but there’s always been something other than “it’s a good opportunity for exposure” or “if we like yours, we’ll use it and pay you”.

In fact, the single mist rewarding aspect about being a creative professional is when people put their trust in you. That is far better than being paid frankly.
So what is my advice? I have none. You know your situation and what this opportunity represents for you. You also know the risk and consequences.
We reach deep inside the dark, wet mush of our souls and pull out creative brilliance, but at least we get paid. We’re basically creative whores.
Engage in spec and we’re nothing more than sluts. And where does it end? Do we do it *sometimes* to get a keg up, and then just declare we don’t do it once we have momentum?

Does this rambling help?

On 2011-01-03, at 10:58 AM, Mark Busse wrote:

Was this at all helpful? Or did I just muddy the waters further?

Let me know where you landed on this.


On 2011-01-03, at 12:39 PM, Amanda Healey wrote:

Yes, super helpful. I guess when I looked a little deeper I knew it was ridiculous if I participated no matter what direction I took the project.

I also emailed Todd Smith and he suggested declining but attending the gala party where all of the submissions would be screened and getting sound bites from the contestants regarding spec and if they fully realized what they were giving up.

Thanks for the rambling, it’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off of another human being that has similar values and isn’t afraid to speak to them. There’s way too many polite and quiet ones that never do.


Spec work in different industries

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 in Thoughts

on the fence about spec

In the wonderful world of print, web and motion design (which is where I’ve been trained and have worked) spec work is a four letter word. To be part of any design organization, one must not engage in it. I’m an advocate for ridding the industry of spec work. It devalues designers work, it creates sub par design solutions, and way too many hours of designers time is wasted.

If you’re a designer, you probably know what I’m talking about, and I hope you’re on my side of the fence. For anybody that isn’t familiar with spec work, you can view a short motion piece that I created at VFS, and continue reading this post. (There’s also another great piece on YouTube that was created by Yasmin Kercher) spec work is asking a group of people to complete work with a limited creative brief, and without a contract to ensure payment. Often they come in the form of contests. While some clients think spec work is great because they get many options to choose from at the end of the contest, it really isn’t the best design solution. There’s even a whole website dedicated to the issue.

A good designer will sit down with the client and together they’ll write up a creative brief. The client knows exactly what the designer is capable of in terms of quality, time and cost, and the designer knows exactly what the client is expecting. These one on one meetings, give the duo the opportunity to nitpick and allow the designer to fully realize what the client is after. In competitions, that dialogue is stripped and designers are left spending more time on conceptualizing, guessing what the client wants, and usually not being able to deliver a suitable design solution because they don’t understand the client’s needs.

It’s the equivalent to having a cough and emailing ten different doctors with a plea that says, “I have a cough. Please come up with your best way to get rid of it and present it to me next week. If I like your answer, I’ll come to you for treatment.” It’s absurd. Neither the doctor, nor the patient actually know what the problem is, before they’re trying to find the solution. The absurdity is compounded when you bring money into the equation. If 30 designers spent 20 hours trying to complete a poster with an ill prepared brief, whereas one fully informed designer could have completed the brief in 12 hours, the client just received 600 work hours for the price of 12.

I know I’ve went on about this rant before, (and so has Mark Busse, who graciously helped me out on the sarcastic motion piece while I was learning at school) but the reason I bring it up again is because spec work seems perfectly normal in the film world. In a reality where it seems everyone wants to be a multi-millionaire directing hollywood blockbusters, there’s a plethora of minions in a heap at the bottom scrambling to climb their way to the top. Filmmakers take advantage of these film virgins and exploit them for free labour.

And for some odd reason, no one sees any problem with this. There’s too many people on the opposite side of the design fence that thing that spec work is just a part of making your way into the industry. So if you’re a pushy loudmouth who stands up to advocate for fair labour, you’ll be pushed aside and a quieter slave will get the benefit of working long hours with no pay, all the while being applauded for climbing the ladder the good old fashioned way.

The reason that I bring this up, is because as a designer, I’m forbidden (by the Graphic Designers of Canada and the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, as well as my own morals and values) to engage in spec work. And although I’m making a semi-cross over into the film world, I find myself at conflict in whether or not I should actually be engaging in this Nokia Direct and Project competition. While on one hand, the promotion (which is what clients who regularly engage in this sort of behaviour try to sell their bad business practice on) of me and the film I would create at the Vancouver Art Gallery would be good press, in my heart, it’s still spec work, and just plain wrong. Do I make an example of myself and pull out of said competition, or do I forge ahead with my head down to make it in the film world? It’s a question that only time will tell.

Hello, my name is Amanda & I’m a designer

Posted on Nov 4, 2010 in Thoughts

Hello, my name is Amanda & I'm a designer

I haven’t really been posting a lot lately, but luckily, the creative stream hasn’t stopped, just my blog documentation. I’ve had my fingers in a few different pots lately and I couldn’t be happier (or busier).

My fulltime 9 to 5 job is as a game designer at Microsoft and I love it. The people I work with are great, and the job is varied enough that I’m never bored, I’m always challenged, and always learning.

I’ve also been closely involved with Sandra Rogas Gonzalez’s final project in the EMB program at VFS. I’ve played the role of production coordinator leading up to and on shot day. I’ve dealt with last minute craft service truck breakdowns, making multiple trips back to my house to pickup last minute items for craft services, documenting by photographing, and arranging rides for a cast and crew of 35. I’ve assisted Sandra with some of the usual producer types of tasks, and tried to keep her on track with timelines by sending her to do lists and regular check-ins. I’ve had some design input on the title sequence, been a big part of brainstorming the name and branding of the film, and am the graphic designer in charge of creating the promotional materials as well as the design and development of the website (soon to be launched.)

It’s a great project, and I’ve volunteered all of my time and talent without complaint. Graduating from such a time/resource intensive program at VFS (Digital Design in April ’10) and maintaining that pace has really propelled me into a good variety of projects. Speaking of variety of project, here’s what else I’ve been up to:

I completed a full analysis and designed wireframes for a great site that should be launched soon with a past instructor of mine at VFS. The client was great to work with and with her own artistic eye is designing the site herself based on my background research.

I’ve also got a friend in the music industry with a great voice and great entertainment value named Chantal Upshaw. I recently collaborated with Shawn Hight to film her show as well as Nadia Von Hahn during her cd release party, and we’re working on editing the footage now.

Of course I’ve been keeping up with my regular love of nature photography, and volunteering as a web maintenance/consultant for Buy-A-Net, a malaria prevention charity based out of Kingston, Ontario.

One piece of advice that was given by a few different instructors while I was at VFS was to keep something for yourself. So in addition to the photography, filming, producing, designing, coding, consulting and good times, I’ve also been thinking about how to share my love of the fashion industry with the world in the same way I’ve been able to with the rest of my talents.

Thus, I’m branding a fashion and accessories line to showcase and sell my work, and am planning a website that will compliment Etsy’s powerful selling site. I’m only in the beginning stages, but I’ve already named the collection and started collecting materials to create some items in small quantities to sell online.

In addition to that, as the tormented (it seems as if everything is just ‘good enough’ design lately) designer I am, I’m contemplating a website redesign. Right now it speaks only to a small skill set of being a Flash developer. (Did I mention I’ve also got learning Unity on my to do list?) While I’ve been given advice on being specific with what I want to market myself as, so as not to come off as indecisive, I’ve finally decided that I can listen to all the advice in the world, but in the end the decision is mine.

And I’ve decided what I’ve known all along, and what I realized in my final year of my graphic design diploma six years ago. I’m a designer, a maker. And a real designer can design anything. They have a passion to create things, digitally and with their hands. A real designer can take a concept and apply it to any medium. They have a passion that they want to share with the world.

I am that person. I strive to make things better through design of any type. I crave involvement in all facets and all disciplines. And I’m not ashamed to say I’m not specializing in anything other than sharing great design with the world. You can call me Jack (of all trades, master of none) if you’d like, but I’d prefer you call me ‘designer’ for short. (Look forward to a redesign of my website to reflect that too!)


Posted on Jul 22, 2010 in Photography, Thoughts

apologizing quote

My friend Shawn and I went out into the world (ok, it was just New West, a few blocks from his house) in search of great treasures in the form of static and moving images. I began to notice all kinds of shapes that would be good as frames, and I “collected” them in my SLR. While Stumbling tonight, I found a quote that seemed to be a little more true than not and I wanted to do something with it. Voila! What you see above is what I came up with.

Looking back and saying goodbye

Posted on Apr 23, 2010 in Thoughts

If you would have told me that I would be capable of thinking , doing, and being the things I am when I started the digital design program a year ago I would have called your bluff. Unbelievably, I’ve crammed more knowledge into my head than I ever thought possible, sometimes to the point that I literally had a headache from thinking (usually in OOP class, I’ll ‘blame’ that one on the instructor). But just like conditioning your body to run in a marathon, VFS, by it’s instructors, course content, and way of cramming it all into a year-long program, has conditioned me to be a better designer, better developer, better communicator, and even better person.

The instructors love what they do at VFS; so much that I wouldn’t say they love their jobs, because it’s not their job, it’s getting paid for their passion. The curriculum is constantly being tweaked. Each class has an opportunity to give feedback a the end of every term and many of he suggestions are implemented four months later when the next class comes through.

Now comes the bittersweet graduation event that we’ve all had our eye on since we entered into this VFS family a year ago. Like a small bird leaving the nest for the first time, I have overwhelming mixed feelings about that date. It’s not that I’m not sure if I’m ready, mom and pop VFS has done their job and is sending me out into the world well prepared. Our class of 19 has become a family to me over the year, and now we’re being split up as some of us move back to where we came from, some move to bigger cities in the US. I plan on staying in Vancouver and working in the interactive area of design. How many people will I keep in contact with? Will I return to VFS to audit classes?

The real question in the back of everyone’s mind is how long will it take to find paying work and where will it be? I’ve already set up three informational interviews to meet with companies that I’m interested in working for and I’ll be making more in the coming weeks. Even if a company isn’t hiring, I think it’s valuable to meet with them and see how they run their business and get to know them as people, not just a brand. Keep your eyes and ears open for an email or phone call, you may be on my list 😉

Wrapping up In the Beginning

Posted on Mar 17, 2010 in Thoughts

It’s a little under fourteen hours until the absolute deadline for our final project. I haven’t written in a while, we’ve been more focused on coding lately and after writing and debugging ActionScript, I don’t feel much like writting a blog post about all the struggles I encountered that day. It’s a shame really, I know I should be, which is why I’m taking the time to now (on my iPhone during my nightly commute on the SkyTrain). It’s great when people have success stories, but I know myself from experience, it’s not absolute success stories that I’m searching for at 2am it’s the problems that people have had and how they came about solving them.

Struggles indeed we have come across. But in perservering, we have met our challenges, sometimes with help from our advisor (Dave) or flash instructor (Brett), help from each other, or the internet, and have conquered! (Adobe, Kirupa, and Google searches in general have become favourites of ours. I’ve lost my work twice, and luckily had recent backups to start fresh. We’ve survived a week long hiatus at the beginning while I sorted out some issues with the project and teamwork, our advisor taking a three week trip south, Taura and I being exactly half a world apart twice, and I’m still excited about it.

We’ve had to cut our scope by cutting out the last of the augmented reality scenes, and replaced it with a movie clip instead to keep the story running smoothly. This was partly to preserve quality and partly for our sanity, but either way, I think it was the right decision to make. The two augmented reality scenes that we do have running are functioning on a lower frame rate than we would have liked, but we knew going into the project that this was going to be one of the issues with the project. (We’ll soon have it all uploaded on our blogs for you to see) Luckily, not being able to test on an iPhone, and not having access to any other phone for testing has actually served us well. I can’t imagine how slow it would run if it was dependent on the phone’s processing power. Our external reviewer Gagan Dieshhad mentioned the same point when we met with him back in the first week of February

I’m now headed home after redoing work that I lost off my jump drive this afternoon, and I’m tired and sore from sitting in front of the computer, but I’ve got a smile on my face. I had a good time with this project, and I have to admit, I’m a little sorry to see it done. Taura and I are both headed into the school for 9 tomorrow morning to wrap up a few bugs in pinball, and print out the book to hand in by noon. Neither of us want to be around during the final leg when people are going to be stressed to the max rendering, printing, coding, and transferring files to meet the 6pm deadline.

Being a Flash designer

Posted on Feb 15, 2010 in Thoughts

I had one of THOSE weekends. You know, the kind that you work away, hunched over in front of the computer, while everyone is outside enjoying the sunshine. Actually, I hope that you don’t know it. It’s not a great feeling. It’s final project time, and while yes, I’m glad that I have sensibility to know that I can’t leave it all to the end and still expect to produce a great finished piece, sometimes I wish that I was a little less careful and took a sunny day off to enjoy the fresh air outside my bedroom window.

Even worse is that Sunday night, with tired eyes and sore shoulders, I felt as if I hadn’t accomplished nearly what I was capable of in that time frame. It wasn’t until I had to log my hours into BaseCamp, a time-tracking and file managment system that we’re provided with at VFS, that I realized how much I had actually accomplished. Seeing the breakdown of the hours that I had put into the project, definitely helped to put things into perspective.

Unlike the students in the motion stream in class that have visuals to represent their process all along the way, there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that you might never realize goes into interactive projects. Building a project from the ground up, combining several newer code libraries with poor documentation takes time and patience. Learning curves really aren’t curves at all. They’re more like steep cliffs and gullies. You never know when you’re going to fall, or when everything that you’ve been fighting with for the last 32 hours will all of a sudden “click”. Even the Flash and Flex software itself still hold unknowns for us. Thankfully Taura found a button that allows us to edit multiple frames at once. This is a big time saver for us. Simple solutions for time intensive work of relocating registration marks seem so simple after the fact, but figuring out the answer can seem like such a big hurdle at the time.

I don’t want to come across as losing interest or having second thoughts about the project. I’m glad that I have the challenge and opportunity to work with such cutting edge technology. But it’s not all roses. There’s definitely periods of frustration and maybe even a little bit of anger when things don’t turn out, or take longer than expected. This is the life of the flash designer/developer. And it’s one that I embrace fully.

A real designer can design anything

Posted on Feb 12, 2010 in Thoughts

A real designer can design anything. I’m not sure if that’s a quote that I’ve seemingly forgotten who spoke it, or if it’s just an attitude that I’ve had since my first round of education at St. Lawrence College. Either way, I try to live by it each day, and ‘design’ my life in a way that’s both pretty and functional.

While we don’t have homework in any classes this term because of our work on our final projects, we do have in class assignments. In Advanced Art Direction last week we had an hour to create a patcha kutcha presentation. For anyone who isn’t familiar with patcha kutcha, it’s a 20 slide presentation where you spend 20 seconds speaking about what’s on each slide. It makes for a quick paced and fun presentation. It’s a great tool and I think it should have been taught to us in term 1.

I chose to present on 20 things I want to do in my life. I altered the brief a little and too kit as 20 things I want to design in my life. This is where the ” a real designer can design anything” comes in. I lost the pdf presentation when my usb key broke itself last week, but here’s the information in list form in no particular order.

  • typeface
  • public building
  • my house
  • wedding dress
  • piece of jewelry
  • chair
  • buttons (not the ones on your shirt, the ones with the pins on the back)
  • my own website
  • wine label
  • sign in neon lights
  • shoes
  • experimental flash project
  • patterned fabric
  • concert poster for someone famous
  • stuffed animal
  • children’s storybook
  • fashion photography shoot (all of the design choices, including shooting the models)
  • costume design for a fairytale movie
  • my own company
  • a better world

Seriously, seriously.

Posted on Feb 10, 2010 in Film & animation, Thoughts

Get Adobe Flash player

First of all, for anyone that knows me, they know that I’m not a fan of punctuation. But in this case, in the title of this post it’s needed. Not that this post is serious at all, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I love Grey’s Anatomy, and Meredith Grey has a habit of saying “seriously, seriously” which I seem to have picked up. Due to the tone that she (and now I) say in it, a full stop is definitely needed.

Sometimes when you work for long hours in front of the computer, you start to lose sight of what you’re working on; or you just plain lose your sight. In my case, I was working on an animation of a bunny eating a rock. This is something that Taura and I wanted as an obstacle in our AR environment. If you ate a rock, you couldn’t move. This doesn’t actually happen in Choom‘s animation, so I had to figure out how to animate it myself. I don’t generally put the stop(); tag in when I start animating, so if I test the movie, its loops continuously. I didn’t yet have it all together, when I tested it, and what you see above is what came out. It made me laugh out loud a couple of time as I sent it off to friend’s for their reactions. I had to share it with the world and post it to my blog. It reminded me not to take myself or this project too seriously, and to always have fun. I hope you get as big of a kick out of the animation as I did.


Posted on Jan 7, 2010 in Thoughts


As I mentioned before, I’m collaborating on my final project with my classmate, Taura Hanson. We’re the only team in the class of 19 people, and I think that says something about our work habits. Before I continue, I don’t want to sound as if I’m putting down the rest of the class. Perhaps they haven’t found a need for a partnership for the size of their projects, or haven’t found someone that they mesh well with and can work together in on direction towards the same goal. But for Taura and I, it’s the exact thing to make our goal a reality.

We’re both hard workers. Independent but willing to ask for help when we need it. We don’t like to lean on anybody too much for support, we’d rather struggle through the jungle and find out own way. We didn’t start brainstorming final project ideas together as a partnership. Taura was thinking about branding and I was trying to figure out a way to do it all in one; bring motion, interactive, photography, and print together to create something that showcased a little bit of everything.

It wasn’t until I was over at Taura‘s helping her brainstorm that it just seemed to be the obvious choice for us to work together. We both wanted to do something cutting edge in the world of interactive design, but we didn’t know what. All we knew is that it sounded like a large project for one person to handle on their own. A quick agreement on partnership and half a minute later we were brainstorming project ideas.

Not too often in design does the answer just show itself to you when you sit down to start the project. But in this case, although we’ve never worked together on a single project before, the way we’ve worked together to help each other through personal projects was enough of a background to base a partnership for our final. If Taura wasn’t in this class, or wanted to work in another medium, I think I could say that I’d be working on this alone. Luckily that phase of the project came pretty naturally and seamlessly to be. We’ll see how well that translates into the rest of the project