Spec work in different industries
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.