There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it. - Mary Wilson

Why spec work exists

Posted: December 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: | 1 Comment »

Photo courtesy sashafatcat

I’m writing this in response to

Eric brings up some great points in his post, but I think he is missing something critical.  The real reason spec work or crowd sourcing exists is because good design is not limited to those with lots of experience or those that work for well established firms.  Any creative process is to some degree a craps shoot.  An art degree may teach you to recognize good design, it may help you understand why something looks good, but it doesn’t mean that when you break out the crayons, I will like your results.

The accountant example is a great one:

So now, look at your job, and ask yourself: How would you feel if your work was reduced to a contest? I’d guess you’d find it rather insulting. As an accountant, could you imagine meeting a potential client who wanted you to do the work first with the possibility of them “maybe” paying you after the labor was complete? Or, perhaps we could have a “steel fabricators contest”, in which hundreds of companies would design and build “spec” bridges with the best ones getting “credit, fame and glory.

The reason accountants will never face this problem, is because without a degree and lots of experience, you will never be a great accountant.  Accounting, for the most part, is not a creative process.  Experience is virtually all that matters.

Though it helps, experience in a creative field doesn’t necessarily make you better when it comes down to putting the crayons to paper.  If Tim throws a contest, there’s a chance some high-school kid with a stolen copy of photoshop will win.

I think this is what really bothers experienced designers.  A degree, years of slaving away in meetings, etc. should mean you get paid more or at least get more work.  The problem is that despite all this, I can hire a great design firm and not like what they send me.  I can have 500 people send me spec work, and I’m pretty much guaranteed to find something I like.

Think about the actual implications of spec work.  Imagine if there was no spec work.  Would the number of actual paychecks change?  No.  Whether I pay a grand prize to one winner or I just hire a design firm, there’s only one job.  All those struggling college grads would still be out of work.  The difference is that all those struggling college grads wouldn’t be submitting work to contests, they’d be doing nothing.  Maybe this is better, maybe this is worse, but it doesn’t change how many people are getting jobs.

I think Erik is right about the value of exposure.  As it applies to book cover design, it’s probably over rated.  But look at the alternative.  Instead of some random art student get his name mentioned on a top blog, Tim could just higher a popular design firm from New York, and that random art student get’s to do nothing.  The only people we protect by not using spec work are those who don’t need protection.  We’re putting up barriers for those looking to break in.  Saying we shouldn’t offer spec work is like saying, we should only allow experienced actors to audition for movies.

Erik also worries that design isn’t thought of as real work, because to some degree, it’s fun.  While designers get to check email and attend meetings just like the rest of us, there’s still a lot of truth to this.  The bottom line is that paiting is more fun that adding numbers.  Design sucks most of the time.  Accounting sucks all of the time.  As a result, lots of people want to be designers and not many people want to be accountants.  Designers should have to compete in a tougher market because of this.

Maybe I’m wrong, but if I am, feel free to not do spec work, there’s plenty of other struggling artists who could use less competition.