Relaunching NO!SPEC with 28 talking points

Welcome to the relaunch of the NO!SPEC site. And who do we have to thank for this revamp? My good friends David Airey (designer) and Jay Wickham (programmer).

From day one, Jay and David have been tireless contributors. Behind the scenes, and no matter what insane hour of the day or night, Jay is on hand to fix code and add what is needed. More in the public eye, David is a vocal advocate of an ethical design profession.

There is also a fourth teammate involved: Steve Douglas.

So when all hades breaks loose in the spec arena, it’s usually David (in Ireland), Steve (in Canada), and me (in Thailand) throwing emails at each other about our next move. And sometimes Jay (in Australia) listens to us all.

When needed, the original NO!SPEC committee come out fighting as well. Thanks all!

In order to celebrate new beginnings, I decided to share the main points of a fabulous post on spec penned by Steve Douglas, 28 talking points. To me, it’s one of those ‘I wish I’d written this’. And since I didn’t, here you go.

The 28 talking points (on working spec)

  1. It’s all about freedom of choice
  2. Designers know what they’re getting into
  3. We’re all adults here
  4. You’ll get lots of exposure
  5. Participation is voluntary so design contests aren’t exploitative
  6. Spec sites represent an ‘opportunity’ for designers
  7. Crowdsourcing sites are a way to make a living
  8. Contest sites are a way to pick up some ‘pocket change’
  9. The best designer, or design, always wins
  10. Client feedback helps you develop your skills
  11. Contest holders appreciate your efforts
  12. Stock logos and free vector art is forbidden
  13. Designers copying each other are ‘isolated incidents’
  14. Private and ‘blind’ contests protect designers’ work
  15. Win a contest. Pick up your prize
  16. Guaranteed contests also pay a designer
  17. We guarantee that a designer will get picked. And paid
  18. Spec sites ‘respect’ creatives
  19. Critics of spec work are Luddites. Or snooty.
  20. Design orgs and critical designers are like the RIAA
  21. Crowdsourcing puts you in charge of your career
  22. The democratization of design?
  23. You’ll get lots of practice
  24. You’ll build a great portfolio
  25. Crowdsourcing is ‘innovation at its best’
  26. Crowdsourcing is simply The Free Markets at work
  27. Crowdsourcing levels the playing field
  28. Participants are from all over the world

Conclusion? Curious?

It’s quite an eye-twitcher to scan down those talking points. Yes? To get the full story, stop by Steve’s 28 talking points.

And don’t forget to drop by David’s post on the NO!SPEC redesign to tell him how fabulous it is. Dave and Jay did a bang up job, for sure.

The campaign to educate the public about spec work will be a long one. I’m grateful to have good friends like Jay, David, Steve and the rest of the gang along with me.


Design Students Create NO!SPEC Video

As the recipient of a multitude of emails on the subject of spec, I never know what’ll be arriving next. Some emails offer suggestions, others request information, and others still are peppered with not so clever rants about how evil we are for insisting that designers get paid for their work.

Just recently, student Yasmin Kercher sent over a NO!SPEC video created in a design workshop.

From Yasmin: The suffering people in the video are all visual communication design students of Augsburg Universtiy of Applied Sciences.

I got at least 40+ people discussing spec work this week and the numbers are rising :-)

Great job that you’re doing btw!

Nice one Yasmin!

If you too have a video or article you’d like featured on NO!SPEC, go ahead and contact me.


Interview Request: Alternatives to Free Pitching

Alternatives to Free Pitching

Free pitching has long been an issue with designers. Some designers are for, some against, while others aren’t sure which way to jump. Do you?

Below is a request for help from a writer compiling research for a paper on free pitching.

I now turn you over to Sean Ashcroft…

I am a design journalist, and I am currently writing a white paper exploring alternatives to free pitching, and am seeking to interview, by email, design practitioners who do not engage (or rarely engage) in free pitching, but instead win new clients using alternative means.

Please note: This report will require in-depth answers from interviewees.


  • Please provide a brief career biography (current job title, agency name, age, location, etc).
  • What strategies other than free pitching do you employ to win new business?
  • Can you gives one or two in-depth examples of how you have implemented these?
  • Have you / your agency specialized your offering either by:
    i) Design discipline (EG: Mobile apps, human interaction design, etc)
    ii) Sector (EF: marine, construction, property, city branding, etc).
    If yes, please give details.
  • If you answered yes to either part of Q4, how important has this differentiation been to your non-reliance on free pitching?
  • Has your current agency ever engaged in free pitching? If yes, how did you implement change?
  • Do you have any faith in the ability of design bodies to change the culture of free pitching?
  • What is the most important piece of advice you can give to agencies who can see no alternative to free pitching?

Thank you in advance for any help you are able to offer.
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Please contact me via either of the sites below, or sean ashcroft.

Sean Ashcroft
Journalist and writer
zyzzyva: Helping designers differentiate
Planet Client: Helping designers win clients, retain clients and understand clients

iStock + Logos = ?

Worms, lawyers and style-whores

iStock opens can of nasty worms | Logo Design Love: I’ve learned a lot during my years as a designer. One of those things is that a logo in isolation is like lipstick on a pig. It needs to be treated as part of an overall brand identity strategy, not picked off a shelf. This is no different from the ‘make your own logo’ websites out there, or the logo contest spec work sites that harbour an equal amount of ‘design’ nastiness.

Debbie Milman | Twitter: What iStock is doing to designers is deplorable. Truly heinous. $5 for a logo? Why?

istock photo to sell logos | The Logo Factor Design Blog: I predict there will be massive copyright problems as would-be designers, eager for quickly produced logos, scour the internet for material to, ahm, be ‘inspired’ by. And in a little bit of karmic schadenfreude, logo design contests and crowdsourcing sites will be ground zero for a lot of ‘inspiration’ for stock logos to upload. It’s an unfortunate, but predictable, aspect of a design business model where the emphasis (and only profitability for the designer) is to create a large number of logos, in the shortest amount of time possible.

Copying issues notwithstanding, and without the benefit of an accurate crystal ball, I don’t really know what impact this iStock logo deal will have on the industry at large. But I do have a feeling it will make a few copyright and trademark lawyers a lot of dough.

iStockphoto to begin selling stock logos | The Donut Project: When it comes to crowdsourcing, the responsibility falls solely on designers to stand up and say NO. As long as there are thousands of designers submitting to these sites, they will continue to thrive. I personally vow to no longer associate myself with designers who undervalue our industry by allowing themselves to be taken advantage of as style-whores – and I encourage/challenge you to stand up, have a backbone, and do the same.

It’s simple. Crowdsourcing can’t thrive if there’s no crowd to source.

Wait! There’s more…

iStock: Logos come to iStock

HOW Design Forum: iStock now selling logos!

AIGA: What is AIGA’s position on spec work?


SXSW: Spec Work Is Evil, How Creatives Fight Back

If you followed SXSW 2009 Is Spec Work Evil?, then you are sure to be interested in Andrew Hyde’s proposed panel for 2010: Spec Work Is Evil, How Creatives Fight Back.

The rise of community has also been met with the rise of the ‘weasel economics’ of spec work. Now that we have identified it as an evil and seen the destructive manner, we can identify how the creative community is fighting back.

Questions Answered:

  1. What is spec work?
  2. Why has it worked?
  3. Why has it failed?
  4. What is the big deal?
  5. What are alternatives to fixing the problem?
  6. Is the design industry broken?
  7. Can peer presure really stop this practice?
  8. Why are the ethics bad?

Andrew on twitter: andrewhyde

The Logo Factory: SXSW’s Is Spec Work Evil? 2009 panel

Interviewing Debbie Millman: President of the National AIGA

Dear Debbie Millman,

For years, you’ve been an inspiring advocate of the design industry. I know you’ve certainly inspired me. Your opinions on ethics in the design industry jumped out at me when I first came across Speak Up. And I believe it was right about that time when I started listening to your Design Matters broadcasts on Voice of America.

And when you backed the NO!SPEC Campaign, I couldn’t have been prouder: Debbie Millman on NO!SPEC and Debbie Millman: Commentary: Spec This.

Your two books ‘How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer’ and ‘Essential Principles of Graphic Design’ made me prouder still. And I see that you now have yet another book waiting to go on my bookshelf, ‘Look Both Ways, Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design’. Nice.

Then, when you became a board member of the National AIGA, I knew in my heart that the AIGA was serious about tackling the issue of spec.

And recently, when the Forbes Snooty business hit the Internet and the AIGA asked you to chair a task force on the issue, there you were again, fighting for designers.

And now, as you take over the office of the president of the National AIGA, even more congratulations are in order.

For me personally, I know of no other person I would rather see steering the AIGA.

So Deb, now that you have assumed the presidency of the AIGA, what are your dreams and aspirations?

There are three goals I have already outlined to the membership and I have just added a forth, and this is the first time I am stating it!

The three original initiatives are Connectivity, Inclusivity and supporting AIGA’s Centennial Mandate. Let me tell you about them all!

First, Connectivity:
Clearly, the way in which we humans connect with each other has changed forever. Just in this country alone, we went from three television channels to over 500 hundred channels, from no web pages to billions. It took 35 years for 150 million people to own televisions. It took only 7 years for 150 million people to own cell phones. And it will likely take only take 3 years for 150 million people to sign up for Twitter. The average teenager sends over 2500 text messages! The structural frameworks of the way we live, communicate and organize ourselves has fundamentally changed and I am committed to charting a new connective structure for AIGA that is authentic, transparent and meaningful. I believe that some of the most exciting things happening within AIGA are in the local chapters. The entire membership should be aware of this great activity and benefit from it. So I am working on instilling new practices in the way the entire 20,000 plus membership is communicating and connecting.

Second, Inclusivity:
Cat, you know more than most people that my initiation and acceptance in AIGA was challenging. Ten years ago, I didn’t feel that AIGA was particularly respectful of brand design, though that has changed now. But in subsequent conversations with members and non-members around the country, I have come to the realize that, for many different reasons, mostly non-intentional, designers of a variety of disciplines haven’t always felt that AIGA is sufficiently committed to their individual interests! As a result: I am bound and determined to foster a spirit of inclusivity within AIGA and beyond. All design disciplines, whether online, offline, in print, on paper, on screen or the Internets, in code or in ink are encouraged, welcomed and needed to join our efforts! I am fiercely determined to knock down the barriers separating our specialties and work together to design the change the world needs.

Third, advocate the new AIGA Mandate:
Believe it or not, AIGA is nearing its centennial in 2014. The membership, leadership and staff have taken a deep dive into the organization’s activities, positioning and the design profession’s needs, and we have instilled a new course for meeting our mission: to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. At our June leadership retreat in Portland, Oregon, 250 board members from more than 60 AIGA chapters nationwide met to exchange ideas and success stories, and to review and discuss the results of six months’ worth of research to help chart AIGA’s future. The three-day event culminated with a unanimous endorsement of a new mandate for AIGA in effect, a roadmap for the organization’s progression over the next five years (and beyond) that will support the profession’s aspirations for relevance, leadership and opportunity. This includes the following initiatives:

  • To provide ample opportunities for members to engage in social networking, and for us to provide content and make connections –Shift the traditional conferences to more regional and local events, and to put more resources in the development and distribution of audio and video programming
  • Build a stronger core of programs for professional development
  • Offer DAILY online examples of design excellence and inspiration
  • Find better, easier ways for designers to assume a role in business, social and cultural environments

I just worked with AIGA Executive Director Ric Gref to help organize the efforts of our amazing and diverse board to help realize these goals.

And lastly, I believe that there is great opportunity for younger members to benefit from the access to more established members for mentorship, job opportunities and training, and I’d like to work on ways to facilitate that.

What are the AIGA’s plans for educating its members on the issues of working spec?

Cat, as you know, I am personally vigorously, passionately and fundamentally AGAINST designers being asked to do work on spec and neither I nor my firm will ever participate in speculative work. I have said it before and I will say it again: Speculative work denigrates both the agencies and the designers that participate. If we give away our work for free, if we give away our talent and our expertise, we give away more than the work. We give away our souls.

Way before I got involved with AIGA, they had a strong stance against speculative work, and that has not changed. Given all of the technological advancements impacting the design world, we believed that is was time to re-examine our position. I was part of this task force prior to becoming AIGA President. When we updated our position, we reiterated and recommitted to our original stance against designers participating in speculative work. This is the introduction to the renewed position:

AIGA, the professional association for design, believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for the value of their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients.

AIGA acknowledges that speculative work that is, work done prior to engagement with a client in anticipation of being paid occurs among clients and designers. Instead of working speculatively, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into projects with full engagement to continue to show the value of their creative endeavor. Designers and clients should be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.

Cat, AIGA is 100% committed to informing designers, students, educators, clients and the general public on the risks of compromising the design process though information, materials and services that can help in forging a healthy working relationship between designers and their clients.

We then outline and answer all of the many, many questions we received from members prior to publishing our position. We have provided clear definitions of what we believe is and isn’t speculative work, as well as address competitions, volunteer work, internships and pro-bono work. We also outline the many risks involved in participating in speculative work (both for clients AND for designers), and provide a history of our restrictions and policy. It is extremely thorough and highly enlightening, IMHO. By the way, it also includes a sample letter for ANY designer to download in response to any spec work request, AIGA member or not.

Looking through a few of your accomplishments – managing partner and president (Sterling Brands), online personality (Voice of America), instructor (School of Visual Arts), board member and national president (AIGA), and author – I have to ask: Has your campaigning for the rights of designers affected your personal life in any way?

Design is my life. Anyone involved in my life in any substantial way knows this and (hopefully) loves me for it. Many people ask me “how do you do it all?” or “do you do anything but work?” and this is what I tell them: I am not married (anymore), I don’t have children and my life partner is a writer who needs a lot of time alone. I don’t work out or go to the gym. I work. But my work is fun! I love everything that I do and feel blessed to have such an incredibly full life. It took me 40+ years to get this kind of life, and I am so grateful for all I have been given!

From the AIGA’s Position of Spec Work in the 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission declared that AIGA could not make a prohibition of work for free as part of its statement of ethics for it was a restraint of trade (or price fixing)

Due to the interference of the Federal Trade Commission, just how far can the AIGA legally go in its stance against spec?

We have to be really, really careful. Back in the 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission determined that AIGA could not forbid or prohibit designers to work for free as part of its statement of ethics. This is a restraint of trade or price fixing. In other words, this would appear to be the profession seeking to determine consistent prices including nothing for their work and eliminating freedom of competition. We can only educate and recommend best practices for our members; we are not allowed to enforce financial rules and encompassing regulations. This, however, does not take away from our broad understanding and respect of why spec work is wrong.

The latest AIGA press release focusing on spec work launched with this title: ‘AIGA maintains its position against speculative work while recognizing that the decision is up to individual designers’.

When that press release hit the Internet, all email hell broke loose over here at – not because anyone believes that the AIGA is condoning spec work, but because of the possible misuse of the title. At one end, some could take it as the AIGA’s endorsement of working on spec. On the other, it could be construed that the AIGA is taking a wishy-washy stance against spec work.

To clarify for everyone here: “is the AIGA in any way endorsing spec?”

We are against spec work. The reason for the line, “while recognizing that the decision is up to individual designers, was included was to try and acknowledge how cultural and technological dynamics have changed. We are finding that we are more effective communicating with younger designers when we do not preach. Instead, we are seeking to educate the next generation of designers by clearly outlining the inappropriateness of a spec work. Sadly, the largest group of designers participating in spec work is their peers! Telling them to “just say no”, isn’t going to work. We need to outline WHY and HOW it is detrimental to their practice.

Deb, if you could rewrite that title, what would it be?

Well, that headline already has been rewritten! The new headline is as follows: What is AIGA’s position on spec work? And how are ethical standards determined?

Cat, I am hopeful that the article makes it crystal clear that AIGA has reiterated its longtime position that spec work is not in the interest of either designers or clients and we are now redoubling our efforts to educate, inform and inspire clients and designers alike to work respectfully, intelligently and fairly.

Deb, I realise that you must be totally snowed these days, so a special thanks! goes to you for making the time for this interview.

Catherine (cat) Wentworth
NO!SPEC Campaign

NO!SPEC Posters: Posters by Matt Clarke

Check out the fun NO!SPEC posters from Matt Clarke of Design Intellect.
Thanks Matt :-)

Do you SPECulate

Bankers SPECulate

Matt’s posters can be downloaded here.

As before, check out posters by Jeremy Yamaguchi, Dagmar Jeffrey, Jerett Patterson, George Gruel, Chad Behnke, Jeff Andrews, Rob Gough and Von Glitschka.

The NO!SPEC posters are 300 dpi, CMYK and/or spot color, PDF printable on A4 and Letter.

If you are interested in contributing a poster design for usage in promoting NO!SPEC just contact us for the logo files. Note: It might take us a little while to get them up, but get them up we will.

Logo Design Love: SpecWatch on Design Contests

Do you twitter?

If you don’t have a twitter account, then you are missing out on the latest spec happening in the design industry.

Logo Design Love: It’s interesting to see the recent appearance of Spec Watch, a venture that educates about the very real risks of design contest websites and their so-called ‘communities’.

Spec Watch has been cataloging unpaid and refunded projects, and those terminated due to copyright violation.

Right now Spec Watch is mainly targeting the design contests at Crowdspring and 99designs, but who knows how their campaign will evolve.

To see what all the fuss is about, follow Spec Watch (SpecWatch) on Twitter.

(Thanks David!)

NO!SPEC’s Quote of the Century…

Paul Rand paraphrased by Steve Jobs

I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve the problem for you the best way I know how. And you can use it or not – that’s up to you. You are the client. But you pay me.

Nice. Very.

Crowdsink on Twitter: CrowdSpring, Do What’s Right!

CrowdSpring sinks to even lower lows…

This weekend, while Jay and I were busy updating, twitter continued to be all aflutter over the latest from CrowdSpring: CrowdSpring, Do What’s Right!

Background: Seems a CrowdSpring designer ripped off the work of Mike Erickson of Logo Motive Design (LogomotiveMike on twitter).

And while this is shocking enough – ok, not shocking as rips happen all the time on crowdsourcing sites – what has upset designers is CrowdSpring’s three strikes policy.

That’s right. A CrowdSpring designer gets to submit various ripped designs a total of three times before getting banned.

To follow the event yourself, here are the top searches on twitter:

CrowdSpring: Where have all the cheerleaders gone?

Ross Kimbarovsky: The voice of CrowdSpring on twitter.

Crowdsink: The twitter tag designers are using to publicise the problem.

And of course, make sure to read down through the original article: CrowdSpring, Do What’s Right!

Apparently this has been going on for about three weeks, but the designer in question is still submitting work at CrowdSpring. Amazing.

Btw – if you haven’t noticed, is now on twitter too: nospec.

So if you do twitter, go ahead and give us a shout…