A client’s argument against free-pitching

John Scarrott and the Design Business Association thought it would be interesting to get a client’s perspective on free pitching, so asked Tom Foulkes, marketing director of Peter Brett Associates, about how he buys design expertise.

“Fundamentally, we believe the creative pitch is commercially toxic and is a tradition the marketing profession can do without. Commercially toxic may sound a little over the top but here are some of the potential hidden consequences of the creative pitch that can have a negative impact on a business, post decision.”

Read about the consequences (and about Tom’s preferred method for buying design) over on Design Week.

In for a penny, in for a pounding

Joe Rinaldi, VP of business development at Happy Cog, wrote an excellent article aimed at design clients about how spec work doesn’t just threaten the design businesses that take part, it threatens the clients’ companies and their projects, too.

“Each time agencies pre-invest in spec work, they mortgage their organizations on winning the work and the payment that will follow. Because their sales process includes unpaid design and development work before a project is officially “won,” the pressure is on the person in a business development position to “sell the creative.” If the work goes unsold, agencies operate at a deficit — one that increases as they continue to lose spec-work-driven pitches. Staff are often overtaxed having to create pitch work on top of a regular workload, which can contribute to more frequent staff turnover (another risk to your project).”

Read Joe’s full post here: War on Spec, on the Happy Cog blog.

Refuse to work for nothing

DA&D’s past President Mike Dempsey shared his thoughts on the recent speech given to young design graduates by D&AD chairman Dick Powell. Mike Dempsey said:

“This attitude dovetails into the alarming increase in free pitching that now runs throughout our industry, from the smallest to the most prestigious firms. Every company that embraces this and the acceptance of unpaid work for graduates is devaluing the worth of what we do. Powell’s active recommendation of ‘working for free’ simply adds to the view that what we all do is pretty low-grade, worthless stuff. A very sad state of affairs to hear this communicated by D&AD.”


“For what it’s worth, my recommendation to any design graduate is to refuse to work for nothing. And while pursuing job prospects, keep active by initiating your own projects to keep the creative muscles sharp. When I first started out, I would visit bookshops, pinpoint badly designed covers and in my spare time at home I would redesign them. That act eventually led to a job. A paid job.

“Don’t give up: believe in yourself.”

Read the full article on Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey Blog.

Mike Dempsey
Past D&AD President Mike Dempsey, photo via johnson banks

Donating the unpaid labor of others

Steve Douglas wrote an in-depth piece about “the arrogance of crowdsourcing,” where he talks about the design contest for the Dallas Mavericks. He also reviews “unofficial” contests for Sony Playstation, Daft Punk, and Manchester United, where spec work websites “have nothing to lose — they’re donating the unpaid labor of others.”

“It’s a copyright and trademark quagmire. And as is always the case, it’s the designers that are out the time, talent and creative energy, without one iota of protection for their efforts. All of this to benefit rich – and growing richer – businesses that seek to exploit their unpaid efforts.”

Crowdspring Dallas Mavericks

Read the full post on The Logo Factor.

The dangers of speculative design

Lisa Barrett of Birmingham-based Sixth Story published the studio’s experience of speculative design, where the “pitches” they ultimately lost ended up looking very similar to the designs that were actually used.

“We produced some branding work, name generation and packaging concepts for a start up business in order for them to secure funding and investment to take a product to market. We agreed that if the product was successful in going into the production stage we would be the sole design agency and all work done to that date would be billable.

“It turned out that wasn’t to be the case and in fact our initial brand and product packaging ideas would be taken to the manufacturer for their in house designers to work with, and we wouldn’t be paid.

“A month or so later we find our work featuring on the website of the individual, with no accreditation or mention of our contribution. They even took our ideas and found themselves on a well known BBC programme.”

Sixth Story spec design
Sixth Story design work

Read the full post on the Sixth Story blog: The dangers of speculative design.

Via @MatDolphin.

Powerhouse Museum tries crowdsourcing for Sydney Design, then pulls contest

“People are free to decide what they do with the efforts of designers of any stripe – that’s entirely ok. But when a publicly funded organisation (whose entire justification for their funding, and thus their existence, turns on promoting and championing design) chooses a crowdsourcing model, it’s incredibly disappointing to say the least.”

Quoted from this considered piece on desktop magazine:

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Written by Clinton Duncan.

The contest has since been pulled from the crowdsourcing website, due in part to the quality of many of the poster entries that were submitted (archived here on Limeworks).

Sydney Design poster

Obama crowdsourcing to support American jobs?

A tweet from Niki Bivona (@nikibivona) on Twitter says it all:

“RT @nospec Obama is now crowdsourcing a poster, about job creation. Irony.”

Obama, if you aim to support American jobs, then perhaps paying designers to create your campaign posters would be a good start.

US Department of Interior is crowdsourcing their logo?

Here’s a petition found via Twitter that you might be interested in.

@LogoMotives Petition: Stop the US Department of @Interior from Crowdsourcing a Logo | @nospec #nospec |

“The U.S. Department of the Interior currently has posted a design brief on ( asking for graphic designers to work for free in order to try to ‘win’ the prize of being paid for logo design and branding work. This is outrageous, especially coming from a branch of the U.S. Government.

“We are against crowdsourcing of logos due to the harm it typically does the company or organization as well as the damage it does to the general public’s understanding of the Graphic Design profession and the amount of work that really goes into logo development and branding. A branch of our U.S. Government supporting such practices is upsetting to us all. While crowdsourcing may appear like a win-win scenario on the surface for any company or organization, there are many reasons this may backfire and cause more harm than good.”

Read the rest here: Stop the US Department of Interior from Crowdsourcing a Logo

Our signature’s on the petition.

No more spec shooting!

If you plan on being in Las Vegas this Sunday, Ben Chen is scheduled to speak at the SPAA Convention.

SPAA: stands for Sports Photographers Association of America.

No More Spec Shooting!
Sunday, February 20, 2011, 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

“After more than 10 years of speculative shooting of several youth sports, Ben Chen was tired of spending 100 percent of his resources on 10 percent of the buying customers. So he began to shoot only when parents had prepaid for their kids. Chen has helped his already successful youth sports business become even more profitable. Come and learn how this is done so you can also say, “No more spec shooting!”
Speaker: Ben Chen, Action Snapshots Inc.”

Good luck Ben, and please get back to us when the conference is over.

Spec work and design students

We regularly receive letters from design students and those new to the design industry. In their correspondence the students often explain how they were not educated about spec, and/or were sent to contest sites by their instructors.

Earlier this year we discussed the subject with a design student, Thomas. One thing led to another and he agreed to share his experiences with you.


I am a university student in my final year for Graphic Design/Illustration. I actually started out in a medical degree but I took a chance that my hobby of drawing would provide a career. I was always told growing-up it would amount to nothing. Sadly, so far in the world of freelancing I am proving my parents right as there are starving artists, and my university professors have very limited guidance to the contrary.

My university has taught me the more published work I have the better my chances of finding work; therefore, online freelancing seemed to be the best choice. So I searched for every opportunity online I could find, and I asked my professors for guidance.

My professors seemed to know nearly nothing of online freelancing other than it does exist. They told me that a few of the students finishing the degree did freelancing online. Talking to the students wasn’t much better. They said I was competition and I was on my own.

Next I asked my professors about spec work and the contest sites online anyway. The best answer I got was the work was likely unpaid; however, with more questions and classroom instruction in the following weeks lead me to believe it was a necessary evil for all starting designers to prove themselves. It seemed that spec work was a way for designers to get started.

With no work in sight I started to sign-up to the sites. After searching for more information about 99designs, I came across the NO!SPEC website. Thankfully I found out what spec work truly was and what it does to designers and businesses alike. I can say I have not done any spec work, and have informed my fellow students of spec work and online freelancing.

In all honestly I learned a lot from my university time about software and design, but any training on real world (especially freelance) jobs was nothing. I got the feeling spec work was just the way things were done, and getting paid for any freelancing was the best to hope for. I feel a bit mislead and betrayed after all it seems most projects from my university have been nothing but spec work.

Many of our class projects seem to have been contest style spec work. We received a grade for the project; however, the projects were often for real world business use. All the students would work on the projects in the given details and create designs. Then a business would judge the projects and choose a design to use.

I hope my college training regarding freelancing and spec work is not typical, but sadly I imagine it is.

Thomas Cosby Jr


Thank you, Thomas (and apologies for this coming out so late).

If you are a design student, perhaps consider doing the same as Thomas did by educating students at your school. And it wouldn’t hurt if more instructors were equally knowledgeable about spec work.

On our site you’ll find a general section for students. All of the sections are chock-full of information so please don’t stop there. For instance, if you are looking to pad your portfolio, learning your way around pro bono work is a must.

By the way, if you’re a design student and would like to share your spec experiences, drop us a line.