When Saying No Politely Gets You In the Door


Just wanted to share a recent email exchange I had with a prospective employer who asked candidates to do a test design on a new project. I liberally stole and altered sections from an article posted on your site: “Why Speculation Hurts,” by Robert Wurth. I’ve taken out the name of the company and person I corresponded with.

Dear ###,

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to complete the design test. This week has been incredibly busy for me and I would have had to turn away paying jobs in order to work on it. In thinking about it, I’ve found that I feel this kind of test is not a good way to choose a designer. In my case, not only would it require me to pay for the privilege of being tested, because I would loose paying work, it also wouldn’t give you the information you’re looking for to make a hiring decision.

Without any briefs, discussions or research with ***, the design would lack the benefit of strategic thinking and would rely on speculative style. Even if you liked the way it looked, and it appeared to be on target, it wouldn’t show a design with the best solution.

When more information about the plan of action and goals of the project can be absorbed, design guesses are replaced with pragmatic insight. That way the designs develop with a context more relevant to ***’s business needs, and that makes for better working design solutions.

A single design doesn’t tell what a long-term relationship with the designer might offer. Also, the idea of working hard on a project unpaid, and one that I give up any rights to ownership of my work, on top of the possibility of being passed over would feel unfair and humiliating.

With that said, I’m sad to walk away from the possibility of working for ***. I really think it’s a brilliant approach to publishing and I would love to be a part of it. I truly wish *** all the best. This note is not meant as a rebuke, but rather an offering of a perspective you may not be aware of.


Hi Gregg,

Thank you so much for the email. I really appreciate your honesty and insight and I think you have some really valid points. I think you have a great resume and portfolio and would still love to bring you in to meet the team. I hope this is not a deal breaker and you would still be interested in coming in in person.

If so, would it be possible for you to come in early next week, either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday? I can work with your schedule to find time to meet with our VP of Marketing and some other team members.

I am off to the airport but will have access to email over the next few days so please let me know your thoughts. Again thank your for the email.


The SDGQ Denounces Speculative Work

La SDGQ nonce le travail specculatif

The article is in French. Below is the babelfish translation into English.

The Company of the graphic designers of Quebec (SDGQ) officially gave an opinion against speculative work, not remunerated. According to it, the companies should not need to see creative proposals to choose a studio; or they should, if necessary, remunerate them for carried out work.

The SDGQ rather recommends to the customers to select a designer according to its portfolio and its experiment. It recalls that it is always possible to interview various candidates to check their comprehension of the project.

(a big thanks goes to nomad2224, who sounded the alert)

Roger C Parker on NO!SPEC

Are you giving your designs away for free?

… tens of thousands of designers invest hundreds of thousands of hours each year in speculative work that either fails to create a client, or–worse–discourages the designer when their work is appropriated by others without any compensation whatsoever.

Do your fellow designers a favor by alerting them to the many valuable resources available at www.no-spec.com.

Thanks Roger!

Check out Roger’s informative posts at the Roger C. Parker Design to Sell Blog.

Speak Up and New York’s High Priority

A personal opinion

Fueled by passion for the design industry, a group of designers started the NO!SPEC campaign.

Been there, done that, it was our aim to educate young designers about the dangers of working on spec.

We wanted to help designers avoid getting ripped off in spec situations. We wanted to educate about working with contracts. We wanted to help them avoid spec jobs where they submitted work without a contract, only to discover later on that someone else rebuilt their designs at a lower cost.

We wanted to point out that creating new work for a design contest, where they signed away all rights to their work, was not exactly a smart business move.

We also wanted to educate clients on the damages of spec. We wanted to explain the differences between working closely with a designer and a detailed design brief, compared to picking one of the many pretty pictures they’d get from a design contest.

Straightforward, yes? I wish.

It’s a given that designers come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, financial needs, work and life philosophies, with opinions attached to the same. Taking that into account, among all the ‘here’, ‘there’ and ‘everywhere’, I’m seeing two strong camps emerging.

One I’ll call the ‘for the good of the industry’ types. They are designers who feel working on spec is harmful to the industry. For the good of the industry, they’ve decided to avoid contests where new work is a condition of the entry. Some call them ‘open contests’, I call them ‘grey’ because they are not always cut and dried (as in black and white, good vrs bad, etc). In theory, design orgs are mostly (but not always) in the ‘for the good of the industry’ category.

The other type I’ll dub ‘for the good of the individual’. They are also designers who are against working on spec. Unlike the ‘for the good of the industry’ types, they don’t see where open/grey competitions harm the design industry. You could say that throwing the baby out with the bathwater makes no sense to them.

Both camps above are seasoned designers, both have a deep love for the industry.

In and around there are those who feel their time is too valuable to waste on working on the speculation of getting a return, compared to those who see the time spent on open contests / grey competitions as a way to market their skills. Then there are those who use the competitions for design practice, and others who see it as all in good fun. Further in there are those who don’t know the difference between a spec contest or a design industry contest, a spec job offer or a real job offer, or even free pitching, open source, or working pro bono.

Then we have the buyers of design and contest organisers who often see contests as a solution to free design, as well as free publicity. They look at it as a win win.

All in all, it’s a no brainer that working on spec, or not, is a personal decision. The same goes with joining in on design competitions, open, grey, whatever.

Knowing this doesn’t mean I don’t jump up and down in frustration when a dark grey issue comes up, but that’s just me. I have strong opinions about the harm some so called ‘contests’ are doing to the industry. Just take a look around the internet and you’ll see design contests everywhere. Need a logo for your company? Have a contest. What about a free website design? Contest. Want free publicity for your company? Need to drive traffic to your site/blog? Have a contest, any contest. Sometimes a controversial contest is a ‘winner’.

I just have to ask, can’t people come up with anything more original than “Oh, let’s have a contest”? But truthfully, if I didn’t have strong opinions on the subject, I most likely wouldn’t feel driven to devote large chunks of unpaid time to the issues. Yeah, I’m working on the ‘speculation’ that it makes a difference.

To me, what’s equally important is the designer knowing what they are getting into. Many designers feel they’ve been burned by spec, usually caused by the lack of knowing what spec is and isn’t, and the lack of putting contracts in place. The client’s lack of education also comes into it. Like I said, that’s the reason we created the NO!SPEC campaign, to give designers a place where they could learn about spec, and where they can make their own decisions. The NO!SPEC site was also created to give seasoned designers a place where they could contribute ideas and opinions, argue about the finer points (grey/open), and in turn share the same with others.

Getting to the lovely debate on Speak Up and New York’s High Priority

– Winning illustration published in New York.

– Winner will be paid New York’s usual fee of $500.

– All other entries will be displayed on Speak Up, and New York will include a mention of the contest gallery in the magazine.

– All entrants retain property of their work. Winning entry will grant New York reproduction rights on the magazine as well as other promotional materials per New York’s usual agreements.

Yeah, it’s one of those situations where the ‘for the good of the industry’ types depart in opinion from the ‘for the good of the individual’ types.

Looking at it from the ‘for the good of the industry’ angle: One has to wonder what message this contest is sending to clients and designers. It’s difficult enough as it is to educate clients about spec without a leading design blog backing a contest calling for newly created work. New designers will be equally confused.

Looking at it from the ‘for the good of the individual’ angle: Forget the laughable US$500. It’s not about the money. It’s about the possibility of getting published in New York. Not only that, but as all entries will be displayed on Speak Up, they are not the dreaded ‘throw away designs’ usually generated for open/grey contests. Another plus, the designers keep the rights to their work.

Like I said, it’s a no brainer that each decision comes down to personal opinion, so I’ll give mine. Would I enter this competition? No. Even though I don’t see this as a totally awful competition (there’s that ‘C’ word again), I lean towards the ‘for the good of the industry’ stance. Also, bathwater or no, it comes down to the fact that my time is better spent on projects with a higher return (make of that what you will). But then, that’s just me. You have to make up your own mind.

Quoting from Darrel’s comment:

We’re graphic designers.
We’re corporate whores.
We all hate spec work.
Except when the whore is really really good looking.

So true, so true …

Catherine (cat) Wentworth
Project Manager:
Creative Latitude

Update:If you are interested in seeing the entries for the High Priority Contest, head on over to Speak Up as they’ve just been posted.

Veerle says “Free of charge please!”

Reading through the NO!SPEC stats, I noticed Veerle comes out with a word or three.

The purpose of creative pitches are to give clients a better understanding of the creative capacity of the selected agencies. To me it is a lame excuse to not browse around in the portfolios and let someone else do the work for free. I wonder what goes on in the mind of the people who write that stuff down, do they expect the freebies in everything else also?

The comments as they are equally well written. Check out her article, Free of charge please! Then scroll down for more.

suit 101 on NO!SPEC

Spec Work Hurts Graphic Designers

Clients want free work and ideas. As a creative professional you should just say NO!

About a year ago I was asked to bid on creating the design work for a magazine for a small liberal arts college. … We really like your work, they say, but we’d like to see a 4-page page mock up of what our magazine would look like if you redesigned it. At this point, my spidey sense is tingling and I politely agree to the request as long as they reimburse me for my time. We consider this an “audition”, I am told, and they will not pay for my services. This is spec work. Thanks, but no thanks, was my reply.

For the rest, go to Spec Work Hurts Graphic Designers

The Stapler on NO!SPEC

Dear Prospective Client

I understand your apprehension. I really do. Hiring an independent writer – or programmer, or graphic designer, or anyone else – can at first seem to be a scary enterprise. There’s a bunch of us out there, and no one wants to make a bad decision. Both time and money are at stake. It’s totally understandable that you want to guard against every contingency of being burned …

For the rest of this informative post, go to The Stapler – Dear Prospective Client

fadtastic on NO!SPEC

From fadtastic:

They have given over ideas that have not been completed under contract and could be used or could influence the client without them having to pay a penny and also they have condoned this whole approach by partaking in the first place!

Why do we accept this approach ladies and gents? Why do we allow people to make us work for free? Because they can. But why can they? Because WE let them.

So the time has come for us all to stand together, shoulder to shoulder and stand up and just say loud and clear “NO”.

Pig Work on NO!SPEC

From Pig Work:

The fact is if big fat wallets want to get five of us monkeys dancing on the chance one will get some money then it’s not a healthy situation for anyone. It devalues the designers and means when you do speculative work and don’t pull the contract you not only don’t get paid but you have to make that income back from real clients.

What’s particularly bad is its so ingrained into some industry heavyweights that its the only way they work. But it only works because we play the game.

Icograda on NO!SPEC

NO!SPEC would like to take this opportunity to thank Icograda’s Director, Brenda Sanderson for including the NO!SPEC launch in the Icograda Email News that went out to their members spread over the globe.

Icograda, the International Council of Graphic Design Associations is a heavy supporter of the fight against spec in the design industry, and one we are grateful to have on our side.

On a daily basis, we come across spec events. It is now apparent that what we imagined to be a hard task is, in all actuality, more difficult than we first thought. Truly, it is disconcerting to realize the depth of the situation facing us within our own industry. To combat this problem, it is our mission to gather together organisations and supporters from the Communication Design industry to make a difference in the campaign against spec.

Please contact us if you’d like to help in any way.