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.


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.

Forbes Says Designers are Snooty

Two weeks ago, Christopher Steiner, a senior reporter with Forbes Magazine, sent me an email with FORBES MAGAZINE QUERY!!! in the subject line.

After a back and forth with Christopher, interviews were set up with top designers in the industry. Busy designers, who agreed to take time out of their workload to talk via phone with Christopher.

Designers such as…

The fabulous Debbie Millman of Sterling Brands, Design Matters (Voice of America), author of How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer and Essential Principles of Graphic Design, and board member of the National AIGA.

Also included was popular logo designer Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, bLog-oMotives, author of The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success and Identity Crisis!, as well as member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, UCDA Designer Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, and HOW Design Conference Advisory Council.

The first interviews were missed. The second missed too. With no explanation. No email of apology from Christopher.

The next thing we know, Christopher’s article ad is out with this charming blurb in bold…

Xxxx aims to slash the cost of graphic design work–and democratize a snooty business.

Way to go Forbes.

This is not a well researched, balanced article. It’s an ad for yet another bottom feeder in the design industry. That, and a testament to Christopher’s professionalism. And Forbes, well… what does it say about Forbes?

David Airey was the first to post opinions with Forbes calls designers snooty. Design Observer’s Observed section sported a blurb, as did SpeakUp’s Quipsologies. Swiss Miss then came in with Forbes calls designers snooty. Steph Doyle posted about the subject with Forbes Promotes Graphic Design Kitsch. Brian Yerks came out with one of his own. As did Steve from the LogoFactory, with Design is a “snooty” business: Forbes. Then Jeff Andrews posted Forbes Magazine: Graphic Design is a Snooty Business. The design forums are debating this subject as we speak.

UPDATE: Debbie Millman has now been asked by AIGA to ‘chair a task force in an effort to understand the various sentiments about this practice in both the design community and the broader creative community, and report back to the National Board our findings and potential recommendations at the National Board retreat in April, and to share these findings at the Leadership Retreat in June.’

If anyone would like to contact Deb about this matter, follow this link to AIGA’s discussion on spec.

This morning Terri Stone, editor in chief at, requested an interview on the subject of working spec. Knowing Terri as I do, it’s sure to be a professional, well researched article.

Aquent, 99Designs and the Design Industry

Mark Rushworth just contacted us about a post he’s written, Aquent Vs the Design Industry.

Seems Aquent thought it was a good idea to post a contest at 99Designs. Hmmm…

How could a company such as Aquent (connected to the AIGA), be so out of touch with the design industry? If they didn’t want to take on board what AIGA had to say (and seems they didn’t), then all they had to do was google 99Designs and read a few of the opinions out there from established designers. Right?

Please check it out as it is interesting reading…

Qbn: aquent site redesign-spec work
Aquents blog: Design Contests: Betrayal of Everything We Stand For?
Aquents Facebook: Redesign Aquent’s Homepage

From Aquent: First of all, I view this as an experiment. What can we get if we take this approach? We could get a bunch of junk, which would reinforce the idea that you can’t get good design this way. Maybe we’ll get something good. Maybe someone who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to show their stuff will get noticed. Who knows?

Well, I guess they know now.

NO!SPEC Posters: Poster by Dagmar Jeffrey

Dagmar Jeffrey of Archetype Design Studio has contributed the striking poster below for our collection – Spec: The Real Monster Thanks Dag!

Spec: The Real Monster

Dag’s poster can be downloaded here.

As before, check out posters by 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.

99designs: Bullshit 2.0 | I’m a Proud Weenie! | Blowing Competitions Up, and Other Acts of Good Citizenship

Spec Conversation Roundup:

graphicPUSH: 99designs: Bullshit 2.0

Kevin: “99designs was started by designers for designers”. I am struggling to form the intensely negative, logic-dismantling superlatives I need to accurately convey the sheer depth of absolute bullshit this clump of words was pulled from. This is one of the most hollow and forced statement I have ever seen. It insults everything about the real-world graphic design industry and the hard-working professionals that make a living building long-term client relationships, crafting deep and varied portfolios, and routinely putting their blood, sweat and tears into their work.

Freelance Switch: Freelance Radio, Episode 12: I’m a Proud Weenie!

FS: This episod’s theme is spec work. We talk about our own opinions on the controversial issue, and also refer repeatedly to the No Spec project.

Design Altruism Project: Blowing Competitions Up, and Other Acts of Good Citizenship

David Stairs: From the last weeks of summer onward I am bombarded with e-mail urging me to involve students in ‘œreal world’ design situations. Without sounding too cynical about the practice, it seems to me that the outside solicitations of my students’ involvement are a means for organizations and/or corporations to garner spec work and public relations kudos under the guise of being good neighbors.

Separate conversations. Various takes. All worthwhile.

From the Logo Factor: Are Logo Design Contest Sites Even Legal?

Steve’s written a thought-provoking article at the Logo Factor Design Blog: Are Logo Design Contest Sites Even Legal?

Steve: I’m of the opinion that logo design contests, not the cute effort where the local church asks the kiddies to design some artwork for the Sunday picnic, but these logo design contest sites popping up everywhere on the web, are skirting very close to the law, if not breaking it altogether.

Here’s toasting to the prediction of more than one logo contest site will start a mad scramble for legal council. It’s a long post so sit back with a cuppa and enjoy.

Once again, a nice one Steve.

NO!SPEC Posters: George Gruel Poster Contribution

Awhile back, George Gruel of contacted NO!SPEC about creating a poster design. As you can see below, it’s a welcome addition to our poster downloads section. Ta Chad!

Spec is a four letter word poster download

Chad’s poster can be downloaded here.

As before, check out posters by 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.

Dear NO!SPEC: The Two Faces of Spec in the Music Business


In the music business, ‘spec’ has 2 faces.

As a composer, I have seen many situations similar to the graphic design examples as you describe. Most independent film-makers do not think to budget any money for music. At the very low end, they simply use their favorite CD’s, thinking they won’t get caught. Many enlist musician friends or local bands to provide music. There are those who have professional knowledge and, like bar owners, don’t want to pay for music. They know many musicians are willing to do it free and unaware of the legalities.

They offer exposure (as if they can provide it) and often run contests like the ones you describe. Usually, the terms dictate full ownership of the work with no compensation for the artist and perpetual license for the producer. One such film offer, recently posted on CL (craigslist), promised exposure in a movie distributed world-wide. Upon scrutinizing their contract, there was no provision addressing copyright, publishing, performance rights, licensing or performance reporting. I declined to send any music.

As all my musical works are copyrighted, owned by me and licensed through BMI, a ‘spec’ film can be profitable if all the proper contracts are signed. If a producer has already secured distribution or air-time, then there will be a performance royalty. If the producer agrees to file broadcast and theatrical performance logs, then it can be worth it for me to waive license fees. Even a full custom score can be worth doing for ‘free’ if the paper work is done right and there is a retail or broadcast revenue stream. Ownership of publishing rights and especially copyright would have to be a separate part of such an agreement.

In the recording studio, ‘spec’ means something entirely different.

It means the band wants you to record them for free because they are so good.

“You are undoubtedly rich because you own gear, and being so lucky, you owe the world something back for it, so why not start with our band? We are so amazingly great that you will make millions from recording our album.”

The truth-

The band usually does not get signed, More often than not, they break up within months of the recording, which languishes on the shelf.

If the band gets signed-

Any recording that has not been released AND sold 10,000+ copies is considered a demo and will be re-recorded by the record company with funds LENT TO THE ARTIST FROM FUTURE SALES which are collected first ahead of any payments to the band itself.

There is no royalty structure for engineers. If you mixed it for free, you’re screwed.

The record company will not recognize or honor any ‘spec’ commitment made by the band before their involvement. The producer of the original recording will not qualify for any percentage from the label unless his recording is released by them. He will get 3% of the net if it is. Most often, a new producer is assigned by the label and the old recordings are forgotten. Inevitably, both the band and label’s attorneys will insist that the original studio and producer need not be paid and will not have the strength to fight the issue.

Occasionally, a band makes it just like the fairy-tale and the original ‘raw’ rccord is a hit, elevating both band and producer. To say it happens once in every 100,000 such bands would be quite generous. The problem is that these instances are portrayed in promotional materials and media as commonplace, enforcing the belief by millions of young musicians that any ‘producer’ can make them famous.

As a studio owner, ‘spec’ means ‘free’, so the band better be really important to you to record them for nothing. Since studio reputations are best spread by word of mouth, it can be advantageous to record a group for free simply to get them hawking your services around town. Know that this is a give away and any speculative deal with the artist would have to be honored by them out of their own pocket. The label will not recognize your involvement unless they are buying a successfully distributed product.

With advent of online distribution, this may change. Nonetheless, a solid understanding of copyright, performance rights and mechanical royalties is crucial for a studio dealing with original artists.

I hope this viewpoint is useful to you. Keep up the good work.

Brian ‘Cousin B’ Ascenzo
Location; Las Vegas

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)