Why the NO SPEC Movement Isn’t Working. And, Why That’s so Awesome!

June 21, 2010 - By 

Here are some words and a short video about spec work that I have been trying to organize ever since my NO SPEC rant on a GSG Live Cast last month.

Why NOSPEC isn’t working

Spec work isn’t going away and no amount of worrying or complaining will stop it. There are a TON more educated motion designers with inexpensive tools and an internet connection then there ever have been and this opens up markets that wouldn’t be possible otherwise (crowdspring, threadless, online contests). Of course, these things drive prices down. This is happening in almost every creative industry out there.

The internet, inexpensive tools, and free training (my fault) are making it a level playing field for everyone. But, it also kills existing and traditional business models.

Digital cameras killed the traditional photography biz. Craigslist and blogs killed phone books and newspapers. Boutique animation shops killed the traditional big post house. Thats a bad thing, of course, if you run an “Traditional” business and you should be scared. But, all these same things also give ANYBODY the opportunity to make great shit. Great work trumps everything. This is the revolution. This is awesome!

Let Artists Decide

Artists should have the choice to participate in spec work.

If no artists participate, then there is no spec work. Simple as that. But, people DO participate. Most are glad that they do. There are no lies being spun or promises that aren’t kept.

The rules are put out there and people choose to participate. Sure, feel free to let designers know your stance on spec work.

Even write a letter to the organizer. But, you are usually wasting your breath. Because, It’s not the organizers of contests that make spec work. It’s the designers that choose to participate. Designers CHOOSE to participate in these projects.

They aren’t forced.

Who Are They Saving?

So, clients are happy that there are less expensive ways to get great design and many designers seem happy to participate in these contests or give a croudsourcing project a try.

So, who is the NO SPEC movement trying to save?

They are trying to keep things like they were before the revolution happened. Seems that the only people complaining are either trying to save their old business model, or they have a nostalgic and romantic view about design and the design process.

Stop trying to save an out of date business model, and start to embrace the future. A future where practically everybody has a copy of Photoshop. A future where almost everybody has the tools and the knowledge to make great work, stand out, and be noticed.

Stop whining about your business model and make great work instead. The rest will take care of itself.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about the NO SPEC movement and about spec work in general. In what way do they effect what you get paid? Have you lost money to spec work? Is there anything we can do about it? I would love to continue this discussion in the comments. Or, @ reply me on twitter and give me your thoughts. See you there.

More thoughts about Spec Work

Posted In:  Ideas
173  comments
173 Comments
  • I wonder how many people would participate if they didn’t have a pirated version of photoshop and illustrator

  • I really liked your vlog buddy and I agree with you, we cannot stop it..

  • I’m a web designer and I won’t use crowd-sourced logos in my designs. You want pro, you have to go pro. It’s exploitation, plain and simple. No one who gets the outsourced crowdsourced logo wants to work for free – they just want to spec designs for free. It’s hypocritical, and it’s nothing new. This sort of exploitation of talent has been going on since before the middle ages. It’s not going away, but we don’t have to call it “a cool idea” it’s just not.

  • spec work is crap,modern day slavery for designers

  • I rewrote one of your paragraphs…

    Let Women Decide
    Women should have the choice to participate in the sex trade. If no women participate, then there is no sex trade. Simple as that. But, women DO participate. Most are glad that they do. There are no lies being spun or promises that aren’t kept. The rules are put out there and women choose to participate. Sure, feel free to let women know your stance on spec work. Even write a letter to the police chief. But, you are usually wasting your breath. Because, It’s not the pimps that make the sex industry. It’s the women that choose to participate. Women CHOOSE to prostitute themselves in these encounters. They aren’t forced.”

  • Interesting article but I disagree with your comment that “There are no lies being spun or promises that aren’t kept.”. You can see from reading the comments on these contest sites that many designers are getting annoyed with rules not being properly enforced by the crowdsourcing sites – issues range from fraud to copyright infringement. Clients and designers alike are up to dodgy tricks on these sites and you can see examples on SPECWATCH.

    Because someone participates in something voluntarily, it doesn’t mean it’s not exploitative! So if I give little 5 year old Tom $1 a week to go 50ft down a coal shaft and spend 12 hours a day down there, that’s ok because he wants to do it? An extreme example, but that’s the logic that “no one forces them to do it” seems to be based on – free will. And how many contests do you know where it’s perfectly fine to terminate before awarding a prize and to ask entrants to revise their contributions multiple times?

    A lot of designers are not aware that in many instances, they cannot use the work they produce in their portfolio due to strict NDAs. If they want to gain experience, why not do spec work for a charity – someone who really needs creative design with a minimal budget, rather than for a profit-driven entity who may or may not give you the job?

    The vast majority of winning designs I have seen were in no way the most professionally designed entries and some were just plain wrong, even from an objective design viewpoint. It hardly encourages healthy creative flow for other budding designers who maybe don’t have the opportunity or money for a professional course so see a shoddy winning entry and think “Ah…so that’s how I should have done it!”

    To those living in countries where their currency isn’t as strong as the dollar, I absolutely hear you that the internet opens up ways of earning a living that might not have been available previously. However, I would encourage designers to set their own rates and price depending on the individual project requirements – either using one of the typical freelance sites or if you have some experience (e.g. from not for profit organisations/friends, etc. as I mentioned above) and a portfolio, get yourself a website, learn lots about marketing and have a go at it alone. If you’re good enough at design and marketing, there’s no reason why you can’t make money away from these contest sites.

    In response to Joseph’s comment about it being just as bad to potentially have to pay for something you might not like – would you expect to try a meal at a restaurant and then not pay for it if you didn’t like it? Sure, if it was undercooked or had a hair in it, then the restaurant would be obliged to bring you another meal or refund your money.

    If it just wasn’t to your taste, then that would just be unfortunate but presumably you would have made your menu choice based on recommendation from a friend who’d had that dish, or because it featured one of your favourite ingredients, for example. Obviously, if you ordered venison and didn’t really like game all that much, then that’s another story.

    The point I’m trying to make is there is a difference between objective and subjective views on a designer’s work. It boils down to clients doing research, asking designers the right questions to ascertain their suitability, looking at their portfolio, asking for testimonials – all the usual things you’d do when hiring someone who’s offering a professional service. I don’t see why designers should be treated any differently. Most designers won’t ask for full payment up front regardless – this usually happens in stages as each element is approved.

  • Reading through many of the comments, my sense is that a lot of up and coming designers are excited about learning and creating, but are unrealistic about actually surviving. The “spec” issue is really only a symptom of a larger problem for anyone working in any creative industry now: supply and demand. 15 years ago when I opened a motion design shop, we would land 50-100k projects on average, and now those same clients–people that I already have a long standing relationship with–are handing out 2-5k projects, and still expecting the same amount of work. They do it because they can, and it’s their job to stretch their budgets as far as possible. I know for a fact that big-name shops with huge reels, top designers and large sales forces are taking big losses on jobs for 60k that have 700 deliverables, take 3 months, and a team of 6-8 designers, just to try to develop new business. A quick look through jobs on Motionographer turns up numerous offerings for $150/day, which, in Washington State, would be a *minimum wage* job. That meanins that knowing Cinema, After Effects, PS, etc, well enough to work in a professional environment is as economically valuable as knowing how to lift a box, dig a hole, wave a sign on a corner, or work in fast-food. I don’t have a solution, and I’m not clinging to an old business model, but anyone who thinks they’ll be ok if they can just “work hard” and “stand out” is fooling themselves.

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