Spec work, why I don’t do it

In the designer community, there’s a discussion about spec work. I was just listening to a podcast about it that was going on at SXSW 2009. Although a few guys from the audience are just be butt wipes trying to make a point, the initial discussion is pretty interesting.

Now, I can start a whole lentghy blog post dissecting sites like Crowdspring or 99designs, but I won’t. I’m just going to say why I don’t do spec work as a designer. I respect the people that do as well as the clients that create competitions on sites like these to get their work done.

Here’s why

I don’t do spec work because, in short, my time is too valuable, and it adds no value to my learning curve. Popping (no pun intended) out designs for a project that I might not even get to work on is not my idea on learning more about design, clients and skills. I design sites because I understand my client’s business.

Learning curve

“Throwing it against the wall and see if it sticks” doesn’t teach me anything. Sure, I can create web templates and post them on one of the sites mentioned earlier, but if I don’t win with that design, who will tell me the reason why it didn’t win?
That’s why I like The Web Squeeze. It’s a group of really talented people who are willing to help each other and really pointing out strong and weak points on designs. I’d rather design a template without a client (and no pay) and show these guys getting some constructive criticism than “trowing my designs against a wall” without feedback.


Time is money, and although I value experience more than money, I have to make a living. Creating spec designs, hoping someone will “bite” is a waste of time to me. Ok, if I win every top-dollar competition on Crowdspring, it will bring in money, but it will not make me a better designer and it’s very unlikely to happen.

Clients are stupid

Before you say “Mark is an ass”, I’d like to say that I’ve heard this one time and time again, and I DON’T agree with it. Clients aren’t stupid at all (ok, some are, but those are exceptions). They probably, and hopefully, know more about their industry than you do, that doesn’t make you stupid, does it?
Why do I address this? Because most clients that use sites like Crowdspring or 99designs simply don’t know how to find a good designer, and assume they are getting their money’s worth by using one of these sites. Here’s where your marketing comes in. I could focus all my attention online, and trying to get clients online, but instead, I’m focusing on my local market. I’m trying to create a buzz locally, so I don’t have to use spec work. So far, all (except one) my clients are local and I got them through word of mouth. I was able to talk to them in person and really sit down with them to get the same vision as they have as for where they want their business to go. Because of that, I have happy clients who are willing to pay an extra buck or two for me to get their job done.

Your turn

How about you? Do you do spec work? Tell me why, or why not.

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