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The High Cost of Free

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As someone who has done their fair share of work on the side for free, it’s always painful to be reminded that you might be doing more harm than good, as it probably does to many of you. Sure, you may have laid out that invitation for your friend’s brother’s best friend’s Love Boat theme party for free, but in doing so, you caused a very talented designer, one who has several hungry children and can draw a mean Gavin MacLeod, to lose out on yet another job. Granted, we use an example here to be funny (at which we usually fail), but we wanted to segue into this conflict of to spec or not to spec. On one hand, we read this essay about how disastrous spec work is to the industry: “The Value of Canadian Design” over at Ideas on Ideas this week. And we thought, “Right on!” But then we read this press release (which always take a very subjective approach to their topics) about the Art Institute of California in San Francisco offering pro-bono design work for non-profits, charities, etc. About which we thought, “Awwww,” as if holding the cutest puppy in the world. So we’re understandable conflicted, as we’ve always been in this weird creative existence. But we tend to still lean more in favor of the spec work in most cases, because it’s this writer’s thinking that you’re rarely running into places asking for spec work via contests or otherwise who really can afford to do something else. And spec work, to us, often gives an excuse to do something new instead of keeping on familiar paths. We don’t know though. To each their own.

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