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AIGA Affirms ‘No Spec’ Stance

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In a world of crunched corporate budgets and proliferating online open calls, AIGA this week affirmed its longstanding policy against speculative work—work done prior to engagement with a client and in anticipation of being paid if selected. After reviewing the policy in the context of the changing marketplace, the AIGA board of directors maintains that spec work “can compromise the benefits of effective design for both clients and designers—and that a designer fully engaged in a client’s business challenges is necessary to an effective solution.” The professional association for design says that it recognizes that the decision to engage in spec work is up to individual designers. At the same time, AIGA is committed to making designers aware of the associated risks. “By providing educational information on what it means to do work without the promise of compensation, and the resulting risks for both the client and the designer, we hope to empower every designer to make an informed and intelligent decision on an individual basis,” said AIGA executive director Richard Grefé in a statement issued this week. Read on for AIGA’s full, updated position on spec work.

(Image: Von for No!Spec)


AIGA Position on Spec Work
AIGA, the professional association for design, believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for the value of their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients.

AIGA acknowledges that speculative work occurs among clients and designers. Instead of working speculatively, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into projects with full engagement to continue to show the value of their creative endeavor. Designers and clients should be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.

AIGA is committed to informing designers, students, educators, clients and the general public on the risks of compromising the design process though information, materials and services that can help in forging a healthy working relationship between designers and their clients.

Defining Speculative Work
Uncompensated design is not the same as spec work.

Speculative work—work done without compensation in the hope of being compensated, for the client’s speculation—takes a number of forms in communication design. There are five general situations in which some designers may work, by choice, without compensation:

  • Speculative or “spec” work: work done for free, in hopes of getting paid for it
  • Competitions: work done in the hopes of winning a prize—in whatever form that might take
  • Volunteer work: work done as a favor or for the experience, without the expectation of being paid
  • Internships: a form of volunteer work that involves educational gain
  • Pro bono work: volunteer work done “for the public good”

    For students and professionals, there may be a different line drawn on which of these constitute unacceptable practices. In each case, however, the designer and client make the decision and must accept the relevant risks. Most designers would consider the first two types to be unacceptable.

    In certain design disciplines, such as architecture, advertising, and broadcast design, business practices differ and professionals have been expected to participate in speculative work. This usually occurs in fields where the initial design is not the final product, but is followed by extended financial engagement to refine or execute a design. In communications design, this is often not the case. The design submitted “on spec” is all that the client is seeking.

    Spec work presents risks to both the client and the designer.

  • Clients and designers knowingly engaged in spec work share an equal responsibility to understand the potential risks and rewards:
  • Clients risk compromised quality as little time, energy and thought can go into speculative work, which precludes the most important element of most design projects—the research, thoughtful consideration of alternatives, and development and testing of prototype designs.
  • Designers risk being taken advantage of as some clients may see this as a way to get free work; it also diminishes the true economic value of the contribution designers make toward client’s objectives.
  • There are legal risks for both parties should aspects of intellectual property, trademark and trade-dress infringements become a factor.
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