Spec Work

March 23, 2007

Ah. Here is a nice Hydro Rant. Enjoy:
I’m beginning to be a firm believer that spec work is killing design and reducing the level of creative skill and production skill due to lower rates and taking advantage of designers alike.

When did the designer become lowest level of the business. When did we become production side of a multi-million dollar business. Granted, I am okay with certain aspects of it, since it is the nature of the beast, however when did we lose our voice and become cheap labor for companies?

This is what I propose. It’s a simple method because those who do spec work, myself included, do it because we enjoy our craft. We do enjoy the industries that we work in and for the most part want to be very successful designers. So this is the idea and i challenge you consider when given the opportunity to be part of this problem:

1. Define your rates and proposal.
2. Define any price breaks for more than 5-10 pieces selected.
3. Define usage permissions, may it be for 1 season only, or one year. I hate it when a company pays you $300 bucks for a piece that turns into a common item on their line.
4. Work up cost difference between something that is Illustrated and something that is throw together. You should know the difference.
5. Know your own personal worth. Very important. If you are new, don’t charge a lot, you need the experience.
6. Set up a small base rate per each comp with a cap limited. Example, set up $25 for each comp supplied up to 10 comps. if a piece is selected, then you deduct that rate from the chosen cost which could be $300 per piece. If the client only selects 2 pieces out of 10, then at least you were paid a small fee for your ‘comp’ time.
7. The designer owns all work. Don’t be afraid of buy out fees for illustration work.
8. Know your clients. If they are cool to work with, you can ignore a lot of the rules because you know they have your best thoughts in mind.
9. Very important as well. Most clients are like us, they are Creative Directors or Art Directors on deadlines and are stressed. If you work with them, they will try to get you the right funds on the project. So be professional and nice when your setting up your rates and system.

In the end, try to take control of your work. You’ll know if the client is someone who has your back or if they are trying to take advantage of you to fill their line. The clients who work with you and understand your position are ones that you’ll build the best relationships with.

I’m not suggesting that you should give up spec work. A lot of designers make good money from this, but i’m suggesting you gain control over the process and define your terms. I hope this helps you. Or maybe I’m off base, but please comment, would love to hear you thoughts.


10 Responses to “Spec Work”

  1. BTHuman said

    “…when did we lose our voice and become cheap labor for companies?”
    Seriously, Ive been working as a designer since 1999 and many times found myself making a burger-flipping wage. Part of the problem is that artists are a dime-a-dozen in our area. So if you won’t work for what a company will offer, then you won’t work at all. Then those same companies can under sell you on artwork so you can’t really compete freelance either.

  2. Chris said

    wonderful post.

    I’m setting up my company more professionally and this post has been some inspiration. thanks.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I’m actually in a huge problem with a company. When I first came on the project I was 17 and still couldn’t sign a contract, so that formed a problem. Anyways, I’m here down the road not even a year later and I still haven’t been paid and when I talked to the people they were expecting me to be doing all of this just for fun.

    All in all, thanks for posting this. I enjoy reading other peoples thoughts on this!

  4. KLASSIC82 said

    hydro speaks the truth……

    thanks for being such an influence, and just being around….keep up all the work man!


  5. PT said

    Cheers for the helpful information.

    Peace. PT

  6. MQ said

    Words of wisdom. and I thank you greatly. I’m undercut too often…or rather I’m selling myself cheap too often. But that is going to change.


  7. Joe said

    Seriously, after reading your blog every [work] day I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s very unfortunate the other talented designers like yourself don’t give back to the design community as much. It’s like they’re hiding in their studios, hording their design secrets and tips to themselves. 🙂

    Great article by the way. Definitely gives me something to think about.

  8. Dimex said

    Thanks for the advise, it is true how many freelancing artist do get ripped off, when it comes to pay time.
    stay up.

  9. Hahaha- Great!
    I wonder why this came about?..
    And good design is not a dime a dozen. Good companies can afford good people.

  10. josh-
    great post. i have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but i’m tired and i don’t want to bore you to tears, so i’ll try to keep it short.

    1. supply and demand
    there are a ton of designers out there fighting for the same piece of the pie. since supply greatly exceeds demand, it’s a buyer’s market. sure, you say, but there aren’t a million GOOD designers out there… which brings me to my next point:

    2. mediocre is usually good enough
    for most applications, average design is good enough. only in cases where the audience is extremely design sensitive will it make a difference, and generally the design buyer is a hack and doesn’t know the difference between good and bad anyway.

    3. designers usually don’t think strategically
    designers have become the people that “put a stripe on it” after marketing and/or engineering come up with the idea. they complain about it, but they don’t do much to change it. if designers can indisputably show that they’re adding value to the bottom line, they’ll be able to charge accordingly (just like, say, a roofer or accountant). until then, it’s very subjective… which means they probably will get paid as little as possible.

    4. there isn’t a lot of money in entertainment and action sports
    perhaps for people like yourself that are at the absolute top of the food chain, the money is good (i wouldn’t know, since i am only an OK designer). but for the most part, there simply isn’t a lot of money in these industries. even the big companies are incredibly cheap when it comes to design. on the other hand, i also work with big consumer goods companies like Procter & Gamble that will spend $100,000 on exploratory concepts without batting an eyelash.

    anyway, that’s my $.02 for whatever it’s worth. i don’t mean to sound negative. thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

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