Disadvantages of Spec Work

In the web industry speculative work (or free pitching) is doing any work / samples for clients before agreeing to pay a fee or compensation.


For example: Spec or Free Pitching: “We need 3 landing page designs, someone design one for us and we will pick the one we like.”

“Design pitches” are one of the most familiar forms of spec and one of the most serious. A company will put out a request for a prototype (eg. a website design) inviting anyone and everyone to submit their take. Often hundreds of companies will submit a prototype, but only the chosen work, the winner, and that company will be paid… and that is not even guaranteed – even on prepaid contests.

Here below are the disadvantages of spec work:

1. Chance Of Plagiarised Work

One of the top most reasons not to use prototype competitions is the fact that so many of the designs are copied from elsewhere. There have been numerous, numerous reports on theft from elsewhere especially within the web design industry.

It goes without saying that this can get you into a lot of legal trouble if caught with plagiarised work.

2. Unoriginal Ideas & Designs

More often than not, companies who enter these pitches are often using semi-custom/template work, which means the work is unoriginal and may have been used for another client. In some cases, it can lead to problems many months down the track, such as when a rejected design gets used for another pitch. There are also numerous examples of this happening to many unfortunate business owners.

3. No Protection

Most professional companies have an agreement or contract that they send to their clients… these contracts protect both the client and the designer while also establishing a trusting, working relationship. In nearly all jobs posted on design contest sites, there is no contract whatsoever which leaves the client and company at a much higher risk throughout the whole design process. Who owns the copyright? What are the restrictions for the prototype? What are the terms and conditions?

4. No Research or Development

Most professional companies will have some form of questionnaire for clients to fill out to ensure that the final prototype will be reflective of the needs of the business and target market, unlike contest sites.

For an example see either my design brief page or my website design questionnaire.

Without these vital components, the “company” is only producing decoration, not solving the problem of what the end design should be communicating.

5. Limited or No Revisions

Revision rounds are almost non-existent in the context of a pitch. Sure, a pitch winner could be hired again after being chosen to make a few changes, but in a true client-designer relationship this communication would be constant. The end result would be a collaboration instead of guesswork.

6. Unproductive Time Wasting

Designing via pitches takes a lot of time… a client will have to spend numerous hours commenting and looking through the submitted prototypes picking and choosing what the “best” prototype is.

7. Little Communication & Involvement In The Design Process

When working with a professional company you collaborate together throughout the whole design process to achieve the desired outcome. From creating the first initial design brief, right through to the sketches, brainstorming, development, feedback, revisions and delivery.

When designing on spec, all you provide is a short (often less than a paragraph) design brief and then receive the prototype. There is no involvement… let alone after sale customer support.

8. Negative Relationship Built On Distrust

If potential clients are asking one or several designers to show work, they are immediately establishing a negative relationship. Instead of building a long lasting relationship with a single company, they are often asking several companies to submit work with little contact between any of them.


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