Spec work. No two words can put me on the defensive faster. Personally I feel that it’s the practice that does more damage to our industry then anything else. It advocates and encourages a misrepresentation of value and misunderstanding of what the Design industry is, and it needs to stop.

So when I was pointed to Matt Mickiewicz speaking on disruptive innovation and speaking of his own co-founded venture 99designs, which crowdsources design projects (a form of working on Spec), I was, to put it lightly, ‘bothered’ by what was being communicated.

After calming down and watching the presentation for myself, the reasoning for wanting to disrupt the model of hiring a designer felt based on naiveté and misunderstanding.

“We realized the old process of hiring a graphic designer was fundamentally broken. Everyone would begin by asking their friend for recommendations searching the Yellow Pages or do a Google search looking for agencies or freelancers in their local area. They would reach out to those designers, review portfolios, obtain quotes and proposals, go in for pitch meetings, negotiate a timeline, so by the time you decide that you needed a logo and the time you actually sign a contract to get a logo, as much as a month of time could have elapsed, which quite frankly is absolute bullshit for the average small-business owner who’s better off investing their time and effort in sales and marketing and customer service and looking after the core competency building of the business.”

Mr. Mickiewicz continues,

“As well many of the customers that were talked to were frustrated with designers even after they hired them. Not only were they committing to pay $2,000, $5,000, $10,000 for a logo, but often times designers didn’t deliver on time, a better client would come along, the designer would get sick, go on vacation in the middle of the project, and their project would be stuck in limbo.

Even when a designer did deliver a project, many times the customers were unhappy. They’d be presented with an invoice, a design, and be told they would be charged $75, $100, $150, an hour or more if they want additional changes or revisions.”

So let me see if I can understand this: His view that the design process is “fundamentally broken” is based on a process that takes too long; designers not taking responsibility for their job; designers not being accountable to their ‘customers’; and ‘customers’ being unhappy that they would be charged if they wanted changes made once a project was completed and delivered.

He’s right. It sounds awful.

We only have ourselves to blame.

Spec work exists because designers and clients don’t value the work they do, and somewhere in the history of design services, designers stopped caring and believing that what they do is valuable. Design is a service industry. We as professional designers provide solutions to our clients.
That’s right kids: clients. Not customers.

This is a misrepresentation that get passed around. Design customers don’t buy a logo like a new dishwasher. They can’t browse the shelves for one that fits their needs, price and aesthetic. Design clients hire a designer to craft a logo that solves a specific need to that client. It’s custom. It’s tailored to specifications, and is ideally more valuable to the client because of what it communicates or represents.

Design is a process. It takes time. How much time is a variable that relies on participation, the relationship between the Designer and the Client. If a Designer is scheduling a project that requires Client contributions and feedback on specific dates, the project schedule is immediately affected if the Client has to reschedule. If a Designer fails to deliver work for an in progress review, and has to be pushed back, the schedule is similarly affected. Time is a sliding and shifting variable in client relationships. It’s up to the party making the schedule to explain how participation or lack of can affect things, and It’s up to both parties involved to understand this and know how to handle the situation if something is affected.

Can getting a contract signed for a project take a month? Sure. Hell, it could take six. It could also take 2 weeks, 1 day, or hours. It just depends on how much both parties are participating in the process.
Joint participation. (Are you sensing a theme?)

Are your clients unhappy? Why? Did you ask them?
Did you know you can?

The interactions between a Designer and a Client are based on a relationship. And like any relationship it involves communication and occasionally some cultivation. If your clients are unhappy with something you did, ask what it is they are unhappy with! If they are down right pissed-off, apologize! Then ask what it is they are unhappy with.

It’s about being accountable for the work we deliver.

We are expected to be responsible people. If you are working on a project, get sick and can’t work on it for a couple days, inform your client the schedule is going to shift. It happens. Put in some extra hours to get things back on track once you’ve recovered, and the Client will most likely understand.

They understand illness, sure, but vacations? Those take planning. If you are going to be going on vacation and you’re in the middle of a project you have a few options.

A) work your ass off to get things completed before you leave
B) inform your client of the situation and that the schedule will shift
C) work on it while on vacation (not my favorite option, but it is an option)
D) not schedule the project for while you’re on vacation.

Vacations don’t just pop up out of thin air. Pretending otherwise is insulting to the Client and the relationship that you’re trying to cultivate.

When Designers got scared — scared of losing clients, scared to ask for what a project was worth — the relationship balance between Designer and Client shifted into the Client’s favor.

But it can be shifted back into balance. The answer is education. First, we need to educate ourselves about effective client management, about the value of our work, and about our rights as professionals. Only then can we educate our clients.

It takes communication. It takes the ability to stand up for the decisions that went into producing a solution. It takes being able to present a solution with confidence. But most of all, it takes professionalism.

Design is most certainly a job. It’s about time we all start treating it like one again.

Edited by Alisa Bonsignore