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Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for  Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, is the author of "The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career;" released by HOW Design Books in 2004. He can often be found preaching what he practices through speaking engagements at creative industry events around the country and writing for various design-related magazines and webzines. For more information about the designer's work click the link below.

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motives.com

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With each Creative Latitude update, Logo Notions will alternate essays on various aspects of logo design and multi-question interviews with industry professionals specializing in the creation of identity, from design icons to those working in the trenches. In addition, recent or new books, focusing on the design of logos, will be reviewed. Other books that may be helpful to designers in overcoming the challenges of identity design will also be recommended. – Jeff Fisher
Say NO!LOGO to speculative “contests” and identity design requests
By Jeff Fisher, Engineer of Creative Identity, Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

The online postings and personal invitations are tempting. The opportunity to possibly have your design selected as the “winning design” for use as the identity for a business or organization may be intriguing. At times there are even prizes – cash and otherwise – to entice a designer to submit creations for the “contest.” Still, such situations are nothing more than speculative, or “spec,” design. With the introduction of the international NO!SPEC crusade I have asked identity designers contributing to past Logo Notions articles to share their personal experiences, feelings and advice on the topic of speculative work situations.

Have I personally participated in such “contests?” Yes, especially early in my career when I naively thought such efforts were a great way to market and promote my work.

I never considered getting involved in such activities when the recipient of the final work was a for-profit venture. I even won several such contests for non-profit organizations – until I really began to understand that my participation in these speculative events was devaluing my own work. I was also compromising my ability to actually make a living by directing my most valuable resources – my time and talent – to attempting to “win” what was a process that only benefited those conducting the contest.

I should clarify the difference between design “contests” and design “competitions.” Contests are most often calls for submissions for designers to create new work for the possible selection by an organization or, more and more often, a for-profit business. In such situations, designers are being asked to submit speculative work. Design competitions are events held to review and judge work already created by designers for existing clients. There’s a huge difference in the two.

Calvin Lee, of Mayhem Studios, has also been enticed by “contest” promotions and participated in logo contests and spec work for prospective employment when he “was a novice designer, straight out of school and did not know any better.”

“I think every new designer has fallen for the logo contest and spec work in general and I understand where they are coming from,” says Lee. “They think, that by entering the contest, they will receive exposure, experience and great piece for their book and they don't realize that businesses are taking advantage of their naiveté.”

Lee adds, “I am totally against logo contests and any type of spec work now. It's unethical and devalues the expertise and skills of designers everywhere.  We need to educate and increase awareness - to companies, businesses and designers – in regards to spec work being wrong.”

“During my career I have never participated in any such contest,” according to Madelyn Wattigney of Creative Madhouse. “Everyone is out to get something for nothing even if it means taking advantage of another’s talents and these types of contest usually prey upon the young designer attempting to earn a bit of recognition.”

“In the end the small amount of recognition earned is more detrimental to the graphics community on a whole,” Wattigney says. “These contests slowly defeat the efforts so many are trying to make in regards to graphic design industry standards.”

Cheryl Roder-Quill, owner of angryporcupine*design has never participated in logo design “contests.”

“I don’t recall ever being asked to design a logo, in a ‘contest’ type scenario, where I’m competing against other creatives -or my studio is competing against other creative firms,” says Roder-Quill. “Design competitions that I’ve entered are for work that’s already been completed for clients so that doesn’t really apply.”

“I’ve never done a design contest that offers compensation for the winner - and I see this type of ‘contest’ as the worst kind of spec work because it’s so misleading and it targets young and inexperienced designers,” according to Fresh Oil’s Dan Stebbings. “In reality, it’s an insult to young designers to suggest that they need this sort of boost - even if it is a big name that’s offering the contest.

“If companies or organizations want to give young designers a boost; ask for portfolios, identify the best candidate for the job or project, and hire them,” Stebbings adds. “Let them get real experience.”

Judith Mayer, of Keyword Design, has not found herself in logo contests either. However, at committee meetings she attends for various fund-raisers someone often suggests a contest for event artwork.

“They always think it would be a great way to include kids and I usually explain that I think a child might not be the best choice to create their marketing materials,” conveys Mayer. “I explain that in getting 100 kids to work for them and only compensating one they are exploiting the children – and that usually works to sink the idea.”

Gianluigi Tobanelli, of Studio GT&P, says that he has not seen the “contest” trend yet arrive in Italy. He claims his biggest problem as a designer is getting paid once the work is finished.

A history of “spec” doesn’t make it right for today

John Wingard, of John Wingard Design, brings up a historical perspective on speculative work. He mentions that, although he doesn’t agree with the “cattle call” approach, ‘spec” competitions have been happening for a very long time and aren’t limited to the profession of graphic design.

“In 1418 Brunelleschi got the gig to design and oversee the construction of one of the most amazing structures in Renaissance Architecture – the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore,” say Wingard. “After “winning” the contract he got 200 Flourins, which was the equivalent to 2-years pay for the average man.”

“So, while the spec problem isn’t new, there seems to be more and more of them happening,” Wingard adds. “I’ve been approached with these ‘opportunities’ and usually just say ‘No thanks’ - and sometimes don’t even respond.

Wingard also mentions that it is standard in the Advertising world to have 3-5 agencies competing for a piece of business. In these cases the potential gains are substantial. Coming into the design profession through an advertising education, I was taught to expect this as an accepted method of doing business.

Wingard says, “Sorting out the differences between an RFP (Request for Proposal), where several companies compete for business and a “cattle call” for entries is the key.”

Many of these RFP’s include a request for creative concepts – which I’ve always considered “spec work.” That is why I do not respond to such submission requests. In fact, this manner of doing business is one of the reasons I no longer work with ad agencies at all. “Because we’ve always done it (RFP’s including ‘spec” concepts) this way” is not a good enough reason for me to accept the practice for my business today.

Wingard suggests that when asked to compete with other designers or agencies it is important to ask yourself some important questions: 1.) How many hands are in the pot?; 2.) Will this be a substantial piece of business?; 3.) How much exposure will this give me?

“Usually it's just not worth it,” concludes Wingard.

“Spec” work as a condition of being hired

Over the years I’ve received many requests for “spec” work as a condition of being hired to do a job. I just don’t participate in such situations. When confronting such potential clients, with the explanation that they should be able to judge my identity design capabilities by my past work, they most often respond with something like: “Well, there are plenty of designers willing to present us some ideas prior to being hired.” There is the major problem - and the major challenge for the NO!SPEC campaign.

Just a couple years ago I received a call from an individual wanting to discuss the creation of a new identity for his soon-to-open restaurant and bar. Such projects have always been among my favorites. I prepared a marketing packet - which included a brief on how I work, a range of costs, a project agreement and other information – and sent it to the man. We then set up a date to meet.

I should have known I was in trouble, and trusted my “gut instinct,” when we first met and he mentioned that he hadn’t even looked at my marketing materials since he doesn’t have time to read everything he gets in the mail. Still, the meeting continued with the owner describing the identity project and possible franchising of his interesting restaurant concept. Then he pulled pages of rough designs he done on his home computer (second major red flag!) to show me what he liked and wanted.

When finished displaying his concepts he said, “Why don’t you just throw some ideas together and if I see something I might toss $50 or so your way.”

I’m sure steam was shooting out of my ears at that point. I was pissed off and offended; yet I knew better than to respond with anger at that moment. About that time one of the construction managers came into the room and, excusing myself from the situation, I told owner I would be in contact with him. My frustration and anger only grew as I drove home. At my computer, I typed out a letter to the potential client, which included the following:

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you and discuss your new project. However, I am not the designer to work with you. I do no speculative work, or concept design work, as a condition for being hired to create identities for any business. Clients hire me based on my past design efforts and I do no work for any client until I have a signed project agreement and a deposit check. This is the way I have always run my business.”

I then restated all the information I included in my original letter to this potential client, including my rates, project agreement (contract) specifics and the need for a deposit prior to starting any work. I ended my letter with: “Thanks for your interest in my work. I wish you all the best with your business ventures.”

Madelyn Wattigney shares her most recent experience came from a potential client, whom she will call “Miss Atlanta.”

“This speculative project request was all cloaked in the pressures of ‘Do you know who I am?,’ ‘This can be a very profitable venture for you,’ and the famous line ‘We will provide your name to all of our well known clients and friends if we are pleased with your work,’” contributes Wattigney. “My attempts to work through the spec work prerequisites were only meet with more pressures, rudeness and condescending attitude and I was left with no choice, but to tell “Miss Atlanta” that I was not the designer for her.”

Wattigney’s standard response is usually, “Thank you, but no thank you.”

“I have a policy of ‘Hire-me-or-don’t,’ and fend off anyone calling with spec work by telling them experienced professional designers do not do spec work,” says Jim Charlier of JCharlier Communication Design. “If they find someone that will - go ahead and give them a try. (I’m always tempted to give the names of competitors!)”

“At the onset of a new business opportunity, I always try to express my enthusiasm for the prospects project but I also have to be careful to earn their respect as a business person,” says Dan Stebbings. “We also try to introduce prospects to critical aspects of our process as early as possible and present the ‘way we work’ as a benefit to clients and assume that they’re going to want to take advantage of it.”

“A strong portfolio and the deliberate mention of some working guidelines is our first defense in warding off spec requests, and we look to impress the client with the work done for other companies while we also try to give them a realistic sense of fees related to the work,” mentions Stebbings. “I’ve learned that if a client is serious about their business then they will have a real budget for their trademark.”

Stebbings tells a story of a friend who is a home contractor, finding his potential clients suffering from “sticker shock” upon reviewing his extensive proposalfor the new home. After flipping through the proposal and thinking for a few minutes, the future potential client asked the contractor if he would do the job for many thousands less than the proposed estimate. Hearing this, he asked the homeowner if they understood the scope of work involved or the finish details that were included. They had no questions, but only wanted to know if my friend would do the job for the reduced price. His response was a kind but direct, “I’m sorry. I’m not doing this for practice.” He then got up, thanked them for their time and left.

“If I have a spec request in the near future, I plan to use my friends line,” says Stebbings. I’m blessed to have a job that I love so much that I get caught up in it, but when go home at night and see my wife and five kids, I’m reminded that I’m not in this industry only for the fun. 

“What I've learned is that clients don’t take you or your work seriously if you are willing to do spec work (in all it’s various forms),” Stebbings adds. “Designers who are willing to gamble their otherwise billable hours on a chance to get paying work later, or who are willing to wheel and deal themselves out of profit, loose credibility even with the clients who are benefiting from the designer’s loss.”

In the 18+ years that Cheryl Roder-Quill has been designing logos and identities, she’s had her fair share of “speculative” requests.

“They've come from businesses of all sizes... from the little mom-and-pop shops that ‘Just wanted to see a few ideas first, then let’s talk about working together” to the ‘Shame on you, you’re a major corporation and should know better’ scenarios.” Comments Roder-Quill, “I’ve had individuals within companies approach me to design logos on spec under the guise of ‘Well, we had our in house designers work on a few concepts and we’d really like to add a few “fresh” concepts to the mix before we make a decision - if yours is picked then...” and the usual dialogue follows...”

“In most instances, I've declined the projects because of the obvious reasons,” Roder-Quill says. “Most of the requests are coming from businesses that can afford to hire you for the project without seeing your ideas up front or having you compete against other firms to ‘win’ the account.”

When asked to submit design concepts on a speculative basis, Keyword Design’s Judith Mayer sends in her proposal with the following cover letter statement:

“I considered your request to provide specific design solutions for your company as part of my proposal, but felt I could not change my policy of not doing speculative design work. I have enclosed samples and background information that should give your company an idea of my design capabilities.”

“Unfortunately, I have not gotten any of these jobs, yet,” says Mayer. “There is always a line of people willing to do it, so the clients think I am the one being unreasonable.”

“There are ways to approach competing for design business, but set yourself some parameters to guide you and keep you from wasting time where it could be better used.” John Wingard says. “Otherwise simply say ‘No, thank you.’”

“Do yourself a favor,” Wingard contributes. “Look in the mirror and practice this often: ‘No!’”

“I do not do ‘spec’ work because it is self-penalizing from an economic point of view, but also because it gives the impression the work has no worth,” says Gianluigi Tobanelli. “What is free, or is discounted, is often undervalued.”

NO!SPEC as a resource for professional designers AND clients

Where was NO!SPEC when I needed such a resource when I was just starting out nearly 30 years ago? Where was it when I was required to deal with the situations above? The mission of the web presence is to educate the public about speculative, or “spec” work. The target audience includes those who use creative services, as well as creative professionals (designers, photographers, illustrators and those in marketing and branding). NO!SPEC also serves as a vehicle to unite those who support the notion that spec work devalues the potential of design and ultimately does a disservice to the client.

“Spec work requests have gotten worse over the past couple of years and we’ve needed a site like NO!SPEC for a very long time now,” according to Calvin Lee. “The NO!SPEC site is a great resource, for businesses and students, which educates and brings awareness about the negative aspects of “spec” on the creative community.”

“I believe the NO!SPEC site is a valuable educational tool for both creatives and the public,” say Cheryl Roder-Quill.

“For the creatives - there are plenty of students and young designers out there, trying to build their portfolios and would consider working on speculative projects just to get the work.” she adds. “They need to be aware of the fact that speculative work is an unfair practice and the creatives are the ones that pay - with their time and with their talent and ideas.”

Roder-Quill continues: “For the general public - I believe this grassroots effort will help educate the public about why it's important to treat designers as you would any other professional - by paying for their services and not expecting work for free or very little pay.

“The NO!SPEC site is great and I want to thank all those responsible for putting the site together, says Madelyn Wattigney. “It’s a valuable resource in the visual communication industry.”

In regards to the NO!SPEC web presence Gianluigi Tobanelli contributes: “It is very important to give information about the damages that spec work brings to our profession and also give instruments to react to it. Beginners are the ones more likely to accept these works to gain experience. However, the clients themselves should realize they will not have any advantage from ‘spec” – and they may get less-than-professional work done quickly and often work that is not original.”

“I will now give NO!SPEC out as a link if I do get approached by someone wanting spec work,” says Jim Charlier. “I also talk to student groups quite often and, without getting too bogged down explaining spec work and its disadvantages, I'd send them to no-spec.com.”

“Since I have become aware of the NO!SPEC site, I direct all of my design students there so they understand the harm that agreeing to do spec work can do to all designers,” Judith Mayer says.

Contributors:

Jim Charlier/JCharlier Communication Design
Contact: info@jcharlier.com
Buffalo, NY USA

Calvin Lee/Mayhem Studios

Web URL: www.mayhemstudios.com
Blog URL: www.mayhemstudios/blog
Los Angeles, CA USA

Judith Mayer/Keyword Design
Web URL: www.keyworddesign.com
Highland, IN USA

Cheryl Roder-Quill/angryporcupine*design

Web URL: www.angryporcupine.com
Park City, UT USA

Dan Stebbings/Fresh Oil: Design
Web URL: www.freshoil.com (temp holder page)
Pawtucket, RI USA

Gianluigi Tobanelli/Studio GT&P
Web URL: www.tobanelli.it
Filigno (PG) Italy

Madelyn Wattigney/Creative Madhouse
Web URL: www.creativemadhouse.com
Dallas / Fort Worth, TX USA

John Wingard/John Wingard Design
Web URL: www.johnwingarddesign.com
Honolulu, HI USA

Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, has received over 475 regional, national and international graphic design awards for his logo and corporate identity efforts. His work is featured in more than 75 publications on the design of logos, the business of graphic design, and small business marketing. He shares his observations about the design industry on his blog, bLog-oMotives.

Fisher is a member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board and is also on the 2006 HOW Design Conference Advisory Council. His own book, “The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success,” was released by HOW Design Books in late 2004. An excerpt from the book may be found at CreativeLatitude.com. More information about Jeff Fisher LogoMotives is available at www.jfisherlogomotives.com.

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