Spec Work Is Awesome

Mark Busse – 10 Comments


A design student asked me to rant on video for a project she was working on and asked me to speak about the topic of speculative design work. So I agreed and showed up to present the following diatribe on camera—you should have seen their faces!

I’ve been asked today to express some thoughts about a contentious subject of much debate within the design industry—an issue that all young design students will eventually come to face and need to make a decision about for themselves: that dreaded word “spec”.

Spec is short for “speculative” or “speculation”, meaning in a design context, the creation of work based on conjecture without any agreement for pay unless they like the final product. Spec contests are the same, with the winning design being the only one remunerated. So, what do I think about participating in spec work?

I think spec is awesome!

Spec competitions create unique opportunities which bring out the best in people and can lead to terrific solutions. Just think about how wonderful the freedom of spec work is. There are no restrictions of a creative brief or the hindrances of planning, client research, rationales, or even contracts. Spec opens up tremendous opportunities for creativity!

And as has been demonstrated by the superb results of various spec design contests, where anyone—regardless of qualifications—can participate, spec work is an equal opportunity situation! Without spec opportunities, how else would self-taught amateurs be able to demonstrate their new-found abilities?

Another advantage of spec is that the client gets so much input, and has so many options, from numerous sources. Options from which they can pick and choose aspects from their favourites and combine into one fantastic solution. Some amazing discoveries can be made in this manner, wouldn’t you agree?

Some argue that engaging in spec work is a waste of time and disrespectful of our time and craft, but I say no! Spec is awesome practice! If you frequently engage in spec projects, imagine how good you will eventually become! In time you would get so good at it you might even win some paying clients who value your eagerness and willingness to earn their business.

A wise master artist once said “We all have at least 100,000 bad drawings inside of us. The sooner we get them out and onto paper, the sooner we’ll get to the good ones buried deep within.” Think of spec design competitions as a way to expunge bad work, bringing us all closer to being great masters!

Design is art, right? Isn’t it? And art is expression, so any medium that allows pure freedom of expression without the constraints of client demands is a terrific opportunity for growth as a creative person. How many artists do you know that get paid well? Exactly! If you love it, you’ll do it regardless! So don’t get hung up on pay or respect for your profession!

Beyond the tremendous exposure it could provide for you, think of the untold wealth you could earn by doing spec design! iPods! Computers! $500. Maybe even $5000! That’s some serious cake up for grabs!

Let’s not forget those poor customers suffering during the recession. It’s hard times friends. And spec provides terrific value for the business community, providing an army of designers working on their behalf for next to nothing without the headache of doing research or hassle of giving long explanations about goals and objectives. There’s a reason why hunters use shotguns—a wide spread works! And what better way to make a client happy that pepper them with a myriad of solutions—they’ll know what they like when they see it, won’t they?

So what if all those terrific logos you designed on your own time don’t get chosen in a spec contest? No problem! Put them into your portfolio anyways! It’s still killer design, right? Or recycle them! Go online and find websites like and toss them in the mix—someone’s bound to like it! Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure—unless of course the contest stipulated that ownership and intellectual property rights were forfeited by participating—but even then, that’s what makes it so much fun and exciting! Who knows what could happen!

In the end, do you really want design associations (AKA “the type cops”) who forbid their members from participating in spec contests to tell you what to do or who to work for? Of course not! Another reason to participate in spec! What do they know? They act like this is a profession that should follow a code of ethics or something! They’re clearly out of touch with reality.

There are no guarantees in life—it’s filled with risk, also known as speculation. Life is speculation friends! So dive in and participate—spec work is awesome.