Why we don’t do spec work

We think it is the wrong way to go about the design process.

Spec work or free-pitching as it is sometimes called is when a client asks a designer to produce creative work for free in the hope of winning a project. Typically a client will ask several designers to submit designs.

We decided many years ago not to do spec work as it just doesn’t make business sense, plus we think it is unethical to ask people to work for free. And it’s not sustainable, especially for small businesses.

Imagine going into three restaurants and having a starter in one, a main course in another and desert somewhere else, and then only paying for the dish you liked. It sounds silly because it is, yet this is what clients are asking from designers with spec work.

What else is wrong with spec work? It’s not a great idea for either clients or designers:


  1. Cutting corners

    When there is no money to be made, quality suffers and so do morals. Designers won’t spend as much time on free work as they would on paid projects and may copy others’ work or download free graphic files for your project. This doesn’t sound like a good start.

  2. Bad business practices

    It isn’t very wise to obtain work where no contracts have been exchanged and no ownership rights discussed. Neither you or the designer are protected.

  3. Nothing is free

    Everyone likes a bargain and we all like to think we are getting something for nothing. The reality is we are usually tricked into thinking this. Anything given away for free isn’t really free and you can be sure you will pay for it somewhere along the line.

  4. Wrong way around

    Design is a process, not an end in its own right. The designs you start with are often not what you will end up with. Choosing a design at the beginning means the collaboration is gone and you are choosing a pretty picture rather than something that meets your and your audience’s objectives. 

  5. Lack of trust

    Good business relationships are built on trust but spec work makes the relationship very unequal from the start. You need an expert to help you do something you can’t, and you want them to do it for free? This doesn’t look good for a long future together.


  1. Devaluing everything

    You pride yourself on your work, yet you are giving it away for free. If you don’t think your work is worth anything, why should a client? Giving professional work away devalues yourself, your fellow designers and the wider design industry.

  2. Not sustainable

    No matter how good you are, no designer will win every spec pitch they go for. You will spend a lot of time and money on projects you won’t get anything from. It certainly isn’t a way to build a successful and lasting business.

  3. A lack of professionalism

    All of the major design associations in the UK and the USA strongly discourage spec work. There is even a campaign against it. You should have a well defined process of engagement before starting work with a client and always use contracts.

  4. No control

    When you work for free you are identifying yourself as an unimportant part of the process. You won’t be helping to make key decisions but rather reacting to client demands.

  5. No respect

    Do you want to work with a client who doesn’t respect your expertise or professionalism and thinks they don’t need to pay for your time? The best clients are ones you can develop a long-term relationship with, who trust you and value you what you do.

Asking for a free breakfast… 

This video sums up just how ridiculous spec work is…

How to pick a designer

A comment often heard from clients is: How do we know what you’ll produce? Well, the same way you would if you choose a builder or a lawyer.

Ask for recommendations from people you trust; ask to see what a designer has worked on before; speak to them and speak to their previous clients.