Speculative Work Requests

by Iain Fergus

I've seen the whole issue of Spec Work crop up on Twitter again recently a few times and it's inspired me to share my experience on the subject.

At the end of February 2014 I was approached by a PR representative of a well known local event to quote for the design and development of a new website. As part of the process I was asked to provide "home page design drafts and functional linked pages", and that if chosen, the site would need to be live by Easter 2014. On top of this the quote was required urgently.

Now, even if there had been plenty of time to produce a quote with sample designs, I wouldn't have been willing to do this. I don't agree with Spec work. As far as I am concerned it is of no benefit to either party.

The representative that contacted me seemed to be a third-party hired by the organisation to handle this process and was (in my opinion) out-dated in terms of his approach. I hoped that I would be able to educate him and the board members of the event. However I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be awarded the contract, but I felt I needed to at least reply and explain why I wouldn't be providing any designs up front.

Here's the passage I included as part of my quote:


"I realise that you have mentioned your desire to see home page design drafts and functional linked pages as part of the tender process, and I will be honest and say that I am not prepared to do so, this is Spec work and it devalues me, my fellow bidders and my profession.

Since starting my business in 2007 this is the first time I have been asked to do such a thing as part of an official tender, and I am disappointed.

There are many reasons why this isn't a good idea for myself or for Event Name, but the main ones would be:

  • There would be no process or interaction involved in any initial designs provided by any bidder. You aren't going to get what you need.
  • The quality of work will be low as bidders won't be able to justify the time and effort the project deserves until they know they have secured the job. This is especially unfair to freelancers, and gives studios with multiple staff members an unfair advantage.
    • If either have the time for this, I'd be questioning why.
  • The brief is less likely to be met, due to the lack of process, and may cause unnecessary delays once the job is awarded.
  • There are potential issues with intellectual property and copyright ownership.

Above all the best designs are a result of collaboration between client and designer, and they are most successful when the website content is available prior to starting the process. Finally, it's a waste of time waiting on a range of speculative designs, especially given the time-scale you are looking at. You would be much better off selecting a candidate based on their quote and previous work, meeting the front runners and then asking…can you work with them?

I hope you reconsider this position. If you do, I would love to be considered for the project. I know I'd produce a fantastic site for you."


As you can probably guess, I didn't get the contract on this occasion. That's okay…you win some, you lose some.

Now, I'm not going to name the event or the people involved, but what I will say is that having seen the finished site and the original brief, I feel my points were justified. The final site is visually uninteresting, out-dated, and not custom in the slightest. (Again, this is just my opinion, others may disagree.) To me it looks like the winning agency simply purchased a $50 Joomla template, made minimal tweaks and crowbarred the site into the template rather than make any considered design choices based on the content or goals of the website. Doing themselves and the client a disservice in the process. It's certainly not befitting of the event in question.

The organisation in question did at least reply to my quote (which isn't as common as you'd think in these situations), however there was one line in the last email from the PR representative that sticks out for me.

"I would be grateful if you would accept this decision as being final, without seeking any further explanations from me, either by telephone or e-mail, as I am unable to enter into any further discussion and regard the matter as closed."

I didn't have any plans on replying, but I felt this almost suggested that he was expecting to be bombarded with people demanding explanations. It just didn't sit well with me. It seemed unnecessarily arsey. I didn't reply. But for those who had taken the time to provide designs, I really don't see the harm in being open to providing constructive feedback on why their design wasn't chosen. It seems like the least that should be offered (in lieu of payment).

I sincerely hope that not too many people wasted their time producing design concepts in pursuit of this project.

What's the point? The brief wasn't met. Spec work…doesn't work.

Iain Fergus

Posted by: Iain Fergus

I'm a Web & Print Designer based in Ayr, Scotland. This blog is a collection of my personal ramblings.

Feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter @darkflare or drop me an email iain[at]iainfergus.co.uk

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