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  • Writer's pictureBridget McBride

Care and Feeding of Your Graphic Designer: 2.0

Recently I inquired about an opportunity with a truly wonderful, long time establishment here in Portland. They wanted to meet me (five of them all at once!) but first they wanted me (and other graphic designers) to do some uncompensated “homework.”

The design brief was for a previous in-house project. They requested an extensive mood board, logo/typography treatment, additional icons and graphics, and at least one mock up of a design (poster, ad, banners, etc.) using all these elements in your creative concept to show how it would look across various platforms.

And that descriptive paragraph I wrote above for you is just a summary of what was submitted because I know your time is valuable and I respect that.

Read that again. Your time is valuable.

So is mine.

If you were to do it properly it would be 40 hours of graphic work… at least. Key word: properly. Because why would I want to do it half-ass? (I warned you that I could possibly be sassy on this blog.)

I’m a long time member of AIGA (the nation’s largest and oldest professional association for design – WOOT!) and the practice for requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a speculative basis (“spec work”) in order to be considered for acceptance on project or for employment is strongly discouraged.

Here are AIGA’s (and my) two main reasons for this:

1. To assure the client receives the most appropriate and responsive work.

Successful design work results from a collaborative process between a

client and the designer with the intention of developing a clear sense of the

client (or employer’s) objectives, competitive situation, and needs. Speculative design “competitions” or processes result in a superficial assessment of the project at hand that is not grounded in good business dynamics. Design creates value for clients as a result of the strategic approach. Speculative or open competitions for work based on a perfunctory problem statement will not result in the best design solution.

2. Requesting work for free demonstrates a lack of respect for the designer and the design process.

Full stop. Shut the front door. (Yes, even if you think the project would be “fun” for someone to work on.)

There are few professions where all possible candidates are asked to do the work

first, allowing the buyer or prospective employer to choose which one to compensate for their efforts. Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you, from which you would then choose which one to pay. (I can actually hear my attorney friends laughing in the ether.)

I realize that there are some creative professions with a different set of standards, such as advertising (of which I have worked in) and architecture (of which my brother is one of ) for which billings are substantial and continuous after you select a firm or individual of record. In those cases, you are not receiving the final outcome (the advertising campaign or the building) for free no matter who was pitching.

There is an appropriate way to explore the work of various designers. A more effective and ethical approach instead of requesting speculative work is to view their work from previous assignments (along with resume, websites, socials, et al) and speaking with them about yours.

I absolutely love, love, love this particular Portland institution and I know that Covid has hit their industry hard. It’s also been hard on the rest of us. However, this particular issue is not a new and novel virus. This issue has been going on forEVAH.

Currently I do one pro-bono project a year in an effort to give back (this year it’s a book on a pediatric cancer journey), but I stopped doing spec work a while ago. In my personal experience it had a tendency to be exploitive and sometimes, quite frankly, abusive. It leaves a really bad taste in your mouth.

I know we are collectively better than this. Let’s evolve.


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