Spec work in the mainstream world refers to doing work on the speculation that a client will pay for something. Speculative work is created with the hope that the client will pay for the work after looking at the output. Speculative work also encompasses design "contests". It occasionally is erroneously labeled crowd sourcing, group sourcing, or even outright incorrectly as open sourcing.
If spec work is about money, why do you think it applies to Libre design?
While half of the trap of spec work is failure to get paid for applying one's training and experience to a project, the other half is about a neglect of process. Spec work is devoid of the traditional client / designer relationship - there is no process, no iteration, nor any planning or strategy. It is, in the end, a glorified contest of randomness.
There has yet to be an earnest discussion about spec work and contests in our culture. Much like a poisoned water supply, the approach is everywhere.
It is entirely acceptable to work in a pro bono situation while it is entirely unacceptable to work in a contest driven environment.
Who is this about?
This is about every Libre / Free Software project that requires art and design. The problems surrounding spec work impact both the developers and artists.
Why is spec work in Libre / Free Software culture bad?
Developers do an injustice to their projects by permitting contests and spec work scenarios. For the developer, spec work is devoid of strategy and planning. For the artist, hours of work are given up to the chance of a toss of the dice.
In addition to problems of chance, the output quality of spec work is symptomatic of a dysfunctional design culture. We need not look far to see poor design, terrible execution, and a distinct lack of harmony across presentations.
The complexities stem from a contest mentality and start with the individual or individuals that are selecting a 'winner'. What is the chance that Apple, BMW, Nintendo, Gucci, or Starbucks would bet their design ethic on an art / design director with zero to no experience in the realm?
Are there any solutions?
We should attempt to build and grow relationships with disciplines outside of our own. Artists should seek to be involved in a project with the goal of providing the iteration, process, and planning necessary. Developers should seek to enlist a designer or artist full time in their projects with the goal of bringing quality and consistency to their project.
Developers and projects need to understand the pitfalls and shortcomings of contests and spec work. Artists and designers need to acknowledge that by contributing to spec work they are dragging the culture further away from sustained design innovation and quality.
How do I find an artist or a designer?
Any project seeking an artist or designer should be active about it. Discuss work within your project and look for someone you feel is capable of delivering an effective solution. Any artist or designer that chooses to call themselves such will have work available for evaluation in the form of a blog, portfolio, or samples. Don't expect miracles. It takes trust and ability to create good work that is appropriate for your audience and goals.
Spec work is completely devoid of value and fails to do a project justice.
Imagine what an iPhone would look like if it were delivered in final form via a spec contest. What type of design ethic would there be at Nintendo if every single sprite or 3D model was farmed out on speculation? What associations with quality and luxury would BMW hold if they ran contests to develop their automobiles?
The very act of suggesting spec work and contests drags the design presence of a project down.
But I want to control the output!
Remember that enlisting a designer / artist affords you more control as opposed to less. A designer is enlisted to ask questions, figure out the issues and problems, and attempt to design a solid and innovative solution.
Also remember that many artists and designers have spent many years in education, practice, and research. A solid artist / designer will be able to leverage that background against your project's needs.
Creative direction is no easy path that is filled with many opportunities for failure. If someone with training and education is capable of utter failure, what is the percentage chance that someone without said training and education will succeed?
We are all responsible.
Spec work fails miserably at internal consistency and delivering an overarching style. Worse still, it creates the appearance of a culture or project that is crass and completely ignorant of all things creative. Spec work is just as terrible a decision in Libre / Free Software culture as it is in the mainstream. Spec work and contests will never deliver the quality of traditional art and design process.
We need to shout it loud and clear that spec work should not be affiliated, is not related to, and will not be tolerated with the Open Source / Free Software movement.
We are all guilty. Now let's fix things.
AIGA's view on spec work
The impressive logo designer David Airey's view
Thank you for reading...