Spec Work – Uncle Sam Wants YOU
Obama speculates on creating jobs, just not for designers… Make art. Make progress. Make no money. If there’s one topic that’s likely to unite the…
Obama speculates on creating jobs, just not for designers…
Make art. Make progress. Make no money.
If there’s one topic that’s likely to unite the design industry it’s spec work –getting folks to work for little or no reward in the hopes they might be ‘lucky’ enough to have the fruits of their labour plucked.
And now the White House has decided, in this time of high unemployment, to highlight the practice. By passing some legislation or expressing firm rhetoric decrying spec work? Nope… by jumping on the bandwagon for some freebie graphic design.
Art Works, designers apparently don’t
‘Obama for America’ (the guys behind that president fella) have cause collective outrage across the design industry by launching a competition asking for folks to submit poster designs.
On their website they’re calling for submissions to illustrate why Obama’s plan for creating jobs is just the best thing since Enron confetti. In this amazing competition, the winning 3 submissions will get a framed-and-signed print of their poster.
Great, you might think. Here’s a chance for some young and up-coming designer to get some national exposure. Could well be. But what’s got Apple-loving hackles up is the inherent irony:
“Support American jobs by working for free”
And they’ve got a point. The message seems to be that American designers should support creating American jobs by not getting paid. That would rankle somewhat at the best of times. And these ain’t the best of times.
Designers are, like every other professional, feeling the pinch from the atrocious state of the economy. Is it really time to put the presidential boot in by stamping spec work with the White House seal of approval?
Aren’t designers being a touch too sensitive?
Not to offend, but the design industry can sometimes be a little ‘precious’.
If a well know brand gets their logo wrong (yes GAP, thinking of you) or suggests that some Apple product isn’t the best out there… well you can expect some sharp hash-tagging or disparaging, but beautifully type-faced, blog posts.
However, this isn’t one of those times.
Sure, 3 lucky winners will do well out of this ‘competition’. But it lends legitimacy to spec work and is a set back for those campaigning against it.
Above all though it’s the terrible irony of both message and timing that should have Obama for America seriously thinking about their approach.
Um… no one’s forcing designers are they? And what, no one can ever lend their support to something if there’s no cash in it?
When considering the no-spec agenda it can seem black and white – competitions or speculative pitches should be outlawed. That non-financial incentive is never a fair trade for work. That all designers are vehemently opposed to it.
Now that raises some things to think about:
- If designers are totally against spec work, how come it’s so widespread?
- Are all designers cash-thirsty, anti-charity mercenaries?
- Is it wrong to use your skills to support a cause and not expect cash?
An anecdote often used to describe spec work is the parable of the plumber. It argues “You wouldn’t expect plumbers to fix your leak for free so you could judge their competence or to be in the chance of winning a prize would you?”.
No I wouldn’t. But that’s because I’m a realist. No plumbers would take the offer, but they might take offence… violent offence. And what if I was the local vicar? I might put a cheeky little ad in the local paper asking for help with the rectory drains in exchange for some spiritual well-being.
So have ‘Obama for America’ made a cynical attempt to fleece young designers? It doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems like a genuine, if not misjudged and clumsy, desire to encourage ‘grass root’ submissions.
Written by Jason John Mills