Graphic designer based in Liverpool, UK

Spec work: Say no.

Makers of cookers, fridges and other appliances, Stoves is on the of UK’s leading manufacturers of all things kitchen-related. Recently, they’ve launched a competition for University students to develop a British seal of approval to help consumers to buy British. The full brief can be read here.

The problem with this competition is that it’s “spec work” or work without guarantee of pay. It promotes free labour and exploits students who may not have the business experience to know that these sort of competitions only benefit the company and not the entrant. Spec work is looked down upon by the majority of the design industry including AIGA, the professional association for design along with popular designers such as David Airey.

Many companies don’t realise what they’re doing when launching competitions such as this and use the excuse of it being called a competition to justify the exploitation of those entering. Regardless of what it is marketed as, it is still spec work if you are asking people to submit work without recompense.

Spec work is not only bad for the designer, but for the client as well. Design is about communication. Client/Designer communication is imperative to meeting the needs of the brief. Without a good rapport between the two parties, good design is difficult.

In addition to Stoves promoting spec work, another example cropped up from sustainable paper company Domtar. They asked designers to come up with an advertising campaign to promote their paper. A competition, where the only winner is Domtar and the designers who chose to enter are not fairly paid for their work. After a backlash from the design community regarding this example of spec work, Domtar have now retracted the competition and issued an apology for which they’ve gained a lot of respect from designers. Stoves would do well to do the same thing.

So, if you come across competitions that invite you and potentially hundreds of other designers to develop work for free, say no. Such competitions are unethical and unprofessional and the sooner those outside of the design industry realise that, the better.