AIGA Position on Spec Work


AIGA believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients. To that end, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into client projects with full engagement to show the value of their creative endeavor, and to be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.

What is Spec Work?

AIGA acknowledges that speculative work—work done prior to engagement with a client in anticipation of being paid—occurs among clients and designers. Yet not all unpaid design work is considered “spec work.” In fact, unpaid work may take a number of forms:

  • Speculative or “spec” work: work done for free, in hopes of getting paid for it
  • Competitions: work done in the hopes of winning a prize—in whatever form that might take
  • Volunteer work: work done as a favor or for the experience, without the expectation of being paid
  • Internships: a form of volunteer work that involves educational gain
  • Pro bono work: volunteer work done “for the public good”

Not all of the above are considered speculative work, and in fact many designers choose to do unpaid work for a variety of reasons. Students and professionals may draw different lines on what constitute unacceptable practices. In each case, however, the designer and client make the decision and must accept the associated risks.

The Risks of Spec Work

 AIGA believes that designers and clients should be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work:

  • Clients risk compromised quality. Little time, energy and thought can go into speculative work, which precludes the most important element of most design projects—the research, thoughtful consideration of alternatives, and development and testing of prototype designs.
  • Designers risk being taken advantage of. Some clients may see this as a way to get free work; it also diminishes the true economic value of the contribution designers make toward client’s objectives.
  • There are legal risks for both parties should aspects of intellectual property, trademark and trade-dress infringements become a factor.

Additional Resources and Sample Letter for Designers

AIGA has provided a sample letter for designers and firms to explain why speculative proposal compromise the design profession. The letter should be modified based on the needs of your particular situation.

To add your voice to the spec work discussion, please comment on the related AIGA Insight article.

Sample Letter for Designers and Firms (revised May 2009)

Clients may, at times, request that you or your firm compete for an engagement on the basis of spec work. While it is up to each designer to make the choice of whether to engage on this level, this sample letter is intended to serve as a resource if you choose to communicate with these clients to explain why speculative proposals compromise the profession and the resultant work. You should modify it based on the needs of your particular situation.

AIGA Sample Letter for Speculative Work

AIGA Sample Letter for Speculative Work