What is AIGA’s position on spec work? And how are ethical standards determined?

The web's impact on traditional business practices and spec work—speculative work done prior to engagement with a client in anticipation of being paid—recently reinvigorated discussions of ethics and professional standards for the design industry. In addition to prompting AIGA to re-examine its own position on spec work, through a task force led by members of the national board of directors, these conversations also raised the question of who determines an ethical standard.

AIGA believes that a professional association should not be a monolithic authority releasing edicts for all to observe. Rather, the ethics of a profession should emerge from its members, reflecting the tacit agreement of a profession on behavior that is deemed appropriate, respectful and honorable. An association may articulate the implicit standards of integrity, but it does not set them. And as social, professional and business conditions change, it is important to restate positions so they are relevant to the context in which they will be applied—in this case, AIGA's position on spec work.

Changes in context that require a refinement of AIGA's approach

The internet has radically changed the means of soliciting and offering design, democratizing participation in creative endeavors paid and free, commissioned and speculative. This warrants a change in the approach AIGA takes toward spec work, even while holding firm to the core belief that spec work embodies inherent risks.

In a world where visual communication is increasingly prevalent, necessary and demanding, the profession's role should not be to reduce the pursuit of visual creativity by the masses. AIGA, on behalf of the design profession, is committed to improving the visual literacy of business, government and society, and to help them understand the true value of design well executed. The design profession should not position itself against the popular pursuit of creative endeavors. But design is not merely a form of creative expression, and AIGA must also promote the designer's ability to solve problems, think strategically and make the intangible tangible.

AIGA's revised position on spec work

AIGA acknowledges that spec work has long been practiced, continues to occur and may indeed be increasing, particularly as the internet alters and augments solicitation, bidding, marketing and distribution practices. The AIGA board, in consultation with a number of interested members, recently revisited AIGA's long-standing policy against spec work in the context of changing dynamics in the marketplace.

As an institution that is a reflection of its membership, AIGA encourages designers to exercise their individual decision-making rights to engage in design as they see fit. AIGA's role is to extend an understanding of the risks associated with certain practices—risks to the individual designer, the client and the profession as a whole.

AIGA's official position on spec work

AIGA, the professional association for design, believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for the value of their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients.

AIGA acknowledges that speculative work occurs among clients and designers. Instead of working speculatively, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into projects with full engagement to continue to show the value of their creative endeavor. Designers and clients should be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.

AIGA is committed to informing designers, students, educators, clients and the general public on the risks of compromising the design process through information, materials and services that can help in forging a healthy working relationship between designers and their clients.

AIGA maintains that speculative work can compromise the benefits of effective design for both clients and designers. A designer fully engaged in a client's challenges is as necessary to an effective solution as it is fair in terms of compensating creative and professional efforts. With the current trends and practices of open source creative development and online bidding for work, the designer and client will engage as they see fit, although they should assume responsibility for risks involved in spec work should they choose that course.

It is the duty of AIGA to continue to inform the public, business and the design community of the potential risks of spec work, including implications for the quality of the outcome, intellectual property rights and economic fairness. In the long run, AIGA is committed to encouraging creative expression and enhancing visual literacy for all. It is our hope and belief that only through education will the understanding and appreciation of professional design be extended and perpetuated.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.