I was recently ‘interviewed’ by a company from the states regarding a possible freelance opportunity to layout and design their next eBook. I particularly placed a bid on this project because they specifically mentioned that they we’re actually looking for something done professionally, ‘agency quality’ even.
So it dawned to me that these are people who seriously know what they want. Emails were exchanged, portfolio links and samples were sent, praises were received. And just when I thought that everything was going great, like Superman’s death, Captain America’s assassination or Nelo and Patrasche dying from utter poverty inside a snow covered church (I meant “to my surprise”), they asked me whether I am willing to do sample pages for them (in other words, speculative work).
It’s not that I don’t give their project that much importance, on the contrary, I do spend a fair amount of time researching for and going through revisions to meet the needs of ALL my clients. But that’s just it! They aren’t officially my client yet. And there’s the fact that they are interviewing three other freelance graphic designers at that time (as of writing this portion, they are in the process of interviewing 12 designers, possibly all of us being asked to do uncompensated mock-ups for them).
I do respect their method in choosing the right candidate by means of asking supposedly professional designers for Speculative work. The other 11 designers would probably be glad to burn a couple of hours for the possibility of getting the gig, but me, I declined. I’m not really someone who’s high up there to say that I’m hell-bent against doing Spec Work. I simply choose (as much as possible) not to participate in SPEC. I’d rather spend the “free time” casually doing pro-bono design studies for my paying clients’ upcoming projects, or just leisurely catch-up on listening to my baby make noises inside my wife’s tummy.
Now some would ask how did I politely declined participating in SPEC without burning bridges or giving the impression that I am the world’s most pompous designer (aside from the fact that, admittedly, sometimes I have the tendency to lean towards pomposity). Well I don’t have a specific formula, but what I can advise you is just to keep it real. Here’s what I’ve replied to the client:
Regarding the sample pages; I would really like to work on your project, but I don’t believe in SPEC work. I believe that’s what portfolios are for, to show what I am capable of as a designer. I hope you don’t take this negatively.
But I’d like you to know that rather than blindly doing mock-ups which will not be consistent throughout the project, what I do for all my clients is an effective design study. So that even before I start actual logged design work, I have a deep understanding as to what your design requirements are. Ensuring that I will be giving you the a relevant and high quality design solution.
Do let me know if I could be of any further assistance.
Now I’m still waiting for the client’s decision. The number of candidates have gone down to nine, I’m still in the list though. I’m not really sure whether the client would still pick me after I politely refused to do free mock-ups and it seems that my bid is for the project is pricier compared to the other designers’. I haven’t heard from their representative for two days now. But still I feel good about my decision, whether I get the gig or not, because I managed to stand my ground. And it’s the small things like these that reminds me that we, as freelancers and designers, have the option to not be slaves to our clients. We just have to be transparent and at least try to educate them on certain aspects of the hiring and design process that we are accustomed to. That way the relationship between the buyer and the contractor is not just built around providing service and compensation for it, but its foundation would be honesty and mutual respect. And from there, the possibilities are endless…
Some additional reference on Spec Work:
- Here’s AIGA’s take on doing Spec Work.
- The 28 Talking Points (on working spec)
- Why Speculation Hurts
- A letter you can send to decline requests for spec work
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