Ten reasons to ponder

By Neil Tortorella of Tortorella Design

No guarantee

In essence, Visual Communication designers (graphic, web, illustration, etc) sell two things – ideas and time. Speculative presentations, by definition, require a designer to invest both their ideas and time without a guarantee of compensation.


Most professional-level designers won’t participate in speculative presentations since they take away time, a non-renewal asset, and resources away from bona fide projects with guaranteed revenue. The result is designers who participate in spec presentations are typically less experienced.

Lack of professional research

Successful design requires an investment in time to appropriately research the client company, its competitive landscape and the audience for the project. Since many speculative projects are run on a compressed schedule, adequate research cannot be done, resulting in designs that are more pretty pictures, rather than strategic design backed up with facts.

Needs of the client not met

Speculative requests are often a result of I’ll know it when I see it,” thinking on the part of the client. The problem here is that it’s self-centered point-of-view rather than a position serving the needs and wants of the audience.


Spec projects are often myopic. They tend to be ‘one-off’ pieces that don’t fit and may erode a company’s overall branding efforts.

Reduces value

Speculative projects reduce the value of the client/designer relationship. In point of fact, there is no relationship. The process becomes a competitive environment that often hinders a designer from doing his or her best.

Undermines consultive benefits

Spec requests tend to reduce the potential of design down to a commodity. Professional Communication Designers provide highly specific services which typically build upon each other to solidify a brand. Spec requests undermine the consultive benefits of the client/designer relationship.

Undervalues the profession

Designers who participate in speculative work are undervaluing their profession and encouraging the behavior. These are often neophytes who are lured in by the ‘dangling carrot’ of more work down the road or payment if the client likes what they’ve done. Often that additional work never materializes and payment is well below industry averages.

Pitches and design don’t mix

Historically, it’s been a common practice for advertising agencies to create ‘pitches’ that are typically punctuated with fully developed creative. However, the potential return on winning the business is significantly more than the return on investment a designer would receive from a single brochure or even a logo. Ad agencies, particularly larger agencies, generate much of their revenue from media commissions. In the past, commissions were their only source of revenue. The creative was built-in. A designer working on spec does not have the benefit, in most cases, to reap the financial rewards of a multimillion dollar campaign.

Red flags

Designers approached for spec work should ask themselves why a client is making the request. Is it due to a lack of understanding of the industry? Perhaps there isn’t enough money in the budget? Is the client fuzzy about their goals and objectives? Any of these should throw up a red flag.

The lack of a contract does not a professional make

Speculative work is often done without contracts, thus removing any clear representation of rights to the artwork between the client and the designer. The result is that clients may feel they can pick and choose from the ideas the designer has presented and either do the project themselves, or take the ideas to another, cheaper designer – either option being a violation of the law. However, despite being a violation, the lack of a contract will make it difficult for the designer to prove his/her case, resulting in either an outright loss for the designer or a long, drawn out legal battle that is good for neither the designer nor the client.

Clients should ask themselves why a professional level designer would take on a spec project. Are they in fact professional level? Do they have the experience and abilities to do justice to the project and help it reach its goals? Is their heart and mind going to be committed the project? If they have so much time on their hands that they’re willing to work on spec, why?

If you have questions or suggestions, contact us.