Eightyone Design Logo

Oh No… not another graphic design spec work article!!

Oh No... not another graphic design spec work article!!

I know what you are thinking, this is just another article (or rant) dedicated to probably one of the hottest debates in graphic design… spec work and free pitching. Well you are wrong… sort of. I agree that we really don’t need another article based on this subject as there are so many already out there (like this one, this one and this one). All of these are great and tackle the subject in various ways and showcase a wide range of attitudes and thoughts towards free pitching. However, I am hoping this article will be slightly different and maybe question (as it has us) your thoughts towards free pitching and spec work. I thought I would share with you something that has happened to us here at Eightyone Design in recent months.

We have produced a lot of work for one of our clients over the last two years, including website designs, logo designs, stationary and literature. However, a few months ago we were contacted by them about a new project they were starting. For this new design project, which was to involve the branding of a new division of their company, the client requested a presentation of ideas to highlight how we would tackle the fulfillment of the design brief.

After an in depth look at the brief, it was clear that our client was expecting to see some design examples as part of the presentation. This was the first time ever we had been asked to produce work for free in order to win a pitch. After a lot of discussion, we decided to contact the customer and explain that we do not provide free pitching and our reasons for not doing so (reasons which I do not need to go into here as they have been covered in great depths before). The client was more than understanding and we explained that we certainly did not mind providing an in depth proposal outlining our thoughts in response to the brief along with a project plan. We also asked at this stage whether the client was unhappy with the work we had produced for them over the previous 2 years. They responded by saying they were more than happy with our design work. However, as they constantly have to pitch in their line of business, they thought it would be a good idea to start doing the same to their own contractors. We were also informed at this point that the design brief had been sent out to 4-5 other graphic designers and they were awaiting their response. 

So we set to work on some research for the project and devised a proposal which outlined some examples of design styles we felt would best portray the brand. We have, in the last few days, heard that we have in fact lost the pitch and another graphic design company will be handling this project. This was due to the graphic designer providing a full set of mood boards along with a range of examples and ideas  for not only logo design but also for complete corporate branding. I am sure you will all appreciate the amount of time and effort they must have put in to produce these, all for a project they might not have won.


I am not too sure what my conclusion is in response to this, but all I know is that we have lost a client because we did not offer free pitching. Now don’t get me wrong, we are all for putting in a lot of effort in order to gain design jobs and commissions in the form of proposals and presentations, but we do not offer spec work with examples of the work we would produce for the project we are pitching for. 

However, as I stated earlier, We have now started to question our beliefs based on what has happened. Were we too quick to stand out ground and shout ‘We do not do spec work!!’? As this was an existing client should we have bended the rules? Were we too arrogant to think they had seen the sort of work we produce so we did not need to fight for this project? 

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions but I simply know one thing, we have lost a client because we did not offer spec work and free pitching.

We would love to know your thoughts on the above. Has it made you questions your beliefs on spec work? Or have you been in a similar position and lost a client because you stood your ground?

Posted by Steve

Share this: del.icio.us / Digg it / StumbleUpon / Tweet This / Share on Facebook

If you enjoyed this blog article you can subsribe to FREE updates from our graphic design blog by email or RSS

Posted on Friday, July 17th, 2009 at 11:17 am
Posted In Freelancing, Graphic Design | Tags:

12 Responses to “Oh No… not another graphic design spec work article!!”

  • I’ve been questioning my own stance on the spec-work / crowd-sourcing issue a lot lately and this is yet another example where it seems, at least to some extent, spec work is becoming a necessary evil. The problem is not that the client asked you for spec work, or that you said no, but rather that another entity said yes. This is happening more and more – which I think is why you see so many articles and discussions on the topic. The times they are a changing and probably not for the better. As more and more firms and individuals decide to use spec work as a competitive advantage over other designers then I’m afraid there is no hope for the anti-spec stance. If we all stood together and yelled “NO” then it wouldn’t be a problem. Sorry to hear about your loss of a client. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Dan Harrill says:

    You made the right choice. You will win and lose clients no matter how you go about it. I’d rather lose a client now and be able to head to another opportunity unburned as opposed to losing a client plus my time, effort, and ideas with nothing to show. That’s no way to do business.

    Believe me I wish I could go to my mechanic, ask him to fix up my car, and if I like what he’s done maybe hire him to do some more work in the future. But that’s not happening unless I’m Jay Leno and making me happy might lead to years and years of cash flowing in. If it’s not one of those “bread & butter” kind of jobs that your willing to gamble on, I wouldn’t even think about it.

    Let’s hope now that the other designer has landed the job he at least remembers to include all the upfront work in the final bill.

  • Tracey Grady says:

    I’m also sorry to hear about your loss of a long-standing client, and under such frustrating circumstances. It would be easy to say “so that’s the thanks we get after all the effort we’ve put in to build the relationship and produce great work!” but the reality is that graphic design is a competitive industry and this client has now realised how to get that to work for them.

    If you had offered the spec work and free pitching, you might have won the contract. Or you might not. That’s one of the risks with free pitching.

    Some time ago I lost a contract after submitting a proposal because another design company had submitted design concepts on spec with their proposal (without being asked). The client said he was disappointed that I hadn’t done the same! (even though he never requested it). I took some consolation from discovering that not only did their website redesign take another 18 months to go live, but the new site looks terrible (I have no idea if it was the work of the design company which provided the spec concepts, or if someone else was brought in down the track).

    A designer friend who used to work for herself found she was increasingly being asked to take part in free pitching. The stress and wasted hours ended up being too much for her and she went back to working for someone else.

    All of these things provide a strong disincentive for me to free pitch or provide spec work.

  • Steve says:

    Hi James,

    You are right times are a changing and unfortunately I can’t see people standing together to say no to spec work when there is an opportunity to gain a client.

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks I think we did make the right choice. We hear about this kind of thing all the time, it was just a bit of a shock when it finally happened to us.

    Hi Tracey

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. We most certainly do not want to be in the same position as your friend, wasting time on people when there’s no guarantee of work at the end of it.

    Thank you all for your thoughts on this one, this whole experience has given us a lot to think about and all guidance or opinions are appreciated!

  • IanJ says:

    As a relative new-comer to the industry and not being freelance even i can see how annoying it must be to loose a client because you have kept to your morals and ethics.

    However, i just feel things like these even out in the end, yeah maybe you lost this client, but in the time saved from not producing spec work, you could potentially win a new client.

    I think it’s sort of swings and roundabouts really, some agencies/freelancers will do the spec work, some wont, in the long run i dont think it’ll make much difference. Hopefully agencies such as your’s will stick to the no spec rule and as such prosper. :)

  • Steve says:

    Hi Ian,

    I hope so, there is so much work involved with spec work and those agencies who are supplying it must put some client work on the back burner to account for it, in turn that client gets annoyed and the great client circle of life kicks in!

    Thanks for stopping by and letting us know your thoughts!

  • I just found out about this site http://www.winwithoutpitching.com and thought of your recent situation. Thought you might want to look into it. Cheers!

  • Steve says:

    Thanks James, love their manifesto some really excellent points, their newsletters are all very interesting too.

    Thanks for thinking of us and posting the link!

  • David Airey says:

    Hi Steve,

    I second any recommendation for Win Without Pitching. Blair’s doing a fantastic job with it, and for what it’s worth, you were absolutely right to say no to spec.

    If a client expects you to give something for nothing, they’re not worth your time. Everyone deserves to get paid, and leaving it up to chance isn’t a sustainable business position.

  • Hey Steve…read your article and really felt sorry for you to loose your client. However, here I would like to take few seconds to highlight the positivity of spec-work. I am very well aware how much it is disliked in the world of Graphic Design but we all know…it is expanding and no one can stop.

    Yesterday I added a blog post titled and listed some valid points to favor spec.

    “Spec-Work: A curse or a blessing for Graphic Designers??”

    I recieved mixed reponse and really want all to look at it with a new approach.


  • David Airey says:


    I notice the fake testimonial has now been removed from that spec site you’re pushing in numerous comment threads.


    Not very honest, is it?

  • @ David Airey

    Thanks for the update regarding “mycroburst.com” and to verify the reliability of this contest site I would recommend you to mail them directly :)

Leave a Reply