As a creative individual, we are presented with different opportunities and scenarios as we progress through our career. You may hold a 9 to 5 job, or you maybe a strict freelancer, but you will always run into a few projects that may sound good, or too good to be true, and will be faced with a simple question of if you should take that project or not. This article tries to cover many different scenarios in regards to projects you should avoid, clients you should stay away from and why.
Without a doubt, I have worked with various companies and clients around the world, but it hasn’t always been a smooth ride as the design business is always demanding and sometimes reaches extreme circumstances due to deadlines and high priority projects. Through my experience of various opportunities and circumstances, I always take each projects seriously and my customers are treated with high respect, however I have run into many opportunities and experiences that hasn’t always been fair or it just sounded too good to be true. I would like to cover some of these opportunities that I strongly advise to stay away from.
Spec work (short for speculative), is any project that you, as a designer, are required to finish a specific work before coming to a payment agreement. There are many reasons why this is not a good idea, even if you are a student designer trying to get their foot into their door. There are many reasons why spec work is frowned upon by experienced designers, but the biggest reason of all is that you are very likely wasting your valuable time and resources to create something you may not even get paid for. Spec work is not only something designers should avoid, but it can also lead to negative outcomes for the client.
I have been approached for spec work about 3 times in my career. One of my experiences with a slightly related type of spec work, is that it was a legitimate project at first, but turned into a spec project because the client decided to launch a “design contest” behind my back to see who can design the ideal logo for their business. Although I have gotten paid my fair share for my time and effort, the project got cut off abruptly because they have found the “ideal” logo through the contest. The end result was a terrible outcome as the logo was very mediocre and had a lot of mistakes a designer shouldn’t do. It was disheartening because they chose something out of their lack of understanding of good design.
Sometimes people hold design contests to receive various design options from willing designers who are optimistic about winning a prize. Design contests hold a lot of merit for people who are looking for designers, but hold very little for the designer themselves, because just like spec work, you are using your time and resources to produce something that may end up with little to no reward. As a creative individual, stay away from design contests, unless it is a contest that is run by a reputable source or business. But most prominent design contests do not ask you to create something that will benefit them, but ask you to create something based on a concept or theme. Design magazines hold contests all the time, but again, they do not ask you to create something that will privately benefit the sale of the magazine. They will have general guidelines for you to follow and how to submit that work.
- Spec work will waste your time and effort, and the rewards can be little to none.
- People abuse the concept of spec work just to get many different results from many different designers.
- Spec projects do not connect the client and the designer in levels that usually helps with good results. Most of the time, the designer will work on their own without much information or details of what the client is looking for. This will be a waste of time for you, and will give bad results and execution for the client.
- If you have the time and resources towards spec work, do a personal project that lets you flourish your creativity to the maximum. You be the client of your professional self and create something that you can showcase in your portfolio. This can be anything from logo design to a mock up of a website. You will yield much higher reward through creating something for yourself through experimentation and methods you haven’t done before.
Additional reading on spec work via: AIGA
Clients who say they cannot pay at the present moment, but will pay with future projects
I cannot pay you for this project but there will be paid projects in the future.
This is one of the biggest empty promises you can receive as a creative individual. Clients who say these statements are usually people who are trying to start-up a business. Not many established businesses will go this route, although I have experience in some established businesses who have not set aside a budget for creative collateral that will promote their service or product. Regardless, this type of scenario is always bad news for the designer as there is absolutely no guarantee, unless of course you can get that client to sign a contract promising them as such.
But I have many issues with this arrangement, and not only because the statement ending up being empty in the end. Take a minute to understand that people who are experienced in starting up a business will set aside budget for all accounts of materials that will help promote the business. This is a standard business plan called “marketing” or “advertising” in which entrepreneurs understand that starting a business is an investment that must be divided up evenly throughout including marketing. To sum this up simply, if they cannot afford you the first time around, it is most likely they will not be able to afford you at a later date.
- Ask yourself, why would anyone who doesn’t have a budget set up for design services even be ready to start-up their own business?
- If you have time to do a project for free, it would probably be better spent doing a project of your own that maximizes creativity and art direction.
- There is absolutely no promise, although mentioned, that there will be future work for you. Therefore, the risk is all on your end with little risk to the clients.
My name is Chris Takakura, I am an art director and visual designer servicing businesses and studios around the world. I specialize in print design, brand/identity, with a strong concentration in web design & front-end development. I am always looking to connect and be involved in creative projects, so if you are interested in my creative services, please contact me here.