There are good reasons never to design on spec:
Per Acme Anvil Co.’s request, Joe’s agency designs comps on spec in hopes of winning the Acme redesign project.
Acme Anvil Co. informs Joe’s agency that someone else got the job.
Six months later, Acme Anvil Co. launches its redesigned website. Joe’s VP of new business visits the site and discovers that it looks similar to one of the supposedly rejected designs Joe’s agency had submitted.
Joe’s agency calls Joe’s attorneys. A nasty lawsuit ensues. No matter who wins the suit, it will be costly and annoying — a drag on resources and morale — for all. If Joe’s agency wins, word goes out that they are the kind of agency that sues if they don’t get a job. If Joe’s agency loses, they may have to lay off staff or close their doors. All because they were willing to design on spec.
“No work on spec” was an advertising mantra until the mid-1990s. When we left advertising, it was routine for ad agencies to compete by presenting clients with free print campaigns, TV animatics, and sometimes even branded caps, match packs, or other promotional tie-ins. Agencies would temporarily add award-winning freelancers to their staff, spending thousands on these spec campaigns. Agencies that did not get the account almost always laid off fulltime staff to make up for the money they lost. We do not know if this is still a standard practice in advertising. Fortunately it is not standard practice in web design.
The AIGA strongly advises its members never to design on spec, and we know of no professional web agency that disregards that advice. Most potential clients who’ve initially requested that we submit designs along with our proposals understand our reasons for saying no. Those who insist on getting free designs anyway are simply advertising the fact that they would not be good clients to work for.
If business is slow, especially if you are a freelance web designer/developer, you may be tempted to say yes to unfair requests for free layouts. Designer, beware: the risks outweigh the potential benefits.
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