As a designer, you eventually become acquainted with speculative (or ‘spec’) work — work done prior to engagement with a client in anticipation of being paid. The views on spec work vary, but there’s no denying it is a practice that often benefits the client more than the designer. Webcomics.com recently published an article on spec work by Christopher Williams. While the article is written for the web comic audience, he touches on points that are valid across-the-board:
Spec work is never the best work. When artists compete, they often make poor decisions and don’t offer the best of what they can create. The client doesn’t get inspiration; instead they get what the artist thinks they want. Without the process of working with the artist to get the best possible solution, the client is usually left picking the lowest denominator.
It stands to reason that in the context of design commodity, only poor results are possible. As I expect that you’re after something a bit better than poor results, you should not waste your time dealing with design as a commodity. Nor should you seek to enlist the services of professionals but then deal with them as you would a commodity… When dealing with professionals, an RFP is less an instrument of efficiency and effectiveness and more a proclamation of slight regard and unsuitability.
Andy has taken an unusual approach in that his article is directed not at design professionals, but rather at those in need of design services. A highly recommended read if for no other reason than his excellent introduction.