Cover: Illustrated by Valéry Goulet (

What is Speculative Work?

Speculative design work or spec work is work done without any guarantee of fair market value remuneration or compensation.

“Do your best design work, send it in and we will let you know if you get the job or not.”

Have you ever asked this of a designer?

The practice of asking for free design concepts in order to choose the ‘right designer’ or the ‘best design’ or the ‘best logo’ undermines and devalues the professional designer's education, experience, hard work and the entire design industry. GDC members do not engage in contests or other speculative, commercial projects.

Do you work at your livelihood for free?

Do you give your professional services away at no charge? Designers are constantly asked to compete for work by providing creative ideas and design work at no charge. This practice does not compensate designers for their work or their time. Designers run businesses, have staff, offices, overhead, mortgages to pay. Designers have had years of education, training and experience. Graphic/communication design is not a hobby, it is a livelihood. We create valuable tools for the world – for businesses, large and small, for government, for non-profits. Our work benefits areas of education, finance, culture, entertainment, health, labour, sports, recreation, tourism, environment, and many others. We build wayfinding systems, design packaging, create maps, books, floor plans, exhibits, signage, corporate identities, trademarks and logos, stamps, posters, displays, websites, multimedia, interactive DVDs, advertising, transit shelters, television and film graphics, newspapers, magazines, reports, manuals. We designed the labels for your clothing, the gum wrapper in your pocket, the text book your child is reading in school, the logo on your cheque book.

Some clients may not understand that our “ideas” are our inventory, that our creative is our stock in trade and that we've learned how to do this through hours of education, training, practice and hard work. Finding an effective design solution takes time. It includes a thorough analysis of the problem, its context and constraints.

There must be collaboration between the client and the designer, for design to be an effective business asset.

Without the experience and expertise a professional designer brings, design buyers may end up with design solutions that don't reach their target market; digital files that don't work when they reach the printer, identity systems that that don’t work across different media, and extra costs for reprinting.

From the client's point of view, speculative creative work often works against a marketing plan, unless there is proper assessment of the objectives. Clients will benefit from a professional designer's approach which can help them meet their marketing goals more successfully and more economically.

CGD certified members of the GDC can make a client stand out, motivate potential customers, cultivate brand recognition, and influence public perception of companies, services, products. Experienced graphic/communication designers understand this — extending clients’ reach into the marketplace and helping them achieve their full market potential.

A professional graphic/communication designer is a business partner, seeing projects from the planning, concept development and budgeting stages, through to production, quality control and the finished product.

When you hire a CGD certified designer, you are tapping into expertise in communication strategies, effective problem-solving, and highly specialized design skills. A designer will help articulate business objectives and crystallize ideas, and reward clients with thoughtful visual communications that make their messages clear.

When you think about graphic/communication design, and its potential for your business, remember, quality design is effective design. To find the right designer for your project:

  1. Evaluate several members or firms through referrals, interviews, professional standing and presentation of their past work. By reviewing the work of several designers, a client can match a designer’s expertise to the requirements of a particular project, rather than having too many design firms competing on a project. While this process requires more investment of time for each candidate, it reduces the number of candidates that require client evaluation, and provides evaluation at a more thorough level. Click Find a Designer for a list of CGD certified designers.
  2. If you are certain you require a presentation of creative ideas from more than one firm, it is recommended you pay a fee to each competitor for their presentation. The fee should be a reasonable design fee for a similar project under normal circumstances. If such an expense cannot be justified for the project, choose a firm based upon past experience. Limit the number of candidates for the competition to those designers you are seriously interested in, and notify each candidate about whom they are competing with, or at least about how many firms are in the competition. Limiting the number of competitors increases the motivation for all candidates to participate fully. Select design firms that can demonstrate similar capability. Selecting firms with widely differing levels of expertise and administrative support can skew the results of a competition.
  3. Prepare a thorough and detailed outline of the project and adequately brief the contending firms. Be sure that the contenders are all quoting on the same project description.