Recognizing the business value of creativity and problem solving.
By Kristin Leu
I’m surprised how many posts I’ve seen lately regarding speculative work in the design industry. We all know we shouldn’t do it. Still, companies ask and we become enticed. When we’re starting our careers, designers are often drawn to spec work to get a foot in the door, develop portfolio samples, and to obtain real-world design experience beyond our student portfolios. We continue to be drawn to this type of work to exercise our creative muscles, show off our design skills, and present fresh and innovative ideas. However, whether it’s for a competition, a client, a prospect, or a friend-of-a-friend, working for free is not a good idea.
Most design organizations agree. For example, the AIGA regularly speaks out against spec work and aims to educate designers and clients about the problems of doing non-paid work. (See the recent AIGA response to the National Endowment for the Arts’ RFP soliciting designs.)
But even when we’re not openly asked to work for free, we often unwittingly volunteer to do so in our own business practices. We’ve been trained to look at things and question: Why is it communicated that way? What can I do to make it better? How can design help to solve the problem? And because we’re eager and excited, we’re often too quick to provide answers and solve other people’s problems.
When we offer solid design ideas and concrete recommendations (rather than proposals or examples) before there is a viable project, we’re losing sight of our creativity as profit. We make it look too “easy” and giving away design for free comes at a cost – both monetarily and professionally. Offering immediate solutions implies that the design process is simple and not strategic. If clients truly want to reap the rewards of professional design, they need to understand the role and process of the designer. To build the perceived value of design to others, we must demonstrate the value of our creativity, our problem-solving abilities, and our business acumen.
Designers provide well-thought-out creative solutions to problems; for most of us, this doesn’t come in a moment of creative genius. It comes with trial, error, research, process, a college education and many years experience. It’s smart to sharpen our business and presentation skills to confidently approach new prospects and articulate the value of design. But we have to stop short of actually doing the work before we’ve officially landed the project. And once we do, let’s be sure to bill accordingly.