Photo by Georgia Howard

A few months ago, Linkin Park began a T-shirt design contest asking designers to create original artwork inspired by the new Castle of Glass single. I saw this design contest and was immediately excited. If I won, not only would I earn a $1,000 cash prize, I would also receive a signed copy of the t-shirt, which would then be sold both in the official merchandise store and on tour. The pre-teen groupie in me couldn’t help but fantasize about the potential recognition I would receive from my favorite rockstars. I immediately made a mental note to set aside some time to produce a kick-butt design for the contest.

However, as life would have it, I never got around to making the design. While I lamented the fact that I had missed the chance of a lifetime to impress Linkin Park with my design prowess, someone somewhere was celebrating one fewer participant in a design contest.

That someone is Anti-Spec.

The Anti-Spec movement took the design world by storm when it first came about, denouncing any design work commissioned without the guaranteed promise of payment and opposing any design contest that featured only one winner. It’s like having multiple chefs each prepare a separate meal, and then only one meal being chosen while the rest of the chefs get turned away, according to the movement’s website.

Proponents of the Anti-Spec movement believe that designers have the right to be paid for the work they do and that speculative work takes advantage of the notion that amateur designers are desperate for any design job to help build their portfolios by offering lower-than-industry rates. Furthermore, they believe that design contests perpetuate the idea that anyone can be a designer given proper software, thus lessening the market value of professional designers.

However, while it is easy to see how spec work can seem degrading and demeaning to designers, I think there is actually some value to be found in it.

First of all, participants know that they may not get paid for their work exists when they choose to participate. If they are willing to put in time when knowing the potential consequences, who’s to say they shouldn’t? Ultimately, by participating in spec work, the designer is still practicing and improving his or her craft.

Secondly, Anti-Spec disapproves of any design contest. However, as with the case of the Linkin Park design contest, the intent of the contest is not to exploit designers. Instead, these contests give people the opportunity to be involved with brands, companies, celebrities, etc., that they are fans of.

Moreover, design contests involving issues such as healthcare and the environment can benefit from several of ideas from different designers. These design contests can motivate many potential solutions as well as inspire new and innovative ideas.

While I agree that the nature of the Anti-Spec movement is heroic and well-intended, Anti-Spec fails to acknowledge the fact that some speculative work is for the public good. The Anti-Spec movement would be more effective if they were to instead focus on informing amateur designers about the intricacies of spec work, how to not get taken advantage of and lastly, on sending the message to designers, both amateur and professional, to always respect and value themselves and the work they put out.