In any business, clients are only willing to part with their money when they’re confident that there paying for something they need or want.
If your car breaks down, you pay a mechanic to fix it – they fulfil a need.
If you don’t particularly like the colour of your car, you can pay a painter to respray it for you – they fulfil a desire.
You don’t take your car in and say “Everything’s perfectly fine, I love the car. I just want you to spend a few days coming up with ideas and do some work on the car and if I like the changes, I’ll pay for your work”. That would be ridiculous.
Sadly, in the graphic design industry there are those who think such requests are perfectly acceptable.
More often than not, requests for spec work are vague to say the least. A brief might consist of nothing more than “need a logo for my clothes business”, and that’s about it.
Such requests are often the result of someone deciding on the spur of the moment, that they are going to start a business, and thinking I’m going to need a logo. Never mind that absolutely nothing else about the business has been established.
No detailed products or available services, no particulars on what the identity of the business will be, no insight into target audience, nothing.
Similarly, if a potential client “will know it when they see it” and only “buy it if they like it”, they clearly haven’t given any serious thought to their desired outcomes.
The advantage of spec design work for clients is that there is no risk involved and no commitment required. At the end of the day when they decide they’ve rushed into things and don’t want to pay the bill, they can simply walk away. No loss to them, just a loss of time for any designer(s) involved.
On the flip side of that coin, no graphic designer is going to invest serious time and effort into a design project on the off chance that they might get paid for their time, if the client feels like it.
It’s been shown again and again that many “designers” (and I use the term loosely…) that participate in design contests or other speculative design work are just pumping out hastily assembled junk, recycled designs and “borrowed” if not blatantly stolen designs.
Ultimately, it’s a waste of time for all involved. If you’re a budding designer looking to make a start, or a client in seek of professional help, get serious about your work and leave speculative work for the amateurs, copy-cats and the half-baked business ideas.