We now carry the world in our pockets. The internet was a curiosity in the nineties. In the naughties, it was a valuable tool. Now in the late twenty-teens, it has become a utility. Mobile data and WiFi spots have morphed from luxury to necessity.
A web presence is undoubtedly valuable for creatives. We no longer need to cart 10kg+ portfolios around to show our work or pay hundreds of pounds to be printed in a creative directory. Indeed, these are by no means history yet. There is something beautiful and tactile about holding printed media. I even secretly love the smell of the printed page. It even seems to be taking an upturn in popularity. But my point is we now have the luxury of both.
Sadly, along with the internet, three opposing giants have marched forward: DIY, spec work and stock photography.
Giant 1: DIY
Thanks partly to tutorials on video sharing sites, most people know at least one person who has a basic grasp of graphics software. I even use tutorials myself for valuable tips. Nothing wrong with that, we need to keep up. But why get in touch with a professional when you can do it yourself? Well, it's a no-brainer. 95% of the time you get what you pay for (or don't in this case). On a very rare occasion, you may come across a Pelé type designer who can help. But you probably have an equal chance of winning a fully inclusive holiday in Seychelles.
Giant 2: Spec Work
What is spec work? Short for 'speculative' work, it is giving someone your time and skills for free in the hope of getting to the promised land of exposure. Most within the industry will agree that is simply unethical. Beguilingly and sadly, many outside the industry have not even considered how wrong it is. It devalues the skill and craft of creatives and encourages a culture of companies exploiting creatives. It is often being contacted by small companies wanting free designs and ideas. It can also be in the guise of a website in which designers enter a competition to get the work... by doing the work first. Only one gets paid. Usually not much, but hey, you get to do some fun colouring in on the way- right? Again, with this, you often get what you (don't) pay for. The best creatives have bags of valuable experience and spend a great deal of time researching and developing a stunning design. They are in demand and respected for their craft, and know that charging a fair fee is important. Their clients are usually delighted with them and go back for more because they are getting something special which adds value to their business.
I will be honest and say I have fallen into the spec trap before when trying to get work. Many sadly do. Most experienced creatives will be in agreement that it is very rarely rewarding, but most importantly it seriously devalues the industry. You get a reputation for being the person who does it for free or cheap. It is self-destructive.
I had a camping company approach me recently asking for a full brand ID revamp package. He had contacted about ten different designers asking for them to do the work. He would be like Simon Cowell and kindly select the designer to use and pay. Lucky me! I replied politely saying why I do not consider this kind of proposal. I asked why he thought this was ethical? He was surprised that I asked this question. “Of course,” he said, “I need to know for sure that I will like the designs”. I replied that proof of my ability is evident in my portfolio and that it is important for clients to trust the quality of previous outcomes. He replied, “That just won't cut it, I'm afraid”. Still refraining from an unprofessional tone I politely challenged him: “It is a bit like me asking you to consider letting me stay at your campsite for a week. Oh, and I will also do the same at nine others. I will pay for the one I enjoyed the most”.
My advice to creatives tempted by spec work? Do your own work, stuff that inspires and energises you. Then show it. This is a much more rewarding use of your time long term and the outcomes will almost certainly add richness to your portfolio. Passion shows! Often self-initiated gems are admired by prospective clients. Spec rant over.
Giant 3: Stock Art
Those on a budget may choose to buy an illustration from a stock art website. There are some fantastic designs available to buy and without a doubt, this has impacted the amount of work that used to be solely the domain of freelance creatives. However, before you buy, consider this: It is rare that you will find exactly what you are looking for. A creative solution which fits like a nylon glove, smashes the brief out of the park and adds real value can only be a result of a creative commission. Great communication, clear briefs and the collaborative process come hand in hand. With a stock design purchase, while you may have something pretty, you will have a generic image. Also, many others can buy exactly the same thing.
Hiring a creative to help will give you a bespoke experience which is tailor fitted to your objective. The creative will consider not only the brief but the ethos/personality of your company and your target demographic. They will then craft for you something which has the double benefit of beauty and meaningfulness. All whilst being entirely bespoke. It will be evident to your audience that you are a serious company. One which not merely values the creative industry but knows the value of it. A bespoke creative solution always pays off. It simply makes business sense.
For more info on spec work, see nospec.com.