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Spec Work, Labor and the Internet | Public Curricula

Spec Work, Labor and the Internet

As tech advocates, we often field queries from startups, nonprofits and political advocates around the topic of so-called “spec work”.

What’s spec work, you may ask? Let’s take a recent CL example as our jumping off point:

Need a fair/serious web designer who will build a small 5-6 page “member subscription” based site built in wordpress.
Willing to pay eventually if your work speaks volumes. At first you’d be an intern.

This is spec work. It’s when somebody asks you to do work up front, with only a vague promise of pay if it meets their (undefined and subjective) standards. Why is spec work bad? The heroic antispec website has this to say:

It is tough for designers starting out. They have no money to advertise for work and they have a limited portfolio to showcase their design. Crowdsourcing websites know this and take full advantage.

They’re right – it is tough for designers and developers starting out.  You reach out, hoping to get that initial first score, hoping that, as our friend above asked, “our work will speak volumes” and “there might be a lots of work down the road” if we can “just get this phase 1 done for free.”

As a medium sized fish in a huge pond, we wanted to revisit this topic and urge fellow designers and developers, as well as those in need of quality work, not to do or ask for spec work. More than anything, we want to stress our solidarity and respect for labor and its inherent worth and value. Think about promoting a charter of principles at your work:

  1. Fellow web designers and developers: Every job you do on spec, or for free, lowers the bar of expectations and worth for everyone in your field.
  2. We love owning our own business. We set our own hours, small vacations, and might even work in our sweatpants on a snowy day. Just because your work is fun, or you enjoy your flexible and creative work environment doesn’t mean that your work isn’t labor and that you ought to be compensated fairly for it.
  3. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. We believe in healthy, friendly, and responsive client relationships, where we are just as invested in a project as our client. We set real deadlines and stick to them. This can only happen with a fair, equitable, and mutually agreed upon compensation.
  4. It doesn’t all come down to the dollar. We believe in alternate economies of exchange—trades, barters, and flexible payment schedules. We stand for fairness in the workforce, and forms of payment that appropriately recognize the time and labor involved in getting the job done.