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Spec Work and Kill-Fee: What Do You Need To Know

For both professional and amateur graphic designers, you may have heard of the term spec work.

For those of you who don’t understand spec work (speculative work), well, we’ll explain a little. Spec work is a type of work that requires you to complete the work first, until it is finished, before the client decides whether to pay for it or not.

Called speculative, because the client is not necessarily willing to pay for your work.

This type of work is very common in the graphic design agency field. And even freelancers working on a rush project like event videos.

There are several sites that offer this kind of work, such as 99designs.

Graphic designers are divided on this. Some agree (even study) the spec work, some reject it outright.

For those of you who are just starting a career in the graphic designer field, regardless of whether you are a DKV graduate or self-taught, maybe you are still confused about whether to take the spec work path or not.

If you still don’t understand what a spec workflow looks like, we’ll describe it as follows.

Let’s say you are a novice graphic designer, who is ready to compete with other designers on spec work sites.
There is a vacancy available on the site! There is PT X, wanting a new logo and design for the company profile. The company is engaged in the construction sector, has been around since 1980, and has received projects from various cities in Indonesia.
In this vacancy, PT X provides a budget of approximately 15,000,000. They asked for logos, letterhead designs, and business card designs. In the job criteria, they want the design to match their corporate identity.
You then design according to the briefing that has been requested.
When finished, on the spec work site there were about 60 other people who had submitted their designs.
You then submit your design, and wait for the results.
From here, there are two scenarios.
First scenario: your design is accepted. Safe! You get a commission of IDR 15,000,000 (deducted by commission for the provider site where the spec works).
Second scenario: your design is rejected. You get nothing.
This spec work has the same concept as a contest. Maybe the difference: there is only one winner, no consolation prize.

At this point you may be torn between being interested in trying or feeling angry with your efforts not paying off.

What makes spec work worth choosing? And why do some people reject spec work? Let’s discuss further.

Advantages of Working with Spec Work
There are several reasons why you should look at spec work as a way to start a career in graphic design.

Adding Portfolio while Looking for Profit
If you are a beginner, you will need a lot of experience to become more proficient. Therefore, you need to practice your skills in designing.

If you don’t have a client yet, graphic designers usually have two options. The first is to do concept branding. This means that you create a modified branding of an existing company. Second, you can do spec work.

If you do concept branding, you can hone your skills. But no money from there. After all, the company doesn’t ask you to do the design.

In contrast to concept branding, you get real (prospective) clients. And the money is real too, provided you win. So in addition to adding to your portfolio, you have the opportunity to benefit from it.

We often hear about Spec work and kill-fee when working with graphic and multimedia designer. What are they? Spec (speculative) work is when the client want to see the example or the final work result before agreeing to pay the fee. This is very unethical in designer world where the designer spend much time and energy for the chance of getting nothing.

Not only for the designer, but also the client will have negative result if they keep doing it. Spec work will build negative relationship between designer and client rather than a long good relationship. How if someday no designer want to work with client that used to do spec work.

The kill fee is a negotiated payment on a graphic or multimedia works when the client cancel the order. Kill fee is paid based on how many percent the works are done. Client may cancel designer works for many reasons, such as: Idea change, project change, lack of time, lack of money, etc.

Kill-fee is out of contract, this is also considered as unethical , even the client won’t use the multimedia works the designers have the right to receive full payment of their works based on the contract order. Allowing the client to pay the kill-fee mean that designers allow them to go out from contract.

These two types of condition are unethical and undesirable by the graphic design community. To keep maintain good long term relationship with the designer we have to avoid these two behaviors.

Author Bio

Andre Oentoro is the founder of Breadnbeyond, an award winning explainer video company. He helps businesses increase conversion rates, close more sales, and get positive ROI from explainer videos (in that order). 


Twitter: @breadnbeyond
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: Andre Oentoro

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