Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

Sometimes what makes for trouble seeing is just what we need. Sunshine in the morning is a great way to wake up, but hard to face when heading into work. And, when you exercise, a runny nose means you’re burning fat — who knew such an annoyance could be a good thing. Now, what could be good about speculative work?

How healthy is speculative work?

Many complain about it and there are some really good sources on why it shouldn’t be done.  And, to be clear, Capsule has never done speculative work and won’t do it.

In case this isn’t clear, speculative or unpaid work includes what is traditionally called “spec” work, contests, volunteer work and pro bono work. Situations where things are exchanged, but the one creating the intellectual property is not getting an equitable compensation.

We can rule out pro bono, internships and volunteer work as hopefully you’ve clarified ownership and those doing this type of work are of equal understanding of what is being exchanged.

Now, as I understand the law, the artist/designer/photographer doesn’t give up any rights until they sign them away to a “work for hire” agreement or other such contract (in exchange for something of equal value). So, there are rights we have as the creators of intellectual property. This may be comforting, but it still doesn’t account for the Pantone 424 areas of these situations (that’s grey for the non-designers).

When entering a relationship (client and partner) both sides should want to know that they will be treated with respect, get the best work and be proud of what they’ve accomplished together. Abuse happens when there’s misunderstanding or people who think they don’t need to pay for the softer properties (intellectual property).

But, photographing an Andy Warhol at the Guggenheim museum, claiming you own it and using it to line your pockets is still theft even if it isn’t intellectual in nature.

But, let’s get back to the core of the issue. The ask by a potential client to do speculative work is still an ask and when someone asks you something you have the social right to ask something in return. What do you ask? That’s the question you have to ponder the next time you hear the ask “we’d like to see some work on our design problem so we can see how you think.” Ask yourself, what is the potential client really asking from you? And, what can you ask in return?

Capsule is proud to say we have won work by not doing speculative work on numerous occasions. We have done this by asking for something in return and coming to the table with an equal exchange. Because if you really think about it, that’s what will help the relationship move forward, a better understanding of what the relationship will look like in the future.

So, asking for speculative work can be a good thing — if you see it as an “ask” and return the favor.