Tuesday 15th July 2014

Why Speculative Design Doesn't Work (+Video)

Joshua Hobson

Speculative design is an approach used by many clients and designers but it has limited benefits. If you’re not familiar with the term, speculative design (commonly referred to as ‘spec design’) is a progress that occurs when a client requests that a designer, or group of designers, produce a mock-up of a prospective design. This sometimes then leads to an agency winning a contract to carry out web development work. For those whose designs do not get accepted, it can be a waste of time, effort and money.

Yes, if you are a client then you can ask for spec design to get an idea of what your finished product will look like, see if the brief can be met and if the designer is somebody you would be happy to work with. But ultimately, there are other ways to see if a designer is suitable for your project.

Spec design can be harmful for everybody involved and at Statement, we highly recommend more efficient approaches in order to find the right designer for you.

Here are a few key reasons why spec design doesn’t work …

Speculative Design is uninformed

When a client asks a prospective designer to produce spec designs, there is very little collaboration and research. A designer doesn’t have the ability to get to know the company’s values and beliefs in a detailed manner and so spec design can fall short.

In order for a client to get a really great design, they should work closely with the designer to inform them about the company’s background, history, values, ideologies and aims.

It’s a complex process which is sacrificed when spec design is brought into the mix.

Speculative Design doesn’t have the end user in focus

What the client wants and what the end user wants can be two different things. The nature of spec design is to impress the client and provide what the client wants. Then, if the project is accepted and taken further, the design doesn’t fulfil the purpose of engaging the end user and this can seriously damage sales and conversions, resulting in an unhappy client who feels that they have not seen a return on their investment.

Herein lies a great analogy (not our own unfortunately, but one that’s commonly referred to). Take the task of designing a ketchup bottle. A spec design of a glass bottle looks great and impresses the client, but the end user would probably find that a plastic squeezy bottle is easier to use. It’s the same with any website – it’s vital that the design is about impressing the end user as well as the client.

Speculative Design is not cost-effective

For obvious reasons, spec design is not cost-effective for the designer. But what many people don’t take into account is that spec design is also not cost-effective for the client.

Designers need to make up for the costs that occur when they produce unapproved spec designs. This is usually accounted for when clients accept a preferred design.

So if you begin a project with a designer who produces spec design, it is possible that you could also be paying for a string of failed design that have occurred beforehand. It can also be costly to set out down the wrong path, impressing the client and not the end user and then having to go right back to the start once this is realised.

What are the alternatives?

There are many alternatives to spec design. They might take a little extra effort on the client side initially but ultimately it’s worth it because the result will be a purposeful, impactful design that won’t lose you money before you’ve started!

At Statement, we don’t produce spec design. If a client is considering hiring us for a project, we recommend that they first take a look at our portfolio of related projects. We have a wide span of work and it’s likely that we will have worked for somebody related to industry before. If you want to find out further information, we will happily share contact details for our existing clients (with their permission of course) so that you can speak directly to them about their experience of working with us.

Spec design is an out of date practice that causes more harm than good. If you want some more information about spec work, then visit nospec.com where you can find out more up-to-date information on the ‘no spec’ campaign.

Image Credits: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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