golden ticketImage via Crankbunny.

Here was the pitch.


I’m reaching out to you to let you know about this unique project to work with DJ Rusko.

Talenthouse has partnered with KarmaloopTV and top English DJ and producer, DJ Rusko, to offer graphic designers the opportunity to participate in a worldwide project for which they can receive global recognition for their creativity.

The project asks that graphic designers design the official “R” logo for DJ Rusko which he will use on all of his merchandise and marketing material worldwide during 2011. The selected designer will also receive $1,000 (USD) for their design.

To participate or get more information, go to:

If you have any questions feel free to send me an e-mail.

And my reply.


Thanks for the kind offer.

In return, I’m reaching back to let you know about a unique project opportunity for DJ Rusko.

The project asks that DJ Rusko record and produce a new music track — one that mentions my name and my title as a graphic designer. I’ll play the track on my website to a worldwide audience, giving full credit. I’ll also pay $1,000.

If I don’t like the track, or if I prefer one created by another DJ (I’m contacting thousands of others with the same unique opportunity), I won’t play it on my site. Nor will I pay the monetary prize.

To participate, have DJ Rusko send the completed MP3 file to my email address.

Kind regards,


Spec chat elsewhere:

# #

November 17, 2010


Hey David,

It’s an absolutely awesome reply. Well, I’m quite interested to see if you get any reply on this. :)

I think all designers need to know about spec work in detail from the very beginning of their careers. Something like this should be taught in design school.

Perfect. I would have gone the “contest” route with my reply but that works really well. I learned a long time ago that spec work really doesn’t create much exposure or lead to other opportunities. It just pads your book and you don’t need another party for that. And if you have years of experience like I do your book is already solid.

Hi David,
Now this is the way we should all respond to spec work invitations!
Well done and amazing how you can remain politely sarcastic!

Solid reply.
Like most professional designers/developers I am against any form of spec work. My first attempt at a paying job a number of years ago was a contest and haven’t done anything of the sort since.
Unfortunately, tons of people are going to enter that contest. The lack of moral or ethical code among young designers in the industry – along with a the promise of getting their name out there – make these contests nearly impossible to defeat.
I know you’re thoughts and involvement in the NO!SPEC campaign and agree with them completely. Unfortunately, unless designers are educated on this long before they enter the workforce (as @hariabinash mentions above), full annihilation of spec work is not going to happen.

And thats how we do it.

Now lets turn it into a poster, hang it in front of our face and promote it for all the blogs to see. Maybe then the rest of the design community will abolish this abuse in unison.

Very good answer. I doubt these guys will bother you again. :] What the hell is wrong with people and their cheap attitude towards design… only proves their complete ignorance in the field. Despite this, ever so often they want the final say… Sigh.

Wow David, what a star you are! I hope you don’t let all this fame go to your head and run off with some 20 year old girl or I’ll have to beat you! xxx

Brilliant, David!
At first, before I read his letter, I thought it was going to be at least a personal request to you, not a spammed out mass ‘unique’ email. Your answer is so perfect, and like others I’m curious if you get a reply, though doubt it. Sadly, many young designers will jump at this ‘opportunity.’
The whole thing reminds me of the guy that got the nigerian email scam and then scammed him back. Just google John Boko, hilarious stuff.

Hehe, ah David, your comical genius never fails to make me laugh.

I imagine you are the best person to get telemarketing calls, they are always fun for a laugh. I normally try to sell them something or pretend I’m another business.

Make me chuckle,
Cheers :)

Love the response. It’s funny – before I read your response, I just read the reply, went to the website, and started posting a comment along the same lines – just not as well crafted.

I am conflicted though about how to fight contests, spec, and crowdsourcing. Obviously the business model doesn’t allow for the designer to subsist so it’s only chance for success is to continue exploiting new designers. Should we really be surprised that this is happening? I’m guessing most participants in these contests are young designers or students – who are being asked to get experience, and take unpaid internships. When you put unpaid internships next to the spec work and crowd sourcing options – they seem quite equal.

So what do we do? I’m personally leaning more toward educating young designers on career management, and understanding the very basics of business – why you need to make a profit, time is money, and supply and demand.

Very nice, David. Hehehehehe.

I once had a client (The Refinery in London, a male grooming ’emporium’) not pay for a brochure because they decided not to print it. The design was finalised and they were happy with it. They just decided not to go ahead with it. They told me ‘we don’t pay for work we don’t use’.

I asked them ‘If a plumber comes and fixes a tap, but you never turn that tap on again, do you not pay the plumber?.

Unfortunately it’s sometimes difficult to quantify design and branding. To some people it has little value, and to some degree the design industry is to blame.


In all seriousness though, I’m so tired of seeing the uprising of crowdsourcing attempts. They’re getting bolder, and braver, in ever-increasing numbers.

Say no to spec work!

The funny thing about your response is that there are many DJs who would be very happy to submit a new music track if they thought there was a chance of it reaching a new audience or music industry professional.

I have a friend who does remixes for fun and some (very little) profit. He was asked by a small company to submit some tracks for inclusion on a record they were issuing in a small release. He did it without compensation, basically because he loved the music and hoped that having an actual recording with his name might get him some additional recognition and maybe even some paid work.

I guess my point is that when you’re breaking into a highly competitive creative field, it’s hard to stick to the principle that you should never work without pay upfront. To them, it must seem that a “no spec” position is a luxury that only those with established careers can afford. I agree with you that spec word devalues what we do and the creative process, but I also understand why it takes place and why some designers see it as an acceptable compromise in order to break into the industry.

LOVE IT! I’m so over the crowdsourcing way of getting identity work done. It IS spec work plain and simple. Unfortunately the more designers participate in it, the more clients can get away with requesting it.

We recently received an RFP which had an unbelievable number of deliverables and requests…. basically do the identity & full website design, submit it for FREE, then if we like it, we pick you.

After years of doing this for other agencies I worked at, I refuse to do it for my own.

Hey Larry,

I’m just wondering why designers would feel they need to ‘break’ into an industry that welcomes exceptional, well thought-out, and well delivered talent with wide open arms in the first place? Do designers really need ‘breaks’ (other than design competitions, and good old fashion portfolios of their work) — and more to that point, is spec work the way to earn that break?

Oh, my hero. What a beautifully elegant reply. I’m a visual artist, not a graphic designer, but similar crap appears on bulletin boards for artists all the time. Usually it’s for a “little to no budget” project posting including a nugget like “great opportunity to add to your portfolio” or “perfect for a student”. Someday I will do a nice rendering of a middle finger and start emailing those out in response. Hurrah! Keep rockin’, man.

to Colin Stephen,
All fields welcome the exceptionally gifted; those few who can lay down their own rules and scorn the efforts of the less talented.
This is about the other 90% who are trying to make a living by grinding out work as best they can and looking for a break wherever it might present itself.

I sorta’ agree and totally understand the sentiment.

However, in light of the last few years where getting work, for me at least, was a fierce fight.. I usually try and turn some of those into ops. Using the acquired freelancers foresight of gauging whether a client actually has the 1k they’re talking about and The average skill level of the competition pool they’ve propositioned, i feel out whether I can sway them into a side deal. Usually, by sending them a proposal of my own accompanied by some “blast ’em out of the water” samples that fit their style. The proposal would include pricing tiers, lower, equiv and above the the 1k they were offering with less than, equal to or more than they asked for as an option. And, to put the nail in the deal, Include some bits and pieces they haven’t thought about or couldn’t/wouldn’t know they needed or technical babble we a graphics do’ers know and they don’t. That up against the fact that responders to their ad would probably only be noobs new the game it may have a decent chance of turning into a project then or later. Sometimes this worked and of course, sometimes not. Couple of times this method got me projects they hadn’t made public yet. But NEVER work for free unless i need port samples or learning and certain I can live with the loss.

I just love your response! It annoys me how inconsiderate people can be to send requests like that all the time to professional designers. They all deserve clever responses such as yours! Maybe, they will get it one day…:)

Neil, due to current projects I’m not accepting new clients until early 2011, so I’m unsuitable for the job.

Thanks a lot for the comments and Twitter mentions, everyone. I’m glad (the majority of) you liked the post.

Great response.

I must admit I was ignorant to the whole “spec work” thing until I started following your blog. Hat in my hands, I want to apologize to the creative community because I have participated in a mass solicited design contest. Please forgive me.

Firstly – it’s pretty awesome that you got asked to participate in a project for Rusko (mainly because his music in insane).

Secondly, that’s an awesome response. You’d think that with the music industry constantly complaining about people not paying for things, they’d be looking to pay for quality work.

Well done, David.

Right on the nose!

Obviously, the sad part is that too many designers don’t have your cunning reflexes David. A rotten apple is still quite tempting to a starving man. Why are there still people rummaging through garbage bins to survive? Are there too many designers out there and not enough work to go around? SPEC work is unethical, no doubt about it, but for some, it’s better than nothing at all. As long as we have hungry people, we’ll have people who profit from this.

SPEC work is definitely wrong, but is it the source of our problem or just a symptom. Could this have anything to do with the basics : SUPPLY AND DEMAND ?

Okay so you turn down every single pitch request you receive?

You have never worked for a pitch and lost it with no fee?

You only work on commissions?

If you haven’t then your either really lucky or have sore knees, forget who this is for and how badly worded it is, it’s essentially a pitch and would suit a design student rather than a well weathered designer such as yourself.

I don’t agree with free pitching, but then again I don’t agree with having to pay to park my car when I pay road tax but that’s life and the system. We an try and educate and refuse to pitch but living in the effects of the worst financial crisis that becomes even harder when you have a mortgage to pay.

Rather than take the piss, maybe send this brief on to some students who would appreciate the exposure and experience.

I don’t understand what’s the problem with this request too.

It’s more of a competition. Do people who participate in the Olympics demand compensation upfront before they train for it? Do they get paid anything if they lost? Is the industry – is the WORLD – truly that open, welcoming and meritocratic? Would anyone sacrifice and gamble with their time and energy on spec work if they have the luxury to afford not to?

The reply, as witty as it is, is also kinda holier-than-thou and decreed from an ivory tower.

This is absolutely wonderful. You are a legend – a most creative middle-finger at spec-requesters.

Although I never do spec or pitch work, I do see a distinction between the two. Sometimes you have to pitch an idea/concept to win a project, but you should never have to produce a completed piece of work to AKA spec work.

I think asking designers to work for free, free pitching, crowdsourcing, design competitions etc devalue design and are harmful to the industry. Yes, it happens in architecture, but the end fees justify it as they are so large. Design doesn’t command the same fees.

Not sure what that has to do with Olympic Athletes who receive funding from sponsorship and governments or sponsors though.

Great reply David, I am not a fan of spec work, to be honest it is killing Designers.
I would ask them if they gone to clinic, would they ask the doctor for descriptions or some sort of cure, and if that worked they would pay.

That was great! When I read the teaser, I thought you were going to have a go (and win), so when I read your response, I was over the moon, and highly titilated.

“Good man yerself” as we say in Ireland…

A clever & humorous response, though I appreciate your sentiment I have to say – Do you (and other established professional designers) really feel so threatened by spec work?

I have been following your blog for about 3 years now (though this is the first time I have posted a comment) . I find it educational, informative, interesting & at times, humorous. I’m a fan of your work and have respect for you as a designer, but are you saying competitions/spec work such as this & sites such as 99designs have effected your business and the industry? Are you losing clients or having to work harder to find new ones?

The subject of this post – the competition is just a competition. It should not be viewed as an employment opportunity. It is an opportunity for some, if they choose, to take part in a real brief, to test or hone there skills and for one lucky contestant, a prize of $1000 and possibly some exposure. I feel the same about sites such as 99designs, which seem to upset designers a great deal. In my opinion (and it is just my opinion – I know I’m stepping into dangerous territory here) the majority of designers look at it from the wrong angle. I don’t think these sites are a threat to the industry. They have their place in the (free) market. For example. Inexperienced designers can practice there skills, build there portfolio’s and learn the pressures of working for real clients to real deadlines with no fear of disappointing the client. The small chance of winning some prize money is enough to make people commit there time and effort. But, any designer that expects to make a living from 99designs is misguided. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you would put in fewer hours and earn more money working at Starbucks.

The internet and the digital age has changed the way every industry operates. It has opened up opportunities for people that did not exist a few years ago. These spec sites/ competitions/ crowd sourcing sites – whatever you wish to call them -have a place in the market, and I think they will continue to. That part of the market is small and will only satisfy a particular type of designer/client. I don’t believe spec work is “killing designers”. Designer that are good at their job, that establish good communication and produce consistently quality work have nothing to fear. Industries change. Embrace it, in a positive manner.

I should add, by saying embrace change I do not mean work for free. There are many flaws in the way in which these crowd sourcing sites work – which soon become apparent to both designers & clients. Put simply I’m trying to say that I don’t think these spec sites are as big a threat as some make out. So actually David, your comical response to your request for spec work is the best way to deal with such an offer – laugh it off…

Hi David,

Excellent response, well done. I think you should celebrate by asking your local wine merchant to send you a dozen different bottles, and you can pay for the one you like (after trying them all, of course).

I hope you keep tabs on the project as I’d *really* like to see what this gentleman ends up with.

Also, really quite astounded at some of the negative comments you’ve received above. I note none of the people who made those negative comments had it in them to leave a full name or site details. I wonder why…


@ Richard Amies
I think the problem with this form of spec work is that one person is benefiting directly from all of these people working for free (in the vain hope of payment).

David’s suggestion that Pro Bono is a much better way for a young designer to extend their portfolio is absolutely spot on. That way it’s one person giving their time freely to support a worthy cause, rather than one person hoping to benefit from 100+ others working for free.

There’s also the aspect that some of the design contest sites pitch the work you receive as ‘professional design work’, when it blatantly isn’t. Honest businesses are falling for this and that really is damaging the design industry.

Hey David, what do think about those companies who “disguise” the spec work under the word “contest”? to me it’s the same, but I heard of some many guys that cannot resist to participate in a “contest” for a big company. Here in Peru a few weeks ago there was a “contest” to create the Halloween logo for a important cinema chain, I encouraged some of them not to participate, but they answered back “it’s a contest man, it’s not spec!”

By the way, did you read the link provided in the email David? They request that the logo will be delivered in a .jpg format.

I got that Rusko email – exactly the same as yours. I trashed it instantly, but soooo wish I’d responded how you did. :)

Can’t wait to hear the David Airy megamix by DJ Rusko.

Hi David, thank you for the links. I was not aware of these posts. However, I am aware of most of the issues noted on spec watch. Most of which quickly became apparent to me through my own experiences. Apologies to anyone now if this causes offense but I entered some contests on 99designs.

Allow me to explain my situation. I have been passionate about design for many years but for reasons that I will not bore you with now ended up working in the construction industry. Always maintaining an interest in design, occasionally flirting with the idea of trying to pursue it as a career. Which I did, on and off. Long story short, eventually I got a bit more serious about design as a career. I spent a year completing an access course at Leeds College of Art & Design and was offered a place on a degree course.
I decided against the idea of going to university – at the time there was much debate in publications such as CR as to the value of degree courses and I didn’t want to get saddled with the financial burden that ensues.

Quite naively, I want self-employed – working in the construction industry – believing this would allow me the time and flexibility to work on my design skills whilst allowing me to earn a reasonable income. My construction business consumed all my time and energy and it took me about three years before I could even begin to think about my graphic design career. Eventually I began to get bits of design work, some pro bono, some paid but again, the need to earn a decent wage was greater and so the design career took a back seat.

More recently I found myself in a position to flex my creative muscle again and happened across 99designs. Not knowing much about the site (or any ‘Crowd Sourcing’ sites) I thought it was a great idea. Don’t get me wrong, I never thought taking part in such a site would be a way of making a living. It was the chance to work on real briefs (or so I thought), for real clients (again, so I thought…),working to a real deadline, with a (very, very…) slight chance of some financial reward. That coupled with the competitive streak in me, to strive to be better than the other designers, was enough to make me take part. My aim was to build my portfolio, using 99designs as a spring board to a career.

After entering just two contests and following several others I began to have my concerns. It was then that I began digging for information and other peoples opinions on such sites that I discovered the animosity and negative feeling towards them. The point I was trying to make in my first comment to this post is that I don’t think the design industry should be too worried about crowd sourcing/contest sites. As I found out (fast), and I’m sure many others have and will, there are many pitfalls for both designers and clients.

And that is why I don’t think these sites are a big threat. Has anyones business been affected as a direct result of such sites? Perhaps its too early to tell?

Nate made a very good point:

‘I am conflicted though about how to fight contests, spec, and crowdsourcing. Obviously the business model doesn’t allow for the designer to subsist so it’s only chance for success is to continue exploiting new designers. Should we really be surprised that this is happening? I’m guessing most participants in these contests are young designers or students – who are being asked to get experience, and take unpaid internships. When you put unpaid internships next to the spec work and crowd sourcing options – they seem quite equal.

So what do we do? I’m personally leaning more toward educating young designers on career management, and understanding the very basics of business – why you need to make a profit, time is money, and supply and demand’.

I think what Nate has pointed out here is what people should be putting there efforts into. Not the knee jerk reactions to Crowd Sourcing companies – they will destroy themselves in time, due to their poor business model and lack of ethics – though sadly some of them will get rich in the process.

Wow – its taken me a lot of words to make my point but I thought you might be interested in my experiences…. I should also mention I have decided to never again take part in these types of contest/spec work. I will concentrate on pro bono work and the few customers I have already gained.

Today in mail:
I would like you to create a character animation in flash, 30 sec with voice-over and dialogues and music in background. You can get the characters from Google… nothing specific… just a teacher teaching Spanish, 30 sec… hmm $75?

As I find myself getting more and more frustrated at the lack of value being placed on design expertise, this article particularly warms my cockles.

Well done for standing up for our profession.

Burn… Well done, David! I hope he takes you up on it… it seems like a win for you! These people are shameless.

“Worldwide” audience?

Has anyone even HEARD of this “DJ Rusko” guy before?

When I think “Worldwide”, I’m thinking, homepage of

Not the homepage of some clown who plays other peoples music for a living. But nice try anyways.


I guess even government institutions (at least State) are trying this now too. I just got an invite to design the new Dept of Natural Resources logo, or rather for a contest that a group of ‘judges’ and the DNR commissioner will choose from. Oh, and they gave me exactly 13 days to do it! Oh, and there isn’t even a prize! I am so there… actually I sent them to the website and told them to think further about this in the future.

A short and sweet reply that should have included at least an attempt at an apology or explanation. Kinda like Hitler saying he does not support concentration camps.

It seems like a constant uphill battle to educate (actually re-educate in many senses) the business community, but at least if more designers continue making a unified stand against spec work and the few talented designers that are still on crowd-sourcing sites start to leave, then at least “spec work” will begin to become associated with poor design and companies will perceive it as less valuable. Currently they see it as an incredible value—as if they were getting free money—which is basically what they’re doing.

Great post.

As a freelance designer, I certainly appreciate how you feel getting requests for spec work. I get them all the time as well. But what your reply really showed them was not that offering spec work competitions is offensive and inappropriate. Instead, it showed them that you can’t reply in a professional and courteous manner, in spite of their lack of the same.

If you must reply rather than ignore the offer, a simple “Thanks for the offer, but I do not submit spec work. The years I’ve spent developing my craft, as well as the time working on your project, have a value. I would never expect someone else to go to work for free. Please understand that this is exactly what you are asking me to do. Thanks, but no thanks.”

We all know that spec work is ridiculous and offensive to our trade, but that doesn’t mean we have to respond in the same fashion. Try operating in a manner that offers respect, as well as demands it. Anyone can draft a smarmy reply to an email. Overcoming the need to send it (or post it with the intent of humiliating the other person) is a different matter entirely.

The bottom line is that people will always be looking for a deal, whether it’s because they’re cheap, or because they don’t value other people’s time and talent as much as their own. Replies like yours won’t change that fact, and eventually even the person tilting at windmills has to ask themselves why they wasted their time? There are ways to fight the good fight that still leave you with some honor and don’t require stooping to their level.

It makes me very happy to see your reply, yet very saddened to know that a hundred or more suckers probably bought into this. Bless those who stick to their principles.


Problem is major brands that have real credo are doing the same damn thing. The links for NO!Spec and AIGA are a huge help in explaining a difficult problem we all face.

Hi David. A little story that I think you’ll find both encouraging and a little sad all at once.

A friend of mine – lets call him John – is a purchaser of creative services for a major fortune 500 corporation. According to him it is very common practice for agencies to do some sort of spec work when responding to RFP’s.

After telling John about the growing NO!Spec movement and the opinion that it is wrong to work for free, even if it means a designer or agency will be awarded a major project by doing so, John agreed that it was wrong.

Recently, he told me that the latest RFP he had sent out, a sizable project (500k budget ), did not contain any sort of spec work requirement at all. And that they would award the project to the agency that was the best fit based on prior work they had done and how the design team meshes with John’s team after a face to face meeting. That’s the encouraging part. Mission accomplished.

The sad thing is that when one of the agencies followed up on the phone – lets call them Specto Agency (apologies to any design firms out there named Specto Agency) – to go over the details, the Specto Agency rep asks why there wasn’t any creative project/idea to present (read: spec) outlined in the requirements. John explained that, though a departure from the norm, that it was not necessary. After an awkward silence, the rep asks if they could present something anyways.

I’m wondering if the other agencies are also thinking that the way they will win the project is to be “different” and make a presentation even if it’s not a requirement. Spec is just so engrained it’s gonna take a while to root it out.

hey David I responded with a message similar to yours to a prod company and this is what i got back…

“You sound like a tricky business person :)

We have 6 scripts optioned: no time to participate in any competition at this point.

Does it mean you won’t decide to team work with us? “

Here’s the kicker to the whole story: A winner was never selected. On every Rusko flyer and music release I’ve seen this year it’s just been his name typeset in a generic sans serif font. No different of a conclusion than pretty much every other “design contest” hosted by a major dubstep or drum and bass artist/record label in history.

(PS: and even if there was a winner, I’m sure Rusko probably would’ve just chosen an inferior logo one of his mates designed for him at the last possible minute…that’s how things tend to work in this business; a downright shame).

Haha! David you surely hit them right. But I’m sure some other designers were quick at sending their concepts hoping to with the cash price. Will use this on on a client one of these days :)

Hahaha. Thanks for saving our heads David Airey. That was the same advice I gave a friend about a month ago when a company placed such demands in Nigeria. Brand design isn’t a commodity and shouldn’t be treated as such. I am quite sure they never replied your email sir. Hehehe.

Unfortunately not, Pawel. Those were the words. I dropped by your personal website and don’t envy the spam comment problem on your Eurostar piece. Good luck with that.

This totally made my day! Fantastic response, the point was made so clearly it absolutely sparkled! I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they read it…

1) Who’s “DJ Rusko”?

2) Who designed the circus attraction card? Couldn’t they have commissioned that clown to do it?

3) LOL

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