Spec work is bad, but not being able to keep the lights on is probably worse. Fortunately, with 10+ years under our belt of designing within the professional service industry, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to keep the lights on. And we’ve come to a realization: Not everyone sees the same thing in the same way.
This might not sound like much of a realization. After all, we all know that some people are visual thinkers, some people are focused on big picture strategy, and some are obsessed with granular checklists and crossing off all their boxes. Where things get tricky, however, is when we try to solicit feedback that will help spur a project or product into a new phase or direction, and we’re met with a fragmentation of feedback or lack of consensus.
For instance, during stakeholder reviews, our team, the client’s team and any third party participants are all looking at the same design / prototype / what-have-you. However, as quickly becomes evident when feedback starts pouring in, different people focus on different areas and aspects of the work.
This situation is made even more challenging when we try to use the current state of the project to illustrate an opportunity that,while it could have a lot of merit and value, is still rather ethereal and difficult to grasp.
This is where spec work comes in. A lot of times because there is a lack of fidelity and continuity between one person’s idea and another person’s understanding of it, employing the services of an experiential or visual aid can effectively correct the disconnect, and help people arrive on the same page more quickly. This is great for collaboration, ideation, and sussing out those important conversations that amount to further evolution of a product. But it’s also important to be vigilant about not falling into the potholes that early speculative work can bring with it, like closed-thinking and stagnated ideation to name just a few.
If you can avoid the pitfalls, though, there are tremendous advantages that come along with charting your own course. Spec work can help realize a vision that’s rooted in a solid understanding of your customer’s environment and is at least partially driven by data, which will help make what you’re trying to explain relevant and palatable to stakeholders.
And because you (and by extension your team / company) have mitigated some of the risk of producing and crafting an idea into a presentable state, your team holds the power. Simply by introducing an element of surprise and delight to your customer, you’ve started making progress towards the new vision. Right off the bat, they aren’t wondering how their decision at that table during that review will cost them or their company — you’ve absorbed most of that cost for them — and without that financial shackle to hold them back, their imaginations are allowed to run with the narrative that your team is offering.
This doesn’t mean that all spec work is warmly received, openly accepted, or even good from a standpoint of quality or creativity. But what it does mean is that if timed correctly and approached properly, the investment your team makes of a week or two to create an idea or prototype, could lead down some successful and, even more importantly, uncharted paths.
In our experience, showing that we are proactively striving to create a better tomorrow for their company is what helps turn clients into true partners.
And building those partnerships and establishing that trust is what allows us to carry forward through risky and amazing ideas together — without having to do free work every time. They trust us when we bring new options to them, giving them chances to grow their business they might otherwise miss. And that’s the true value of spec work: helping our customer partners spot the opportunities that are hiding in plain sight.
Interested in working as a part of our team of professional design sleuths? Apply to work with us here. Interested in finding the opportunities you may be missing? Contact us here.