I recently came across an article by Shannon Noack in which she wrote about common misconceptions about web designers. She mentioned how people have the misconception that designers are living large based on how much they charge. After reading that, I began to think about how in our industry we’re forced to prove ourselves in ways that wouldn’t ever be asked of in other industries.

Upfront expectations in other industries, are you nuts?

If I need my car repaired or my house painted, I would never ask a mechanic or a contractor to fix or paint anything before meeting and establishing a plan and budget before work begins. So why does this happen time and time again to web designers??

Now, this could fall under the spec work debate but to me, it’s a bit more than that. Why is the problem with designers and not so much for other areas of the web?

I could be wrong and it probably happens, but most clients would never ask a developer to build a prototype or ask an SEO to provide keyword research upfront with no contract or budget agreed upon. Although within the design sector, it’s no problem asking for a graphic concept, HTML, or CSS upfront in order to prove one’s skills or to win work. In some cases, this happens even before any information or understanding about a company or product is ever discussed or proper research has been done.

It’s based on a lot of misconceptions

Just like a mechanic or paint company, designers work and rely on the business to earn a living or pay employees. This is just like any other type of business and includes a lot more than people think. The common misconception is that anyone can do web design and all we do is make things pretty.

Well, painters (the canvas type) also make things pretty but I am sure people would never ask them to make one brush stroke upfront. Previous works and experience would be the reason for selecting a specific painter for the job, right!? You would never ask a doctor to do a surgery or a pilot to fly you somewhere without explaining what’s wrong or where you want to go, right? You would also want to know their experience and that they are qualified for the job, right? Would you ask the pilot for a test flight or the doctor for a test surgery? NO!

This should be the case within the web design industry as well! Our experience, previous work, and ability to deliver on time should be what clients are interested in, not how well we can use an image editor with no information or understanding of their needs. This often causes good designers to look bad and clients to receive work that isn’t top-notch according to their specific needs.

I know educating clients and co-workers from the beginning is the way to help solve this issue and a lot of it is due to a misunderstanding of web design as a whole. Educating about spec work also helps, but I thought comparing it to other real-life industries would help to point out what people are really asking for when asking for design work in advance.

I just wanted to touch on that but there are many other areas of misconception so be sure to check out the original article.

Thanks for reading and if you would like to add anything or have something to say, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.


  1. Phillip says:

    Hi Michal – Thanks for your input and I appreciate your point of view. I didn’t really think of it as being a rejection or acceptance situation. It’s not always possible for someone to turn down work and applying for the job could be easily reversed into a job offer. This can lead into the exact situation without warning, which often times is the case.

    So it’s not always as easy as being accepted or rejected.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

  2. How I see this:

    If you DO get rejected, that doesn’t mean you’re bad or anything. It’s simple, different people = different tastes. You may not like my design, but someone else will just love it – and it can be the other way around, too.

    But in case you get rejected – you didn’t win the job and you LOST your valuable time to do design the concept. That’s why I don’t agree on upfront-concept-design and don’t even apply for jobs that require this.

  3. I understand that, I just shared my point of view :).

    To be honest – I’m pretty sure if financial situation would turn bad, I wouldn’t be so picky and applied for any possible job out there.

  4. Ash Mashhadi (@inspirationguy) says:

    Great post and it’s an important topic that can be a real problem for many designers. At Design Inspiration we haven’t had to deal with it for a long time now as we decided some years ago not to play that game. It is our responsibility to set the ground rules when we are pitching. You are quite right that other industries don’t face this problem and we web designers don’t have to either. We never produce prospective designs for our pitches. If your portfolio and your pitch isn’t enough to convince the client to use you then they’re unlikely to change their opinions after seeing some more design options.

    IMHO it is all about establishing mutual trust – if the pitch and portfolio doesn’t do that, it’s time to go your separate ways. It’s not an easy decision to take, but we have found that clients will respond well to your confidence.

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