President Obama, using creatives for free work isn’t supporting your “create jobs” campaign

To be clear AntiSpec has absolutely no political persuasion on this particular campaign. In fact Mark Collins, founder of AntiSpec is from little ol’ England.

Quote from Obama website:

Obama for America is seeking poster submissions from artists across the country illustrating why we support President Obama’s plan to create jobs now, and why we’ll re-elect him to continue fighting for jobs for the next four years.

Why request the design community to work for free then. If you have an agenda then pay a designer to create your artwork. Political parties have money. Lots of money. Pay for a designer. Please.

Is this spec?

You need a couple of ingredients for a spec comp. Firstly you need bait. Typically this is ‘fame and glory’ and a token prize (in this case it’s a framed copy of your own work).

Secondly for a spec comp you need the competition holder to profit. This can be directly or indirectly. In this case the winning artwork will reproduced and sold off and profits go into the coffers. Indirectly the campaign gets more publicity.

Governments are in business and live handsomely as a result and this should be viewed as such rather than ‘Obama is cool so this campaign is cool’.

Perhaps more importantly Obama’s use of spec work here sends a clear message to businesses everywhere that harvesting potentially 1,000s of free design hours is acceptable to promote your business/cause. It isn’t. Worse still it reinforces spec work in the minds of young designers.

What can YOU do? Make some noise but please keep it clean. We have right on our side and the moral high ground.

Any questions or media enquiries? .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Jason Stone's avatar


Posted by Jason Stone on 10 October 2011

Paul Murray's avatar

Not really surprised to be honest.

Posted by Paul Murray on 10 October 2011

Johnny Isaacs's avatar

I saw this earlier today and I actually cannot believe how ridiculous it is. Can no one in the Obama administration see the glaring irony in this whole idea. Asking creatives, whose industry is already suffering more than most to work for free to create a poster about creating jobs so they will get some ‘recognition’. Hmmm, let me think for a minute, NO! It really does show how endemic this problem is. Blatant exploitation of the creative industries and the people that drive it seems to be what everyone expects now.

Posted by Johnny Isaacs on 10 October 2011

John Castle's avatar

This is the modus operandi of the Left, and it always has been. Bait and switch, kids—bait and f***ing switch. Promise one thing even WHILE you’re openly and blatantly doing its polar opposite.

Posted by John Castle on 10 October 2011

Ludvig Lindblom's avatar

I’m glad you decided to run this campaign here at Antispec.

When I sent you the link to it I was a bit unsure if it would qualify (as I did mention in the tweet) but I was confident you would look it over and give a more reasoned opinion on if it is spec work or not.

What’s weird about the campaign is the phrase:
“Obama for America is seeking poster submissions from artists across the country illustrating why we support President Obama’s plan to create jobs now…” and then instantly asking for free work.

Posted by Ludvig Lindblom on 10 October 2011

Will Kesling's avatar

I take it Shepard Fairey said no when asked to design this poster for free.

Posted by Will Kesling on 10 October 2011

mario macchiorlatti dalmas's avatar

If obama needed a plumber for his campaign, shouldn’t the plumber be paid for? Work must be ALWAYS paid.

Posted by mario macchiorlatti dalmas on 10 October 2011

Cabaroc's avatar

No thank you, Obama

Posted by Cabaroc on 10 October 2011

Joop Ridder's avatar

stop free pitching… Yes you can Mr President

Posted by Joop Ridder on 10 October 2011

Justin's avatar


Posted by Justin on 10 October 2011

Jim Redzinak's avatar

Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity would fuel the fires on this one. I guess Mr. Obama hasn’t learned a thing from what FDR did to stimulate jobs after the Great Depression. Some great things came out of the WPA. Well, Obama has just initiated the WFF (Work For Free) program.

Posted by Jim Redzinak on 10 October 2011

Jennifer R. Cook's avatar

While Mr. Obama is not my president, (I am from Canada) this is clearly speculative work and that is unacceptable! Mr. Obama is implementing a double standard, also unacceptable! He is literally showing small and big business that creative, strategic, thinkers and branding experts are worth nothing, also unacceptable!

Creative business owners, thinkers, doers and strategic wizards have been building business small and big for hundred’s of years!

Obama you are sending the wrong message to the people you serve. Wake-up and “hire” one of your great, strategic, creative’s! Find and pay the best to explore and develop a unique, creative solution that reaches your audience, while sending a positive message that supports your initial mandate! Pay for creative!

Your Canadian friend!

Posted by Jennifer R. Cook on 10 October 2011

Aaron's avatar

Hmmm… as though they’re setting themselves up for a fall, here are some of the suggested slogans for the contest:
Fighting for jobs
Made in the USA
Support small businesses
Every child deserves a great school
Tax cuts for the middle class
Ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share
We believe in the American dream
Out-build, out-educate, out-innovate

Irony doesn’t even begin to describe it…

Posted by Aaron on 10 October 2011

Melissa's avatar

I had been waiting for this to hit—glad to see it’s been posted, though very unhappy to see this from Obama.

Posted by Melissa on 10 October 2011

Douglas Bews's avatar

Obama — “Nope for the future”

Posted by Douglas Bews on 10 October 2011

Kevin Bailey's avatar

This campaign is not in the spirit of “job creation.” Hiring a house, or individual to develop the visuals for this campaign would be in the spirit of job creation.

Posted by Kevin Bailey on 10 October 2011

Neil Judges's avatar

AntiSpec campaigns got my vote! What the heck is Obama thinking… Seriously!

Posted by Neil Judges on 10 October 2011

Brian White's avatar

Obama = Spec

Posted by Brian White on 10 October 2011

Chris's avatar

I’m sure plenty of people will turn this into another political (republican vs. democrat) argument, instead of putting politics aside and simply looking at it for what it is.

Therefor, I’m glad to see a lot of non US citizens jumping on this one!

Posted by Chris on 10 October 2011

Mitzie Testani's avatar

I’m definitely against spec work. However, if memory serves, wasn’t there was a lot of spec work to get him elected? He may have paid for the logo, but lots of posters and re-purposing of his logo was definitely donated work. Just some food for thought.

Posted by Mitzie Testani on 10 October 2011

Ken Zarecki's avatar

I fully support NOT working on spec. However, when the President of your country is asking, it’s a bit different that some jerk client who is trying to get out of paying for your work/time. I view Obama’s rally as a “Call for Entries” more than “do work for free.” Different than clients who say, “create a design (or 3) and MAYBE I’ll hire you if I like what you did.”, Obama is clearly saying, “Hey designers… here’s an opportunity for you to help your country by doing something that you love to do and do well.” True, there is no financial compensation, but (speaking for myself) sometimes it’s not about the money. Funny how we will gladly help out our friends by doing FREE designs for their bands, CDs, logos, websites, etc. But, when it comes to our country, we demand compensation.

Posted by Ken Zarecki on 10 October 2011

Christian's avatar

Here is the flipside, however: Better ideas for grassroots message can often come from the zeitgeist than from a single firm. And in the case of hiring a designer, the message is then dismissed as a ‘slick marketing campaign’. COMPANIES are applauded for having slick marketing, while politicians are often derided for the same. Honestly, you can’t ‘pay’ the entire zeitgeist, so sometimes, like with fundraising or other donated activities, you just have to engage it. I’m not a fan of spec work, but you can’t pretend that political messaging works the same as any other messaging, because it doesn’t.

Please don’t take this as a slight to the efforts that this community undertakes. I simply wanted to offer a counterpoint in this instance.

Posted by Christian on 10 October 2011

Gray's avatar

Considering most political campaigns in the U.S. are run with the help of unpaid volunteers this really isn’t surprising, nor should anyone really be bashing Obama personally for doing what U.S. politicians of all parties have always done. It’s not Obama’s fault, it’s the whole political system.

Anyway, as with most spec work they’ll get exactly the kind of poor quality work you can expect from those willing to work for free.

Posted by Gray on 10 October 2011

Ed's avatar

Sorry guys, I have to disagree, being a designer myself I must admit, I was pretty disappointed at this anti-spec post although I totally understand your reasoning behind it. Truth is, we’re all creatives, and we all love our jobs. We literally get paid to think and make cool shit all day. However our jobs lie in the communications industry. And if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening around us, for those of us that live in the states, you should know that the communication between the media and the people is completely unacceptable. 

Take a look at what’s going on at Wall Street, more than 500 people fighting for democracy were arrested in one day last week, but it barely made any headlines. Now I’m just a kid from the Bronx, I’m not surrounded by wealthy millionaires and services that cater to my every needs. What I do see everyday is hardworking folks (mainly immigrants who came here pursuing a non-existent American Dream) trying to find jobs to support their families. 

Personally, I think Obama would do a better job than any republican in the next two or three elections to come. It has come to the point where both parties are waging war. So this really isn’t about me or our industry, the way I see it, it’s about the 14 million unemployed Americans not knowing how they’re going to make next months rent. We’ve all done free work for our close friends and family, I see no shame in doing it for our country.

President Obama is asking for our help, I will give it to him. The way he’s being treated in Washington by a bunch of Suits who won’t even pass a simple Jobs bill, I’m sure he can use some extra to help to communicate to mass audiences so they know what’s going on. The man isn’t Superman. Shep Faireys poster undeniably impacted the last election, I wouldn’t mind if mine impacted the next one even if its by the smallest margin.  I will happily submit a design for this contest. 


Posted by Ed on 10 October 2011

Robert's avatar

Alright, the attitude of this post and everyone retweeting it is a bit ridiculous and over the top. Do you really think the leader of the free world is sitting in his office thinking up ways to screw over hard-working designers? Can we please take a step away from our cinema displays for a second and get some perspective.

Some idiot on his CAMPAIGN thought it’d be a great way to get some free art done. Simple as that. NOT the president, not his administration, not democrats, not “the left”, not Americans… some idiot on his campaign. Take a moment to breathe and think, people. Geez…

Posted by Robert on 10 October 2011

Andy's avatar

Sheesh people, it’s called volunteering.  People do it all the time for political campaigns.  You may remember that you did it back in the 2008 campaign before you got fickle and gave up on Obama.

Use your abilities, support the campaign, keep this guy in office!

Posted by Andy on 10 October 2011

It's Not Spec Work's avatar

Technically, this contest is not spec work because there’s no anticipation of getting paid. Is a design contest a bad idea? Yes. But it’s not spec work. Look up a definition of spec work. A real definition, not one on this site.

By calling it spec work you’re confusing the issue and ultimately harming your own campaign for a legitimate cause.

Posted by It's Not Spec Work on 10 October 2011

Nicolas's avatar

although I think it would be a nice gesture to hire shepard fairey for this one, I think anyone who can participate in this re-election should do what they can. it’s spec, sure. but I think it’s worth spending a few free hour rather than have republicans in power again.

If your poster doesnt get chosen, try to promote it yourself.

Posted by Nicolas on 10 October 2011

Roby Fitzhenry's avatar

What Andy said.

It’s just volunteering .. not the typical spec work we all hate w/ pride. Chill pill.

Posted by Roby Fitzhenry on 10 October 2011

Ron Thompson's avatar

I hope the ugly irony of getting designers to work for free to launch a jobs creation campaign becomes obvious. Unfortunately, as a community and a profession, it is a monster of our own making. We once decided to promote the idea that visibility is justification for uncompensated labor and relinquishment of intellectual property rights. We have it within our means to stop this trend; preserve our intellectual property and conserve our value in the community. Spec “competitions” exist because we participate. Don’t participate.

Posted by Ron Thompson on 10 October 2011

Marco's avatar

I don’t think it’s spec work per se, I think it’s more or less the President of the United States asking professionals in a field to pitch in and help the effort to improve the country’s situation.

I know most get a lot of heat for “not contributing to the country” per se. Besides, I wouldn’t have charged. It’s the president, he can write me a commendation letter or something smile

Posted by Marco on 10 October 2011

Dylan's avatar

This isn’t really anything new. During Obama’s campaign in ‘08, there were quite a few designers that offered up their time and talent (for free). Some of which gained quite a bit of notoriety and praise, and probably plenty of job offers as well. Why wouldn’t some campaign adviser try to capitalize on this again? I understand all the outrage, but really, it worked before. It seems now that all the “hope” and “change we can believe in” fluff has fizzled out, people are singing a different tune.

For me personally, I don’t believe in spec work. Volunteering my services to someone or some initiative that I believe in is a different story–for example: designing my Grandmother’s 80th birthday party invitations. The sad thing is that many creatives will view this campaign to pass the jobs bill this way and that it will some how be good for our economy.

Which brings me to my main point: All the QE1, QE2, jobs bill nonsense DOES NOT WORK! The gov’t cannot create productive jobs. Don’t believe the hype!

Posted by Dylan on 10 October 2011

Not all Free Work is Spec's avatar

This is volunteer work, pure and simple. Thousands of people did volunteer work for the campaign last time, as they will again. In order for something to be spec work the party requesting the work has to be gaining a clear monetary benefit (and thus should be paying the designer). Furthering a political cause like passing the Jobs Bill or getting a person elected doesn’t really fit the definition. You’re off-base on this one.

Posted by Not all Free Work is Spec on 10 October 2011

Neil Judges's avatar

I’ve entered the competition with this quick entry:!/SerifResources/status/123433021952102401/photo/1

Posted by Neil Judges on 10 October 2011

Jera Batten's avatar

I support this petition because this is not the first instance of the Obama campaign using “contests” for design.

Posted by Jera Batten on 10 October 2011

Laura Malick Smith's avatar

Just one of the millions of reasons why I won’t vote for this man.

Posted by Laura Malick Smith on 10 October 2011

Rachel Nabors's avatar

I don’t see a problem with designing to support something you believe in. There is no promise of money, no promise of a job, no lure of fame and fortune anywhere on the site. In fact, I have less cognitive dissonance thinking about participating in this than I do about applying to work for Carsonified (see also

There is no shame in supporting something in any way you can. And honestly, I’ll probably make and print posters anyway!

Posted by Rachel Nabors on 10 October 2011

Nathan's avatar

I believe Obama has used professional designers for campaigns in the past. So this seems to be a onetime run to highlight a creative who believes in the Obama 2012 campaign (or maybe the best way to artificially re-create a Shepard Fairey Hope Poster). I can disagree with most spec work, but this seems more of a request to create something that represents what you believe in. I’m not fully supporting this idea, but I also see this spec work problem as a spectrum. As in 99 designs = “bad” this Obama campaign = “meh”. Am I completely wrong to view it like this?

Posted by Nathan on 10 October 2011

Andrea Shorey's avatar

Dear “It’s not Spec Work” a.k.a. “Too afraid to post my name”

A design contest has specific benefits, or at least SHOULD have specific benefits to each entrant and the community at large - more than just “Here’s a printout of your own work, that you could have done yourself.” and “Don’t I (contest holder) look good because I now have this great artwork?

Here’s an article to clarify what you should already be aware of:

As an excerpt of the article that touches exactly on why this is Spec work and not a valid competition:
[on why the potential of design competitions is too often missed…]
“1. Competitions are too often staged for wrong or unclear reasons. Some competitions are staged to furnish an exhibition with exhibits, or a book with content. Or they are run and paid for as marketing projects whose aim is to make the sponsor appear innovative. When these objectives take precedence, the potential of a competition to make a serious impact is diminished.”

So, hurrah!, to for having the guts to show the President of the US what ethical standards he should hold, if he is not to be seen as duplicitous.

I strongly support you in all you do to improve our industry. =)

Posted by Andrea Shorey on 10 October 2011

Brad Henderson's avatar

has he not heard of the works progress administration, I mean come on! pay different artists to work on something that will accomplish something, create jobs, and create jobs in other feilds.

Posted by Brad Henderson on 10 October 2011

Jeff Higgins's avatar

It’s called volunteer work. No one else is paid to campaign, why would a designer of a poster expect to be paid? You guys are taking this argument way too far.

Posted by Jeff Higgins on 10 October 2011

Steve Mahn's avatar

You people realize that if you don’t like it you do not have to participate. Maybe if you spent as much time working on things as matter as you do complaining about useless crap you would all be much happier.

Just sayin’.

Posted by Steve Mahn on 10 October 2011

Chris W's avatar

All American designers should vote for the other guys. I’m not sure how many designers there are in the USA but it sounds like he needs every vote he can get so losing the design vote wouldn’t help his cause.

That said, if Spec work continues to grow there will be less jobs in design as everyone will be working for free or in McDonalds (at least McDonalds is minimum wage).

Posted by Chris W on 10 October 2011

John W. Tomac's avatar

Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee raised $86 million between April 1 and June 30, 2011. That is the largest amount of money ever raised in one quarter by a Presidential candidate during a non-election year. Obama for America and the DNC have the money to pay designers for their work, especially work they are going to sell in their online campaign store. They should be paying artists and designers just like any other vendor servicing their campaign.

Posted by John W. Tomac on 10 October 2011

Ryan Lockwood's avatar

With all that has been said about this.. It still comes down to principle. If I got a call and was asked as one designer to come up with a poster to support the campaign, pro bono to support the campaign, maybe I would do it. To ask any and everyone to do it and then maybe they will use it somewhere.. is spec. I support the president, for me this is not a political issue, it’s an issue with our field being consistently undervalued and used to communicate messages without compensation.

If this is ok, why would it not be ok for me to ask everyone in the Obama administration to give me a shout out as a designer, out on the campaign trail, and maybe someone, somewhere will give me some work because of it. There is no way they would do that, and as such, there is no way anyone should support this.

Posted by Ryan Lockwood on 11 October 2011

jill tanenbaum's avatar

This should be no surprise to anyone. This guy has never worked in a private company or had to be responsible to feed the mouths of employees. He is the most anti business president I have seen in my lifetime. This is NOT volunteer work. This is taking advantage of designers. Do you see the president asking for free surgery or free accounting advice. Open your eyes. This guy needs to go.

Posted by jill tanenbaum on 11 October 2011

Naomi Ningishzidda's avatar

Obama’s signature is worth at least 1700 dollars, possibly more on a work of this significance. I consider that a valuable monetary return, even if it is “barter” the oldest form of commerce. I do not agree that it is a bad deal for anyone. In a 40 hour work week that’s at bare minimum about $42.00 per hour. Most artists could churn out a poster in 10 hours.

Posted by Naomi Ningishzidda on 11 October 2011

isral Duke's avatar

If President Obama wants us to work for free, will he lessen our taxes by that amount of which we donated to him in terms of our efforts? Am I wrong for thinking he wouldn’t do such a thing?

Posted by isral Duke on 12 October 2011

Iskra Johnson's avatar

Have people read the letter from the Graphic Artists Guild? If not take a look:
What this contest is doing is modeling crowd-sourcing as a viable and even admirable way to get free work for a business. Politics is not non-profit folks, it is one of the most lucrative businesses in the world. Do you think they get catering and hotel rooms and limos and consulting and legal work and television advertising for free? Do you think the politicians themselves work for free? In this case not only are the contributing contestants expected to donate their design time, they give up all ownership of their work, whether it is used or not, and are not even guaranteed credit.

Given the subject of the campaign, supporting the President’s jobs bill, this is a massive public relations blunder. Crowd-sourcing sites are putting tens of thousands of professionals out of business in all kinds of disciplines. You can quibble that this isn’t “spec” so shouldn’t be discussed here but the principle is the same. Professionalism is devalued and the new model is the happy amateur, doing professional work for “fun” because they “love” it.

I strongly urge you to contact the campaign today. I called today and reached an actual person. Make your voice make a difference.

Posted by Iskra Johnson on 19 October 2011

Jim Redzinak's avatar

Don’t think your voices are not heard.

Posted by Jim Redzinak on 20 October 2011

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