Do You Work For Free? Stop Doing That.

My dentist doesn’t work for free. Neither does my accountant. In fact, if they did I wouldn’t use them. But why? I’d save a lot of money! It’s because I figure if they don’t value what they do enough to charge me for it then it isn’t worth the work.

To all you young designers out there: when you work for free you reinforce the idea that your work has no value, that your talent deserves little respect. Granted, when you first start out you can’t charge the “big bucks” but you must be compensated fairly for what you do. It has value; if it were so easy then everyone would design their own logos and websites. Oh wait, they sometimes do that…but with dreadful results. Now I’m not talking about pro bono work you may do for your church, your mom or your best friend. Even trading services with other professionals has its place. I’m talking about work you do for clients who need to hire a professional like you and who have the ability to pay fairly for those services.

It’s not an honor to have your name mentioned on a website you spent 60 hours designing for free. The exposure will not generate future work, especially when the next client finds out you did it for free. The “real-world experience” you gain by designing someone’s brochures for free (or for peanuts) benefits no one. It doesn’t benefit you because it robs you of the experience of negotiating a fee for service and the responsibility of delivering a quality product on time for that fee. And, surprisingly, it doesn’t benefit the client either because it teaches them that graphic design services are low-value commodities, thus degrading all design professions. This something-for-nothing attitude is also the reason why I do not believe in design competitions where no one is paid for their work and the winner has the “honor” of having their work chosen and used for free. This too devalues all design professions.

The life of a graphic designer may appear to some as fun and glamorous — sitting around all day drawing pretty pictures and choosing color swatches — but it is a skilled profession requiring a college education, skills using advanced computer programs, an understanding of photography, typography and marketing principles, and a knowledge of the printing process and internet and website functionality. And as a fellow designer, you should see your profession this way too.

Value what you do and the talent you possess. Don’t work for free.

For a writer’s perspective, read this excellent article by Hollywood screenwriter Mark Sanderson.

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1 Comment

Filed under Creativity, Graphic Design

One response to “Do You Work For Free? Stop Doing That.

  1. I can only concur. There´s a lot of free work in architecture and unpaid internships as well. Part of the problem is that non-designers don´t understand what design is. I once had a futile discussion with a decision maker in Dublin City Council (Ireland) about the shoddy appearance of the street nameplates. The signs have to be bilingual and the previous design had English in lower case on the top line and Irish in upper case on the lower line. The two languages were balanced in terms of visual priority. The upper positioning of English recognised this was the language most used and the upper case font of the Irish text respected that language´s primacy in historical terms. The new nameplates dropped that and put both languages in upper case, English top, Irish bottom. Also, the letters were not alligned properly. They are cast in sand, I think, and the system allows for the letters to be misalligned. It looks very home-made. I pointed all this out to an engineer (!) who disregarded all of what I said by saying it was just aesthetic and subjective. He even implied the design wasn´t designed. It “emerged” he said. From where? The air? I was not quick enough to deal with his igorant answers but I forgot to ask how he thought his car or the newspaper was created. He´d run a mile from a car or paper created by the same crude approach he accepted for the street signs. It was “not professional”. And this language might be needed to explain design. Just as there´s professionalism in medecine and construction there is professionalism in graphic design and it´s not arrived at easily.

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