Today’s long awaited design discussion is on whether a designer should be working for free and the arguments for and against this!

I think one of the major aspects here is where the designer is in their career since it is very common for those still at university and studying to offer to work for free or very little return in order to get their name “out there” and gain recognition. This method can sometimes garner results in that a position at the company would be made available to them afterwards if the work is good. The downside to this however is that there is no guarantee that the company will come back to you and there are even some companies who approach universities to do such a thing. They come in set a brief so the students compete against each other  to produce fantastic pieces, then they run away with the designs and are never heard from again. Sadly this is a very common situation, one I’ve been in myself a few times. The argument here however is that the students are getting real world experience working with clients on a live brief, and the client gets an end product. An “everybody wins” situation although not necessarily true!

Now competitions! Go to any design hub website (Design Council, Dexigner, etc.) and you’ll see lots of competitions running in various disciplines. These are a great way for designers to get recognition. These are good because it allows the designer to explore new categories of design that they may not normally get the chance to have a go at. However, the designer needs to read the small print, sometimes the competition will state that by entering you are wavering your rights to the design, essentially giving the design to them with no reason for them to compensate you. The other aspect I find particularly wary is competitions where big name agencies actually charge you to enter, these can be fees such as £150 per entry. So in essence your paying them to consider your design. In competitions the only ones that truly win are the organisers. But the designer must weigh up their want of recognition to any repercussions that could occur. I would suggest entering all the free competitions though just make sure you have a grasp on intellectual property and protection.

Then the final one is charities. I’m saying this is the final one since I don’t believe a designer who is established should ever work for a company for free since it is showing disregard for their skills, there’s no incentive other than another free job for the company to use you again. Right back to charities…this is a purely personal decision in my books, the designer should only work pro bono (for the greater good) if they actually believe in the charity. For instance previously I have mentioned the RNLI, a charity which I believe in and would be willing to work for no cost, I wouldn’t however do this for RSPB since I have no affiliations of interest in it.

So to sum up designing for free:

Pros

  • Can gain you recognition
  • Can be for the greater good
  • Can give you experience in another sector you previously wouldn’t get a chance at
  • Potentially lead to a permanent career position
  • Can help bring better design to more people

Cons

  • No reason for a company to pay you for future work they can just move on to the next freebie
  • Potentially lose money on entry fees for competitions
  • Time and energy spent with no compensation
  • Some companies will take your ideas and run leaving you with no recognition

When it comes to designing for free it is up to the designer to decide whether or not to be involved, I would however suggest having contracts signed by all parties in these events so that the designer can retain IP rights and recognition for their work!

What are your thoughts on designing for free?

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