One problem that designers, especially budding designers, encounter is the issue of working for clients for too little/free. Let’s just say free. While odds are you love what you do as a designer, unless you’ve discovered a secret that the rest of humanity has yet to know, you still have expenses as well. Just the tools of your trade are heart-breakingly expensive (with good reason) such as a sketchbook or the Adobe programs (if you use them) let alone your necessities as a human being. Ultimately you are the one to decide whether or not you work for free. There is no concrete formula of when it is appropriate. Personally, on the rare occasions that I do work for free it is usually because it is an issue I care deeply about and the client has no way of paying, I’m almost sure it will help further my career, or I just feel like being a butterfly fluttering across a rainbow to brighten someone’s day.

We all have issues that are important to us. For some it’s racism. For some it’s injustice. For some it’s cute puppies. Regardless of whatever issues are important to you, if you truly believe that your designing for free will help the cause, then why not? If it’s, for example, a non-profit organisation approaching you and you see that they genuinely can’t pay you, and you have the time and resources and you believe in its motives then by working for free you can help make the world a better place.

This is extremely rare, and many people will promise you that by working for them for free that you will receive this. However, if I’m almost completely sure that doing a free project will absolutely boost my career due to the exposure it would receive, then maybe I might consider working for free. One example of this is a contest. Please note that there is a difference between a good-spirited contest and those crowd-sourcing contests with which we’re all too familiar. I’ll elaborate more about that in a future article. But to touch on it briefly, crowd-sourcing is wrong. Please don’t participate in it, for the benefit of the graphic design industry.

On the other hand, clients are very quick to promise you things such as, ‘more work in the future’, ‘great experience’ or ‘tons of exposure’. We can’t forget the promise that, ‘it will be good for your portfolio’. Even if you’re a designer new to the market, try your best not to give in to false hopes such as these. More often than not these are ploys to get you to work for free, even if they appear well-intentioned. I think we’re all guilty of giving in to this at one point though, especially when we were first starting out. As one designer friend said to me once, “know the worth of your work”. If you think that your time, energy, resources and intellect are worth nothing, then you can work for free.

Sometimes you encounter someone that needs help with a design. They have no way of repaying you but if you can find the ability to help them within your altruistic side in order to put a smile on their face then by all means. Be a pretty creature that makes people smile. The world could always use more kindness. However, this doesn’t apply to people who you owe your lives, for example, your parents. Chances are they aren’t asking you to rebrand an entire company with nothing more than a JPEG from 1994. You can most likely spare the time to help them out.

Even though this article isn’t as seriously written as my others, the issue is a very serious one. It is very unfortunate that graphic designers have to put up with unnecessary issues such as these. I don’t think anyone could go to an architect and engineer and ask them to construct a bridge with experience as their remuneration without being laughed at hysterically while being escorted out. The bottom line of all of this, and to once again quote my design friend, Nick Stavros, “Know the worth of your work”. You and your work are not worthless. Don’t let anyone treat you otherwise.