I thought I’d offer my thoughts on this age-old debate of when / whether creatives should work for free. I’ve read arguments from both sides but generally don’t tend to notice anyone talking about the kind of situations where I feel it’s okay to work for free.
I’ve read plenty of tweets and blog posts in the past saying creatives should *never* work for free, but they always seem to be referring to those situations where greedy business-y types are trying to take advantage of creative graduates wanting more industry experience.
Funnily enough I can’t think of any occasions where I’ve had someone tell me ‘you’ll get a lot of exposure’ or ‘it’ll be great for your portfolio’ in order to get some free work out of me. There was one occasion where I was offered a really low paid freelance job where the agency owner insisted that it would a ‘great opportunity’ and not to let the low rates put me off, but that’s about all I can think of.
I’m undecided on whether I think unpaid internships are good or not as I can see both sides of the argument… but that’s not really what this post is about.
When I think it’s okay to work for free
One occasion in particular for me, was when I got in touch with an MA student and offered her some free design work. At the time I’d not long graduated from Shillington and went back into full-time freelance (looking back, it would have made a lot more sense to go straight into a design agency job, but that’s a story for another blog post) and my portfolio was full of student briefs, I wanted some real-world projects in there.
I don’t see anything wrong with doing this because, the person I got in touch with, wasn’t even looking for free work… nor did she particularly need it. Also the fact she was a student meant I wasn’t helping some money-hungry business and damaging the industry.
I just thought it would be good to be working my design to real client feedback instead of just designing something that only pleased myself.
I mentioned it to a couple of people at the time and they were dead against the idea of me working for free, but as always I didn’t see much point in taking any notice of those who didn’t properly understand my situation.
In order to make it possible for myself, I just had to work way more hours than usual and be more skint than usual for a while, but it was totally worth it, even though my client didn’t really need (or even properly use) the design work I did. I believe it was part of the reason I got a lot of other work, and my current job, further down the line due to it being such a good portfolio piece.
One thing to be wary of in these situations however, is the client losing interest mid-project… even if it was them asking you for the free work (I’ve had this experience when doing favours for friends in the past).
Another situation where I feel it’s okay to work for free, is when it’s for a good cause. I’ve done bits of free design work in the past for charities, not only does it feel nice to know your work is helping to make positive change (however small), but I’ve also found them to be great portfolio pieces.
I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way about working for charities, but simply saying ‘never work for free’ kind of puts charities into the same category as those greedy types I mentioned earlier.
That’s just my thoughts anyway, feel free to let me know yours in the comments!