Infographic: Designers, Should You Work for Free?

Short answer: hell #$%*ing no. (Unless it's for your mom.)

Most people don't "get" design. You can hardly blame them: when it works, it's often invisible. Trouble is, that makes designers classic targets for "would you mind creating my entire logo/identity/website for free?" entreaties. (Or worse.)

Still, it can be hard to muster up the courage to tell would-be "clients" freeloaders to go screw. So Jessica Hische has done the work for you, by making a flowchart which handily describes when it's appropriate to work for free.

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[Click for full-sized version]

Here's the part you'll use most often:

free

Other snake-oil to avoid: "But we're a start-up!" (So's my lawnmower. Your point?) "It'll lead to more work!" (Ooh, more uncompensated labor? No thanks.) "But we're a nonprofit." (No, you're a band. There's a difference.)

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Of course, there are some circumstances where you might want to consider working pro bono. Basically, if they're family or close-enough-to-donate-a-kidney-to friends, you should probably cut them a break. (But you don't have to like it.)

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Everyone else? Take a number, get in line — or as Hische puts it — "MAKE IT RAIN, BITCHES!"

[See the infographic at Jessich Hische's website]

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7 Comments

  • Ms Burr Mar

    As a client who asks his designers for free work, I find this flowchart terribly offensive! Take it down! 

  • Lisa S.

    When a client tells me it will be good "exposure," I tell them if I wanted exposure I'd wear nothing but a trench coat and go flash strangers in the park.
    Yeah; fame, glory and no money. That'll pay my mortgage.

  • Big Picture

    I doubt the author and editor of this article worked for free. Why is it then licensed professionals should do anything different. Any architect working for free (outside of donating their time to a reputable charity) should be banned from working. Architects working for free only hurts our industry as a whole. No other licensed professional would work pro bono, why should we be expected to.

  • POMcG

    Fantastic. A lot of insecure people have trouble shifting gears from paying for schooling to now getting paid to do the same thing. There is also a historical problem that comes from some architects, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Paolo Soleri, etc. who expect you to pay them for the honor of working for them. If someone is providing something of value, they should be paid. One good workman's comp lawsuit from an unpaid intern might change this. If you are working independentally, and providing an end product, the freeloader values the product by what he pays for it. If it is below market value, that is the perceived value. If it is free, it has no value. If he pays market value for it, it has a perceived value. Do free work and you will get a reputation for working for free.

  • Victoria Lyon

    I love this flow chart! I'm going to print it and post it over my desk to remind me how to say NO when my heart strings are being manipulated to someone else's sole benefit.

  • Robert Bozic

    The fact is that there are people who see very little to no value whatsoever in quality design work, or just design in general. They all allude to that high school graduate who knows Adobe because he learned it in his 4th period 'Desktop Publishing' class and is hungry for work and wants to build up his portfolio and will, therefore, do it for $9.00 an hour. Great! Go grab that sucker by the horns. The good news is that for every 20 of these free-loaders there is one serious, competent, and intelligent business owner/organization that understands the value in quality digital or printed media. Until you get to him/her, keep prospecting!