This Brilliant Tool Helps Designers Refuse Dismal Pay

Industry-wide change starts with designers saying no to unpaid work, and talking to clients about why. Jessica Hische shows us how.

This Brilliant Tool Helps Designers Refuse Dismal Pay

Working for free is a hotly debated topic at all levels of the design industry—from established firms that work on spec to young designers hoping to get their foot in the door. Between design competitions and the nature of client work, it can be hard to distinguish between being advantageous and being taken advantage of.


Graphic designer Jessica Hische has advised on the topic before with her beyond excellent Should I Work For Free? chart. Now she’s back with another tool, specifically for those who concluded that the answer to that question was “no.” Her interactive “Client Email Helper” gives designers the language to turn down free or low-paid work, as well as negotiate for and accept jobs with fair pay.

Taking its cue from the Choose Your Own Adventure series—near universally beloved by anyone who spent any time in the ’90s—Hische presents her users with a set of options that will determine their response. Choose your client (ad agency, nonprofit, friend) and choose your budget (none, very low, good), and your adventure might end there, with a sample email respectfully rebuking the dismal pay. Otherwise, more options will pop up—time line, “contract curveballs”—that will lend further specificity to your sample email.

To get the full affect, I recommend clicking around on the email helper for yourself, which you can do here. But here’s a few favorite lines from the generative emails, to give you an idea:

As I am a professional artist, not a hobbyist, and as your company is a for-profit organization, I should be compensated appropriately for work performed. I, and many other creatives, feel strongly about keeping pricing standards high so that it’s possible to make a living as a creative professional. Fair pay is important—it is wrong to ask artists to create very low-paying work for a for-profit company, even if that work goes unused, because our time is valuable and we have bills to pay and families to support like everyone else.

There are several things about this project that I love. One is the execution, which allows the tool to be universally helpful (for those in the creative industry especially, but really for anyone who works for or with others) while also giving a crucial level of specificity. Like any good piece of information design, it has layers: Hische starts broad, takes users into account, then narrows in on individual problems.

The other is that the tool tackles a problem that often affects designers and artists on a personal level, but actually impacts the industry at large—and gives everyone a common language with which to talk about it. Refusing a project for the pay feels like it only matters on a micro-level, affecting only the client and designer, but small actions on a mass scale lead to a sea change. A compelling argument against taking free work is that it perpetuates a culture in which creative work goes unpaid and undervalued. A better design culture prizes ambition and pays the bills—take it from a designer who knows.

[Images: via Jessica Hische]

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.