When Should I Work for Free as a Graphic Designer?

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For professionals in the creative sector, including graphic designers, writers and other creative artists, the work for free strategy may seem like a practical way to grow your clientele. For graphic designers, it is a legitimate strategy to promote your skills while building a portfolio. For others, it is a way to network with decision makers across various industries, but there are many who object to providing free work for any reason because this practice contributes to devaluing the work for all graphic designers.

Designing to Gain Exposure

As a beginning graphic designer, you may be tempted to offer your work to companies or organizations to gain exposure and build your reputation in the process. However, clients that offer to pay in kind through exposure are usually startups or small organizations with limited presence themselves. You may achieve better results by creating a website or participating in a designers’ digital gallery. Participate in work-for-exposure opportunities if you stand to gain something in the process such as prizes from a design competition or goodwill from family or acquaintances.

Providing Spec Work

Essentially, spec work is anything you create and submit for consideration without assurance of compensation. Spec works include samples of work provided to prospective employers or clients and submissions to industry competitions where your entry becomes the property of the competition’s organizers. Weigh the benefits of submitting your work product for these opportunities that may or may not result in adequate exposure and compensation. In general, if the spec work is too demanding and takes up time that is better spent on the requirements of paying clients, then you may want to opt out of the spec work opportunity. Additionally, for spec work where you retain the rights to the design, make sure that you submit designs that are easily revised for submission elsewhere.

Considering Unpaid Internships

Internships at design companies are legitimate strategies to gain experience and to network with graphic designers who are already established in their profession. Your internship contract may include a clause that specifically attaches ownership of all work products created for the duration of the contract to the employer. If you are not paid a stipend or per diem, then you are providing your work free of charge to your employer. Consider the internship option carefully as you may stand a better of chance of building your resume and portfolio as a graphic designer by pursuing other opportunities.

Supporting Charitable Organizations, Family and Friends

Contributing to charitable efforts by using your graphic designer skills may be beneficial to your career in the long run. However, make sure that you stand to gain something such as beneficial experience, access to other professional designers or referrals to paying clients.

When it comes to family and friends, establish the groundwork for separating professional from personal relationships. Some people may think nothing of approaching you personally for design ideas if not for actual designs. It may not seem like a big deal to design a business card or a wedding invitation, but any design work you do takes time away from doing paid work or finding paying gigs.

Your time and your work product are valuable, and you should keep this in mind when considering opportunities that do not pay industry rates. When you work for free, make sure that you benefit from the process by gaining opportunities to enhance your brand, gain experience, build your resume and build lasting relationships with professionals who could be helpful in your career advancement.

Related Resource: Top 20 Most Affordable Graphic Design Degree Programs

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