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03 January 2011


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David Airey

Hi Alix,

Welcome to David's blog.

When I was younger, I accepted a full-time unpaid internship, and took on a second job to help make ends meet.

I learned a great deal about work, about relationships in the workplace, about life across the pond.

Thinking back, I'm glad I took it. I'd do it again, for the right internship.

Henrique Athayde

I'm a young designer and I started to work with design and advertising very soon, in my second semester on the design and advertising school. But I started working in a experimental advertising agency, for free.

Many people said to me that it wasn't worthy, that my work was being used without the comeback I deserved. But I know that all of them were wrong. Everyone on the experimental agency (called Versa Comunicação) works for free, and I know what I got inside there.

I made friends, contacts, learned a lot about business relationships, time management and made my portfolio and first experience there. I worked with people of different ages and thoughts and discovered the importance of many things there. Today I work in a design studio and do some freelance works. I don't regret anything of this experience!

I think that experiences like that are great. It's a tool for self-promotion, learning and understanding of the workplace.

Stephen Tiano

I just can't help thinking that designers who work for free for businesses that themselves charge for such work are setting themselves up to be viewed as designers who don't value their own work. I always advise beginners that if they want to work that way for experience, they should find a legitimate, worthy non-profit to do pro Bono work for.

Blair Enns

The idea of working for free to gain experience is, to me, entirely valid and not at all immoral. I did it to get my start in advertising years ago, and I advise my designer clients to do it from time to time to build expertise in an area that's hard to crack into.

You'll get some people objecting that it's akin to free pitching, which I and many others are opposed to, but it's not at all the same thing. I say go for it.

Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

Great topic...

I've always had a problem with any business that only offers unpaid internships [indentured servitude] to designers. From the start of their careers, the 'office slaves' are being taught their work has little or no value. Even when I was doing internships, while in school nearly 35 years ago, my truly educational design internship situations were either for pay or college credit.

The issue of the legality of unpaid internships is currently leading to a lot of interesting discussions. This past spring, The New York Times had several articles on this topic. They can be found online by doing a search for "New York Times, internships"

In addressing audiences of design students, newbie professionals and others at schools, AIGA events and conferences, I always stress that there is value in doing pro bono work for a cause in which one has a true passion - gaining real world experience and portfolio pieces in the process - but free work should never be done for any for-profit venture.

I'm also a major advocate of the NO!SPEC movement [http://no-spec.com] and think all designers should take a close look at the supposed 'opportunities' presented by those asking for free work of any kind.

Doing "free" work with hopes of landing a client often creates a interesting situation for the designer. How does a design professional go about convincing the client to pay what one feels they are worth, when the client already sees little value in the work they've already gotten for free?

Stephen 'Paddy' Dyson

I have suffered from this myself, especially when I was still in college. I have done lots of free work and I would say and around 60% of those have come back and I have done paid work for. With no marketing budget available I generated my work via word of mouth and low cost / free good quality work allowed me to develop some clients.

I think it was vital in my development not only technically but dealing with clients and business in general and giving a little up early on has allowed me now to have a nice selection of recurring clients, I'd recommend it to any young designer starting off.

Though one type of free work I would advise against is the crowd sourcing style contests these are definitely bad for the industry and the individuals taking part.

Jeff Walton

I must say that many great designers gained a lot of early experience by doing some highly discounted work, whether an internship or pro bono.

This approach has brought along an even more detrimental practice by companies fishing design projects so that they get hundreds of samples for their client to choose from, and only one designer ends up getting any monetary gain for their effort.

I wish I could offer a solution, but I can't. Just hope that designers can understand what their work is worth and make good decisions along the way.

Stephen 'Paddy' Dyson

As another point do you feel that the mass availability via torrents/cracks of design software creating more 'have a go' designers is causing more and more people to lower their prices in an ever increasing pool of potential creatives for firms. I've lost count of how many times i've heard "My brother/sister, nephew/niece, friend has that on their PC and wont charge that much"

Alix Land

Wow what a varied response, thank you all for your contributions. Some interesting points have been raised.

I suppose it is a personal decision to be taken by the individual, based on balancing the cons of working for free against the valuable experience gained. I agree pro-bono work is ideal in this situation. However working for free for companies who then make profit from designers’ hard work and skills they otherwise wouldn’t have had seems a little like exploitation to me.

Maybe there should be an industry standard established for internship pay at hourly or daily rates? That way designers would know what to expect and can avoid companies not playing by the rules.

Perhaps we will see more debate about this topic to come.

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