Why designers should never work for free


Listen to The Joker

Working for free is a discussion subject that comes up way too often in the design world, sadly. As the late Heath Ledger’s Joker character says in the film The Dark Knight above, “If you are good at something, never do it for free.”

There are a number of reasons for this, and a quick Google will find many other reasons not to work for free from other designers. But from my experience, it’s all about respect.

If you work for free, or offer to work for free, you may be liked by that person for doing it, but you will never be respected. And when you are not respected, your work and ideas are not respected. So that piece of work that you do for free, partly for experience, partly for your portfolio, will almost certainly be ruined by the client. Effectively becoming useless as an example of your work, and can’t be shown to future clients or employers. Because they didn’t pay for it, they don’t respect it. They also don’t respect the person who did it.

You the designer, will only lose.

Avoid business sharks

The other reason I strongly recommend not working for free, is the type of people who accept free work. They are generally awful. They are not a client for the future, and will never pay you for work at a later date, as they will just look for another ‘sucker’ to work for them for free. I saw a young designer post on a freelancers’ Facebook group offering to work for free. The people responding were like sharks circling wounded prey. Avoid these types at all costs.

There are many more reasons to do with protecting the profession of design, and the overall lack of respect that fits in with asking for someone’s skills for free, but ultimately it is for your own protection. It will, pretty much always, end badly for you the designer.

And if you are put in an uncomfortable position by a friend or family member, ‘love to help but my roster is full for months in advance, that’s a shame, have you tried Fiverr?’, or ‘no problem, that will take me a few days, will you do me a favour, my sitting room needs decorating, just a couple of days work stripping wallpaper, repapering and painting. You’ll be done in a week. If you can do that for me, I’ll do that design job, as a favour’.

You won’t be asked again, as they will never put in a couple of days work for you.