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design isn't free

Good Design Isn’t Free

If you saw my post yesterday, I was upset about someone posting in a Facebook group who was promising a job to a designer who would create a logo for them “if they liked it”. I have a problem with businesses preying on naive or novice designers, only to shatter their hopes and dreams. Not only do they do this, but they also take away from their passion and love of the field of design. This has all sparked today’s post, centered around the idea that design isn’t free.

Our Time is Worth Something

When we would be focused on a paying client or promoting our business, we are designing your logo, business cards, stationary, and other branding materials. Everyone’s time is worth something, because we can’t get it back. I can’t go back and collect time from you for the time I spent working on your project. The least you can do is compensate me for my time.

Promising Something and Not Following Through Is Stealing

You promised a job, exposure, office space, or something in exchange for the work, so you should deliver. If my time is worth something via the point made above, then you are stealing our time. It’s the same as taking our wallet out of our hands and running away with it. It’s the same concept, just packaged in a different wrapper.

Concepts and Creativity Are Commodities

If you look at talent and ideas as commodities, or items of value, you’re stealing that, too. Just like you can’t steal someone’s invention, because their idea is seen as valuable, our design concepts are valuable, too. They are ideas formed on the needs and objectives of your business. You can’t steal an engineer’s blueprints, so why should you be able to steal our design concepts?

“If We Like it, We’ll Hire You or Buy It”

If I needed work done on my house, I’d have a carpenter come and do the work. It’s work that I can’t do, or that I don’t know how to do, so I’d pay them to do it. Try this experiment. Call a Contractor and have them come over. Once they assess your home and give you an estimate, tell them that they can go ahead and do all of that, and if you like it, you’ll pay them. Some of those contractors & carpenters are big guys, and you might be ending your meeting with a shiner and a busted lip. Not only did you just waste their time, you demonstrated just how little you value their work, which is an insult. If they did all of that and you didn’t pay them, they would take you to court and win.

Just Don’t Honor Those Requests

Know your worth. Any request in exchange for the promise of anything isn’t good enough. Just like Contractors and carpenters have you sign paperwork, so should your clients. They also get part of the money up front. They don’t get all of the money up front, but they get a percentage. It locks in the agreement, and it’s proof that the project is underway.

Need Exposure? Do it The Right Way

I’m sorry, but I tend to be everyone’s reality check. Designers, at least noobs (newbies) are to blame just as much as the crooked businesses are. You’re so desperate to get a real world project, you’ll take anything that comes your way. I get it, I was there once, too. You want to build your portfolio. There’s a huge problem with this, in the fact that you devalue everyone’s work and the profession as a whole. You want real world projects? Do it the right way! Get an internship with a designer or a design firm. I have been contemplating hosting an internship at my office locally for a while. Even if it’s an unpaid internship, you’ll get much more out of it than you would would just giving your work away to a business. Here’s why:

  • You come away with a real world design project for your portfolio.
  • You can use the internship on your resume.
  • The design business can recommend you, or send small projects to you in the future. (Relationships are important!)
  • The internship will teach you all sorts of things you can’t learn in classes or books.
  • If you truly are good, it might lead to a paying job.
  • You get professional, real world feedback on your work in real time.
  • Most colleges require it for your degree anyway.


Design isn’t free, no matter how you look at it. It comes at the cost of someone’s time, effort, ideas, creativity, and talent. If we facilitate this, it will only keep happening. When businesses have trouble getting design work for free, and it becomes scarce, they’ll be much more willing to pay for it. We have to do our part, too and not get swindled into doing it. e smart and know the value of your work.

Have you been approached to do work in exchange for a promise of a job, exposure, or something else? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.