No Free Lunch

by Aug 30, 2015

We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone has to pay the bill once the meal is over. Be it the person who ordered, the person eating, or the person who made it; someone has to pay.

I know I’ve covered spec work and other forms of working for free before. Today though, I want to talk directly to the potential customers out there that think asking designers to work for free/exposure/until the product makes money.

Take this scenario: a person or company is searching for designers. You don’t have any money to spend on a designer but your project will be so widely distributed or visible that the designs will be seen by millions of eyes. While this might be true, you have to consider a few points.

It’s Your Product, Not the Designer’s

If the design is for your product/service/thing then the designer’s name won’t be visible on it. It isn’t the designer’s product, it’s yours. Maybe you can put the designer’s name on the footer of the website they created for you, or a tiny footnote on that booklet they put together. But their name won’t be front and center because that’s not the point of the project. Promising a designer exposure in exchange for work is an insulting way of saying “I’m not going to pay you but I want the best work you can make for me, because this project will make ME a lot of money and I’m not sharing.” While you might not think the tone is what you might mean, that’s how it comes across.

There have been many (hilarious) responses to job posts on Craig’s List of people looking for free design work and designers responding to them with mouth-frothing fervor ranging from disdain to rage. I can’t argue with them though, as I would feel the same of a client asking for work that would take weeks to do and all for naught.

Freelancers Are People Too

Designers have bills too and need money in order to pay said bills. I know, quite a shocker isn’t it? This is where realism comes into play. You wouldn’t expect your orthodontist to put braces on your kid for free. They spent years studying medicine and oral health to get to the level of skill they are currently at. Also, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in schooling, training, supplies, staff, all the way down to the cleaning staff that empties the trash every night. None of their staff or vendors will work for free, so the orthodontist charges their customers seeking their services. Simple economics. Designers are like orthodontists, but much less painful.

If a designer won’t work for free or the rate you want them to, they have every right to say no and walk away. We don’t come with a set price rate, we each measure our value and offer services at our own rates. I may be less expensive than others, while I am more expensive than most. You aren’t paying for the hour it took me to do your work, you’re paying for the years of training and experience I have to get to where I can work efficiently (plus that one hour).

If you want to “shop around” for someone cheaper, that is your prerogative. Just know that designers are people too and have bills to pay and work for a living. Just like you.