Is it ever OK to work for free?


Unfortunately the thorny issue of working or pitching for free isn’t one that’s going anywhere anytime soon. And while we’re sure everyone would agree that you should get paid for work you do, are there some situations where just for the pure joy of creating, it’s OK to make something for nada? DesignStudio’s executive strategic creative director James Hurst thinks not: “If we agree that beer and drugs are free. Until then, get paid, it is expensive working.”

Beth Wilson of Warriors Studio agrees: “Working for free devalues you and every other person within your industry. Don’t do it. With this, we believe it is cool to work for a non-monetary exchange. For example, James recently completed a small branding project for a barber pal for £0, however he now gets free haircuts for life. I recently completed a branding project for a bathroom company and my mum is now getting a new bathroom for £0. As long as something of value exchanges hands – it’s all good!”

Of everything we’ve asked advice on, this is the topic that perhaps unsurprisingly got people the most riled. “I think genuinely no it isn’t OK to work for free. When you go to Sainsbury’s and buy a loaf of bread the guy serving you at the check out doesn’t work for free, nor does the lady who serves you coffee at your local coffee shop,” says illustrator and 2015 It’s Nice That Graduate Michael Driver. “The creative industry is a commodity – it has a high value. The seat you’re sat on was designed by someone, the cup you drink from was designed by someone, the website page you’re currently reading was designed by someone, the list can go on forever and ever. Design is integral to the way we live, behave and experience the world, it’s a means of communicating ideas and ideas make the world go round.

“I often get asked if I’ll work for free on projects, you see the same old tagline about it being ‘really great exposure’ or a ‘fun project to be part of’ or sometimes people will just drop in to the email the other people that have said yes to doing the project already. I’ve spent a lot of money getting to this point, being one of the first student years to have raised fees at university. If you want to put out a project, foot the bill for it, if you can’t afford to put something together don’t do it. Exposure is great but I can’t buy my food shopping or pay rent with ‘exposure’ alone.”

If you want more helpful advice like this, words of wisdom from past grads and ideas about places to go and websites to visit for inspiration, download our specially created Grad Pack here.

Supported by G . F Smith

It’s Nice That’s Graduates 2016 is kindly supported by G . F Smith, whose gorgeous range of papers and services can be just the thing for new and soon-to-be creative grads. The 130-year-old paper company has a long history of working with designers and artists at all stages of their careers, with its high-quality and innovative paper products offering a huge range of creative possibilities.

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About the Author

Emily Gosling

Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.

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