Doing Work for Free – Good Karma or Bad Business?

Posted on December 6, 2010. Filed under: Guest Author |

Thank you to Kettul for this guest post on providing free work. A dear friend I’ve known since elementary school is one of the designers for Kettul. Kettul is a group of designers and developers who are dedicated to produce stellar design, cutting-edge development and fresh, new ideas. Follow them on Twitter (@kettuldesign) and Facebook for a great and unconventional objective view of marketing, design and PR.

Kettul writes:

There was recently quite a bit of buzz in the Art Directors Club of Metro Washington (ADCMW) about the pros and cons of performing design spec work for a client with absolutely guarantee of compensation or contracted work. I felt this was a good opportunity to voice a short opinion piece on this matter, being that it is a hotly debated topic in many industries, particularly the graphic/web design field.

I love getting things for free. Who doesn’t? There’s nothing better to me than scoring a really sweet deal. however, I would NEVER expect something of real value for free unless it was being given as a gift or I won it in a contest. Think about it, you think someone’s just going to give you a brand spankin’ new MacBook just because you put out an ad saying you wanted to see what different computers were like?


That’s exactly what happens when businesses and organizations put out an ad or an RFP asking for design work before you even win the job. They’ll ask for anything.. logos, website designs, brochures, etc. There is a serious issue with this. When a designer or design firm does spec work in this fashion, they’re working for free with no guarantee of contract, and they’re usually handing over all legal right to the work they just created. This means that the potential client that asked for the work in the first place could pick another firm to work with and yet still use the pro bono work done by other firms bidding on the project!

Don’t get me wrong, pro bono work is not all bad. There are some really great organizations/people out there that can really benefit from some donated work by a talented designer/firm. This also usually promotes some positive word-of-mouth and good karma all around. However, this is not the same as spec work when bidding on a project!

In closing, unfortunately in this day, designers are really undervalued and unaccredited; anyone could become a designer.. there is no certification or license. I’ll leave you with this thought though, spoken by one of the members of ADCMW: Would you ask a plumber or an architect to do some free work on your house before you actually hired them? I hope not.

Click here to see the original post on Kettul’s Blog

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