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Craigslist: Free Design Work

I was looking through Craigslist the other day for some potential clients. I came across a post from an unknown designer expressing his feelings about how the general public views designers/creative services, NOT BEING OF VALUE. Employers promising fame and fortune in return for free designs, which you sign all your rights away to.

This person is dead on. I totally agree with him/her. I'm posting it here to help educuate designers, employers, potential clients and the general public. I encourage you to repost this on your blog and websites.

I know it's a little long but well worth the read. The original post from Craigslist have been deleted, no surprise.

Since reposting it on the HOW Design Forum. It's gotten a great response of support from Designers. Many Designers reposting it on their blogs.

NO!SPEC: I Wish I Had Written This
Designers Who Blog: NO!SPEC Looking For Craigslist Author
Adventures In Blogging: Free Graphic Design
Delineate: I Wish I Had Written This
Position Relative: Craig’s Pissed
A Little Hut: Preaching to the Choir
Plush Cadillac: Who Wants Free Design Work?

It landed on the front page of UnBeige. They picked up on the Criagslist posting I reposted on a local design meet up group/email list I belong to, Kernspiracy. Which Alissa Walker, editor of Unbeige is also a member.

Every day, there are more and more CragsList posts seeking "artists" for everything from auto graphics to comic books to corporate logo designs. More people are finding themselves in need of some form of illustrative service.

But what they're NOT doing, unfortunately, is realizing how rare someone with these particular talents can be.

To those who are "seeking artists", let me ask you; How many people do you know, personally, with the talent and skill to perform the services you need? A dozen? Five? One? ...none?

More than likely, you don't know any. Otherwise, you wouldn't be posting on craigslist to find them.

And this is not really a surprise.

In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are professional illustrators. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are SEVENTY times as many people in the IT field.

So, given that they are less rare, and therefore less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the "opportunity" to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him "a few bucks" for "materials". What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even CONSIDER offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered "yes" to ANY of the above, you're obviously insane. If you answered "no", then kudos to you for living in the real world.

But then tell me... why would you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.

A few things you need to know;

1. It is not a "great opportunity" for an artist to have his work seen on your car/'zine/website/bedroom wall, etc. It IS a "great opportunity" for YOU to have their work there.

2. It is not clever to seek a "student" or "beginner" in an attempt to get work for free. It's ignorant and insulting. They may be "students", but that does not mean they don't deserve to be paid for their hard work. You were a "student" once, too. Would you have taken that job at McDonalds with no pay, because you were learning essential job skills for the real world? Yes, your proposition it JUST as stupid.

3. The chance to have their name on something that is going to be seen by other people, whether it's one or one million, is NOT a valid enticement. Neither is the right to add that work to their "portfolio". They get to do those things ANYWAY, after being paid as they should. It's not compensation. It's their right, and it's a given.

4. Stop thinking that you're giving them some great chance to work. Once they skip over your silly ad, as they should, the next ad is usually for someone who lives in the real world, and as such, will pay them. There are far more jobs needing these skills than there are people who possess these skills.

5. Students DO need "experience". But they do NOT need to get it by giving their work away. In fact, this does not even offer them the experience they need. Anyone who will not/can not pay them is obviously the type of person or business they should be ashamed to have on their resume anyway. Do you think professional contractors list the "experience" they got while nailing down a loose step at their grandmother's house when they were seventeen?

If you your company or gig was worth listing as desired experience, it would be able to pay for the services it received. The only experience they will get doing free work for you is a lesson learned in what kinds of scrubs they should not lower themselves to deal with.

6. (This one is FOR the artists out there, please pay attention.) Some will ask you to "submit work for consideration". They may even be posing as some sort of "contest". These are almost always scams. They will take the work submitted by many artists seeking to win the "contest", or be "chosen" for the gig, and find what they like most. They will then usually have someone who works for them, or someone who works incredibly cheap because they have no originality or talent of their own, reproduce that same work, or even just make slight modifications to it, and claim it as their own. You will NOT be paid, you will NOT win the contest. The only people who win, here, are the underhanded folks who run these ads. This is speculative, or "spec", work. It's risky at best, and a complete scam at worst. I urge you to avoid it, completely. For more information on this subject, please visit www.no-spec.com

So to artists/designers/illustrators looking for work, do everyone a favor, ESPECIALLY yourselves, and avoid people who do not intend to pay you. Whether they are "spec" gigs, or just some guy who wants a free mural on his living room walls. They need you. You do NOT need them.

And for those who are looking for someone to do work for free... please wake up and join the real world. The only thing you're accomplishing is to insult those with the skills you need. Get a clue.

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Thanks for sharing -- this sends out an important message. Although the points may seem obvious, I think we sometimes "forget" because so many people hate their jobs that they think it is already enough compensation for "artists" for loving their work.

I completely agree that independent creativity that steps over corporate boundaries does not provide a predictable path to financial success. True creativity takes courage and lots of mac and cheese dinners.

I run a leadership program for middle school girls that teaches the value of independent thinking and forging your own path(vs. being popular, skinny and an aspiring popstar). The program is taking off in the Charlotte school system but we need to revise the magazine/workbook to be the coolest copy on campus. A grunge/distress style is absolutely what we need but I have had little luck finding a designer both in touch with the middle school attitude and with the design skills to do tasteful grunge. And - yes - we are willing to pay for the right talent albeit from a very limited non-profit budget. visit www.athenaspath.com and send me an email if you think you have what it takes!

Hi Calvin

Having been learning design since 1998 and starting my own firm in 2005, I have seen many (many!) examples of this foolishness.

It's important to step up and tell both the employers and the contractors/artists what's what so that they don't keep making the same mistakes we all had to, once upon a time.

Thanks also for sharing the NO!SPEC link for others to pick up on and learn from.

If we don't, how else will we put a halt to it? We cannot enable this nonesense to continue!

Thank you - this rant is just as relevant for any type of artistic/creative field (and many others). It's amazing how many people you don't even know expect you to work for free for them as "a favor"/for exposure. And are insulted when you don't. Sigh. I think I'll just link to your article the next time someone asks, I politely say "No" and they ask "But why not?"

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  • Mayhem Studios is a small award-winning design firm located in Los Angeles, California, developing identity and brand recognition for the business sector across the nation. The Studio uses strategic and creative design with effective messages targeted to the client's specific audiences to produce identity and branded collateral pieces, annual reports, brochures, logo design, advertising and interactive web sites. Calvin Lee, Principal & Creative Director of Mayhem Studios is a graduate of Platt College and serves as a member of the Platt College Advisory Board for the Visual Communications Department, NO!SPEC Committee and on the Creative Latitude Management Team.
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