How the world views artists and designers...

Yesterday I read an interesting article written by a lawyer about graphic artists providing free work for contests. Basically, the idea is that someone needs a logo, so instead of hiring a designer, they host a contest, awarding a monetary prize to the design they choose. The article author talks about how you would never do something similar to a lawyer.

Murray and I have encountered similar things, like acquaintances asking for free work from us. I liken this to doctors. You would never go up to a doctor that you kindof know and say, "Hey, I'm due for my annual woman's exam. I know this only takes about five minutes to do. Could I pop in and get this done [for free] sometime this week?" (Heck, I hope you wouldn't ask that of a doctor that you know well, either!) There are times that I have asked nurse friends advice (thanks, Sarah!) but again, they are friends, and I'm asking advice. People can similarly ask advice from me, which I'll happily give for free, according to the amount of time I have to dedicate to it.

Today, (funnily enough, the day after reading the linked article) a former client emailed me about an opportunity to create a logo. I could submit my design along with two other designers, and the winner would receive payment of $100.

Fortunately, I'm booked for the next couple months.

But still. I know that the client wasn't trying to insult me, and probably thought that he was presenting me with a pretty good opportunity. But this client happens to own a restaurant. How would he feel if I told him that I'd be visiting his restaurant tonight, another restaurant tomorrow, and a third restaurant the next day, and I would award payment to the best meal!

Why do you think that some people undervalue an artist's or designer's work? Is it because our jobs are seen as fun? (A lot of the time they are.) Ideas?


Nemesis said...

As to the contest thing, do they maybe suppose that you'll just add that logo to your portfolio or something if you don't win? Either way it's a rude thing to do. When you get bids from other independent contractors that's all you're asking for--a BID or estimate or rough plan. You're not asking them to complete an entire project, hand it over, and then have you decide whether or not you'll take it. Lame.

Nemesis said...

And yes, I realize the irony of me being the one saying this. Have I mentioned lately how much I still love my wedding announcements? And my personal cards? And my calendar? Because I love all of those things. And I understand that you are worth very much money per hour.

TOWR said...

I can see how something like that could make you feel used or undervalued, but I think it depends on who's doing the asking. A logo contest could be put to your advantage and you could get tons of free publicity if the submission was for a larger company that was advertising its logo contest. Even if you didn't win, chances are your logo (and your name along with it) would get some great exposure to potential clients. In that case, I wouldn't want to be too hasty in passing up what could be a lucrative opportunity.

C. said...

It does sometimes occur that we ask other professionals for freebies... I interviewed pediatricians before B was born. No, it wasn't an appointment, but I did schedule a good 30 minutes of their time at the office that they could have been using to do something that made money. And part of the reason that I think it happens to graphic designers is that there are obviously a lot of people who are willing to do these contests/work for free and so of course people are going to take advantage of that. Who wouldn't?

Tori said...

I am by no means a graphic designer (far from) but I have a craft shop and I have found that people just expect me to make them what I am trying to sell for's odd and I agree with everything you said!

Tom Finnigan said...

Reminds me of this cartoon. Especially for freelancers, spec work and too many favors can kill you.

On a person-to-person level it does happen to other professions (plumbers, pediatricians, IT folks, etc) but I've never seen the organized contest thing anywhere else. Maybe part of it is that people consider themselves poor judges of portfolios, and want to hedge their bets until they can see the final work?

Velda said...

Reminds me of The Vendor Client Relationship video on youtube...

And yes, as a designer, I hear you. I design because I love to design, and sure I'd do it for free ... if my cost of living were also free.

As for spec contests, has quite a resources for educating the masses.

The Holyoaks said...

When I worked for an LDS endodontist, members from church would always come expecting free consultations and root canals. Root canals are expensive! At least $900 bucks.

My sister cuts hair and her friends want free cuts all the time. I'm her sister and I pay her. Come on people!

I think photographers must feel the same way as you do. I know a lot of people who take pics and friends/acquaintances want free services from them.

Anyway, can you design me something for free?

Jenny said...

I think for some reason people think artistic skills and work have different value than something you HAVE to go to college to learn or get licensed to do, like accounting.

Who wants free publicity? That's what a website is for, and business cards and stuff. And it seems like the people who don't offer a fair exchange for work don't necessarily attract the client base that would afford your work anyway.

Just because a designer can whip something up or a photographer can take a picture with a click doesn't mean it should be free. The fact that you can't do it and need to ask someone else should be reason enough for the value of the service, no?

Jane of Seagull Fountain said...

I think you can add writers to your list. My husband's a technical writer and he's lucky to have a job where they value him. Lots of companies think they don't need real writers, and that's where a lot of the awesome help manuals out there come from.

I sometimes (often) nag him that he needs to charge more for freelance. Doctors (among others) charge incredible amounts for 10 min appt increments, bec. you're paying for their expertise/experience/education, and it's the same with other workers.

Kristeee said...

I don't know that it has to do with not valuing the work designers have to bring to the table, but wanting to be sure that the designer's ideas fit in with what the client really envisions. My husband's a computer programmer and has designed several websites (not his specialty) for various things and HATES it when the owner's attitude is "I'll know it when I see it," because he feels it wastes his time. But I think that's how most of us are - we can't tell you exactly what we want and even if we do, it may not be what we really wanted at all.

I watch HGTV occasionally to torture myself by adding things to my wishlist for my house and yard. I especially love the shows where they hire 3 interior designers or landscapers to come up with designs for the home/yard and then they get to pick their favorite. I'd love to do this myself, but I don't have a TV show to pay the other 2 designers. So I don't think it's that we don't appreciate how much goes into a design, it's just that we don't trust ourselves to make the right decision the first time and don't want to pay for our own indecision.

Debbie (Nerd Goddess) said...

Reminds me of how published writers often get accosted by people who say "So, I have this awesome idea for a book. I'll tell it to you, you can write it, and we'll split it 50/50!"

Because as we all know writing and editing a whole book is as easy as getting the idea for it.

Perhaps it's the misconception that creative people don't really have to work. They're just imaginative and suddenly *poof!* something cool magically appears. I don't understand why people think those in the arts don't do real work, but obviously, they do.

So... since I commented you'll make me a custom blog layout for free, right? ;)

Jordan said...

This post makes me think of a card I saw once.

Sarah said...

So true. And when the ward thinks that you are the perfect person to make the fliers/invitations/annoucements for... everything! Or putting the preschool teacher in primary. Seriously - that's their everyday job.
PS - your welcome to advice any time.

jcaroline said...

I wonder that same thing myself. I think some people are just pompous and think you would be thrilled for the opportunity to do work for them. Seriously.

Some people don't see graphics work as a talent or a career (along with dozen of other skills like web programming-- "my 7th grade son can do that!") and therefore, don't think it warrants much payment. If you makes you feel better, some of these people think they can do their lawyers job as well!

So people, I think, are just innocent. Especially when it comes to logos, they are probably just starting a business and they don't have any money. Yet, they know that a decent logo is important and think your skill is valuable. I don't know how this one gets resolved. A payment plan? (Though risky for the designer, you aren't underpricing your service.)

And finally, some people are totally unaware that they are being rude (or maybe they are aware!) and will ask for anything to see if they can get it. I hate when people brag about how they talked someone down on the price of something-- especially something handmade or a professional service. Keep it to yourself that you are cheap and abusive!

I personally like it when the discussion about fees comes up immediately and if I can't afford it, I just say so. Sometimes we can work something out, sometimes we can't. I also think it falls on the service provider to be clear about what they expect and not start working without an agreement on fees.

And I think it is completely acceptable to say "No, I will not give away my services. Thank you." or "My billing rate is $170 an hour and I think I can work something up for you in 3 hours, if you are interested."

Anyway, designers and artists are not alone. I think we could list at least 100 professions that people think they should get services for free.

Enough of my diatribe, but it is an interesting question.

Audrey said...

This IS an interesting question, and I have had it happen to me as well.

I am a Spanish teacher, and people (friends, family members, my administrators here at school) frequently ask me to translate things for them because they know I speak the language fluently. So far I have not been ballsy enough to ask for payment, but some of you commenters have given me good ideas of tactful ways to do so, and reasons why I should. Most translators are paid by the word, so it's just an issue of determining a reasonable rate and being willing to speak up and ask for it.

I've been able to justify this "free freelance" work because hey, it's good practice for me, it's helping out a friend, they just want to know how to say a short phrase, etc. But lately more often it's flyers for activities or friends' businesses, letters home to the Spanish-speaking parents in the school district where I teach, and the like. I've even had a relative (who is an attorney) email me a letter from a client needing it translated that same day, and call me up informing me that he would need me to act as interpreter on a conference call that same afternoon. He offered me no compensation for either job.

What I think these people assume is that because I am fluent in Spanish, their little translation will not be time consuming. The truth is that translation is much more than just eyeing a document and jotting down the equivalent meaning. You have to consider the intentions of the writer, you have to consider who the audience is, and you DEFINITELY have to consider the context of the entire body of text. For instance, if you ask me to translate the phrase "raise the roof" into Spanish, I need to know if you're talking about construction or trying to use a lame slang term that has no real equivalent in Spanish.

Point being, whether I'm dealing with a phrase or multiple pages, my time is valuable and I should be compensated for it. Also, if I'm going to put my name on this work, I'm going to do it right and that is going to take me longer than you might expect because I am going to be thorough. Not to mention that translation is NOT my job so it is not a high priority on my list and I will have to fit in your pro-bono job when I have the time.

Another pet peeve regarding translation is shoddy workmanship. I often go out into the community and see businesses who have attempted to reach out to their Spanish-speaking clientele by posting flyers in the kind of unintelligible Spanish you get when you just punch what you want to say into Babelfish and assume you're good to go. My doctor's office had a notice dated "Fall 2009" posted on their window and the Spanish version read "Caida 2009" -- "fall" as in "he suffered a bad fall off the roof," not as in the season. Guess what, doc? THAT'S NOT HELPFUL TO YOUR SPANISH-SPEAKING PATIENTS! In fact, it makes you look ignorant and probably makes these patients feel less safe having you, say, operate on them if you can't pay attention to detail. Spending the money to hire a translator is well worth it if it means you can attract more customers with multilingual ads. If, however, those ads are laughably worded, you will lose customers and therefore lose money.

I'm sure you see a lot of the same thing in the art/design fields... people assuming a job won't take you long to do because you're creative and you're good at it, expecting quicker turnaround than you can realistically provide because of all the other (valid, paid) projects on your plate, and not taking your profession seriously enough to hire you because they think they could whip something basic up on Photoshop themselves. I think that stinks.

Emily said...

I'm just now catching up on your blog, so I'm a little behind, but...

This post reminds me of something that I saw years ago-- it was a list of favors and the correct compensation for them. It was on

When Rob posted that, something kind of clicked-- a favor is already a favor because you're asking someone to do something for you. Often you want them to do it on your schedule. How nice of them to be willing to accommodate you, and that by having the person you picked do it, you will have results that you like!

I don't really ask for favors all that often, but when I do I think about the sacrifice I'm asking someone to make (their time, gas, the inconvenience) and compensate accordingly. Sometimes with money, sometimes not; it depends on the relationship.

Even then, I really never ask anyone to perform their job for free. That just seems kind of rude. Like, if they're a good enough friend to ask for a favor, don't you have enough respect for the person you're asking that you would treat them at least as well as strangers would treat them?