Would you ever dream of asking your dentist to have some work done and not to pay him?

Or calling the plumber because a pipe in your house is leaking and tell them “c’mon you’re good with these things, it would take you 5 minutes at the latest” with the implication that you will not pay him for that service?

Sounds absurd, but I get that almost every four/five months.

They usually start with “Since you’re good at…” then they fire away their request like an old friend would do when they’re in need of a favour. Most of the time they are just acquaintances or relatives which complicates matters exponentially because you find yourself in difficulty as you don’t want to be rude, so you can’t really say no. And it could be anything: a logo, a brochure, a website layout, a wedding board, a little something for a bloody country fair, you name it.

The implication is always the same one: a non paid job.

Three weeks ago I received a message through LinkedIn from an old classmate from primary school. Yes, that’s correct: primary school. I hadn’t heard from him for 30 years and without even say hi, he began by saying the magic words I mentioned above: “Since you’re good at drawing…”. He’s about to start a new business apparently and he needed a trademark, a logo to identify his bio products.

I’ve received these kind of messages for years, now, and I know how to get rid of them: like an experienced actor who walks on the stage for the million time, the curtains go up and I start saying my lines packed with “too busy”, “I’m sorry” and “I wish I could”. Usually this kind of answer stops them for going further, the audience claps, the curtains go down and I can go back to work.

But not this time.

Like a resistant army to the assault of a castle, my enemy loads their trebuchet and throws another burning projectile: “it’s a very basic and straightforward task, it would take you 30 minutes at latest” adding “give me your email address and I’ll send you the material you need”.

There was no way out. My enemy had bombarded the foundation of the castle, the surrender was upcoming. I then decided to play my last card, which consisted in opening the gates and launching the heavy cavalry: I would have looked at that material and send him a quotation for the job.


After five weeks, I’m still waiting for his reply.

Why people feel entitled to ask for non paid jobs? New research from a UK startup has found that 70% of creative freelancers were asked to work for free in 2016. What’s even more alarming is that 9% of those designers asked to work for no pay said yes.

Why is this happening?

The expectation for free design work is not new; in fact, it’s been a common practice for decades now. Why do designers still need to justify the value of their work? Why do some people still feel creative work isn’t worth the same as other services they pay for? And is there ever good reason to expect designers to work for free?

Well, no, obviously. But that still seems to be the attitude of a lot of people who expect unpaid work form graphic designers, unfortunately. A Twitter account called For Exposure is bringing this to the world’s attention by tweeting the most ridiculous responses that young artists (graphic designers, photographers, illustrators..) have received when they’ve had the downright nerve to ask for money for doing a job for somebody! From being offered to be paid in exposure, of course, to be asked to do their absolute best working for free just because; the attitude of the commissioners is just appalling at best.

The Oatmeal has sent up this problem with a cartoon. And in the UK, supermarket chain Sainsbury’s got put on blast for their shameless attempt to recruit an artist to paint a canteen in one of their stores for free.

Spec Work

Spec work is another reality. It’s common for graphic designers to be asked to work on “spec,” but what does that mean? Spec work (short for speculative) is any job for which the client expects to see examples or a finished product before agreeing to pay a fee. I get that all the time. Would you try a meal before deciding to eat in a restaurant? diners don’t fork over free meals. Personal Trainers don’t do your workouts on spec or give away their intellectual property. So why are we graphic designers signing away our ideas?

Zulu Alpha Kilo, “the real creative agency with a parody website” addressed the problem with a funny short video, #SayNoToSpec, which depicts how bizarre it would be if, for example, personal trainers and baristas were asked to provide goods and services on spec. Check their video here.

What my fellow graphic designers and I do, is a service. Services cost money. Exposure do not pay bills, rents, food. Helping out family members or friends is fine, provided you want to do it and it’s not at the expense of paid work. Otherwise, put the energy into finding clients that respect you and appreciate what you can do for them. Just don’t be the guy showed in the illustration of this article.