Sunday, 3 February 2013

Why we don't work for free*

Or why we don't do spec work (i.e speculative work) and why you won't find us on a crowdsourcing site.

Another 'business of design' blog post - a chance for me to get on my soapbox and speak for those who feel they cannot. A subject very close to my heart that needs much more exposure than it seems to get.

Anyone who follows me on Linked In will know that I'm anti unpaid internships and am always quick to point out the legalities of this in the UK - they're not legal unless part of an educational course or for a charity - you are entitled to UK minimum wage. As Philip Green from Top Shop found out last year when the HMRC caught up with him and forced him to backpay dozens of previous interns for the time they had worked.

I'm not mad on sites such as People Per Hour either- you won't find me touting myself on there - they seem to be all about the lowest possible price, I don't think serious business people use sites like that to recruit designers, only those who think they can get the job done for $20 - these are not people who are going to last very long in the footwear trade if that is their design budget - it would buy about 2 pairs of production! :D  Some of them (hello Zintro?) employ underhand tactics  - setting up profilebots (fake profiles that are a software program - not a real person), on Linked In in order to spam their website.  Ask yourself - if this is the tactics they use to attract you to sign up to their service, do you think they really care about you?

But as well as this, I get my knickers in a twist about crowdsourcing competitions and spec work, these are all related as they demand that you do design work for free with only a slim chance of being paid if you win.

I was recently invited to participate in one such design competition on a new fashion website and I thought I'd post my response.

''I see an opportunity for you to gain a large amount of design work for free, then cherry pick only  the best,  with very few people from the crowd rewarded for their efforts. This is the reason why I'm against crowdsourcing. 

It's a modern disease and it's especially unfair in this financial climate. Add to this unpaid internships and other kinds of spec work, because it discriminates against those who aren't wealthy enough to work for nothing. It's also wasteful, effort for nothing - this is one reason our planet is in such a mess and people are so unhappy, because of waste, or surplus.  And it works both ways. If I'm not sure I'll 'win' the contest, will I put the same amount of effort as I would for Ms X who is passionate about her business and has provided me a thorough design brief and that I know I will be paid for it? Is this really the way to get quality work? 

We should treasure creative people enough to pay them for the work that they do. So they can uhm.... eat and pay their bills, you know, live and stuff, just like you. 

For instance would you dare ask five accountants to do your annual accounts for free then pick one and pay only him?  So why is it ok to treat creative people in this way?

I personally don't think it is.''

For those of you who have read this far and agree with me (or perhaps you don't), there is more information on this website.  If you're a designer and you agree, then why not join the movement?

/Rant over, I'll get off my soapbox. Thanks for listening.

*Actually I am fibbing a bit.  We do work for free but not for commercial businesses.  As well as doing talks and setting projects in state educational establishments,  I also volunteer at a local community enterprise every week, and then once a month at a Buddhist grand culture centre - Taplow Court near Maidenhead as a team leader, manning the reception, welcoming visitors and tourists and arranging tours around the house and grounds. My business partner is webmaster for these charities
It's *this* kind of working for free that creates value in your environment - give your free work to non commercial concerns  - it feels great!