The Freelance Designer’s Trap – Working For Free

| 5 min read
386 shares

Imagine this situation; you decide that you want your house painted. You open up the phone book and call 5 decorators. When they arrive at your home – you examine their portfolios and then tell them that while you can see they are talented, they aren’t quite experienced enough to do the job but as a means of getting that experience they can paint your house for free and you’ll let them add a photo of it to their portfolio. What are the chances of getting your house painted for free?

The Answer Is So Obvious

You could pull that trick with a million decorating firms and not one of them will ever do the job for free. That’s because their time, labour, etc. have value. Most of them would be likely to call you nasty names too. Yet, this is exactly what freelancer designers do every day. They’re told; you don’t have the experience so why not work for free and get the experience? And they do.

Designers Without The Right Skills


Author/Copyright holder: Carlos ZGZ. Copyright terms and licence: Public Domain


Let’s be honest about this. If you really have no skills; you probably shouldn’t be freelancing in this area in the first place. If this is the first time you’ve opened Photoshop; you aren’t ready to sell your work to anyone. You need to develop experience and that starts by developing your skills. College and training providers are the places for learning skills and so is full-time employment. You need to develop your abilities before you try and sell them.

Designers Without Experience

OK, so you’ve got the skills but you don’t have the experience. It can’t hurt to work for free right? We tend to disagree with two real exceptions – the first is charity work. If you’re going to give your work away; why not give it to a good cause? Not only will you get experience, and help people, but you will also start to build a network while working for a charity where you might be able to sell work at a later date.



Author/Copyright holder: Gapingvoid. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved Img source


The other is for your own marketing purposes. You can design, for example, a logo for an imaginary company and put together a brand story etc. for it too. You don’t have to surrender the copyright to this work so you can use it over and over again too. That’s much better than working for someone else’s business to make them money while not getting paid right?

Designers With Experience


Author/Copyright holder: Unknown. Copyright terms and licence: Unknown. Img source

Whenever you try to win work you should be pushing relevant experience; generic portfolios are a bad idea. Ensure that you always put the most relevant work you have in front of a client. Some of them will still try to get you to work for free; in this case – walk away and walk fast. If you’ve been working as a professional for a period of time; you’re experienced and there’s absolutely nothing that could justify working for free for another business. If they can’t see your value – let some other mug work for nothing.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Jessica Hische. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved. Img

386 shares

Open Access—Link to us!

We believe in Open Access and the democratization of knowledge. Unfortunately, world-class educational materials such as this page are normally hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks.

If you want this to change, , link to us, or join us to help us democratize design knowledge!

Share Knowledge, Get Respect!

Share on:

or copy link

Cite according to academic standards

Simply copy and paste the text below into your bibliographic reference list, onto your blog, or anywhere else. You can also just hyperlink to this article.

Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2016, February 22). The Freelance Designer’s Trap – Working For Free. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

New to UX Design? We’re giving you a free ebook!

The Basics of User Experience Design

Download our free ebook The Basics of User Experience Design to learn about core concepts of UX design.

In 9 chapters, we’ll cover: conducting user interviews, design thinking, interaction design, mobile UX design, usability, UX research, and many more!

A valid email address is required.
316,638 designers enjoy our newsletter—sure you don’t want to receive it?

New to UX Design? We’re Giving You a Free ebook!

The Basics of User Experience Design

Download our free ebook The Basics of User Experience Design to learn about core concepts of UX design.

In 9 chapters, we’ll cover: conducting user interviews, design thinking, interaction design, mobile UX design, usability, UX research, and many more!

A valid email address is required.
316,638 designers enjoy our newsletter—sure you don’t want to receive it?