Refuse to work for nothing

DA&D’s past President Mike Dempsey shared his thoughts on the recent speech given to young design graduates by D&AD chairman Dick Powell. Mike Dempsey said:

“This attitude dovetails into the alarming increase in free pitching that now runs throughout our industry, from the smallest to the most prestigious firms. Every company that embraces this and the acceptance of unpaid work for graduates is devaluing the worth of what we do. Powell’s active recommendation of ‘working for free’ simply adds to the view that what we all do is pretty low-grade, worthless stuff. A very sad state of affairs to hear this communicated by D&AD.”


“For what it’s worth, my recommendation to any design graduate is to refuse to work for nothing. And while pursuing job prospects, keep active by initiating your own projects to keep the creative muscles sharp. When I first started out, I would visit bookshops, pinpoint badly designed covers and in my spare time at home I would redesign them. That act eventually led to a job. A paid job.

“Don’t give up: believe in yourself.”

Read the full article on Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey Blog.

Mike Dempsey
Past D&AD President Mike Dempsey, photo via johnson banks

9 responses to “Refuse to work for nothing”

  1. Hi, I shared your post on my blog, with a link to you, it is so important to educate artists and designers about getting paid.

    Thank you very much for all your work!


  2. My usual response to those who want free graphic artwork is to tell them to wait for the resource based economy to get started. Once there’s a resource based economy, they can get everything for free including graphic artwork.

  3. So I have been reading these comments because I am researching using crowdsourcing for many things. Mostly copywriting I think. I still am not sure, it seems the economies of it vs doing it myself is just irresistible. For me, a guy like me that is not much of writer and has zero budget getting started the lure of having professional help is alluring for me. I am having a hard time making the right decision.

    There are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of business guys like me, that would LOVE a full service agency cranking out content, powerpoints, SEO, Video, Lead Generation, Branding, and the list goes on and on and on. But the fact is I found an agency whose work I liked and got a quote for a website starting at $40,000.00. HMMM send my daughter to college or crowdsource someone to customize a StudioPress template for a few hundred? Of course I understand the other side (I am a directmail brokerage) you want to be able to pay for your sons baseball camp and daughters college as well.

    I have an idea forming of what might work for me and it is not a design contest. Nope not design contest at all. Of course there is the rub these crowdsourcing sites need to control the process to get paid.

    In the end I would say you designers have a choice, be so good, so original, so transcendent in your craft that people are lined up to pay you and have to have you.

    Let me give you an example, I saw this advertisement:
    and immediately knew that is what is the look I want. But how to get there? I have no idea the agency that produced it is out of my reach.

    • @Small business dude:
      If you know the look you want to achieve, look for freelancers/agencies who have portfolios that impress you. Tell them the look you want (and your budget) and ask if they can do something similar.

      Not trying to be snarky here, but that’s basically how any business is conducted. There’s no reason design should be any different.

  4. The design firm that I formerly worked for did take on 2 unpaid interns for a period of a few months. We did not look for the interns though, they approached us offering / pleading to work for free until they found a job. We felt very uncomfortable about allowing this as it was a small firm which at the time was struggling. We took them on out of community spirit but we certainly did not exploit them. I made sure that the interns got really good experience as quickly as possible. I put in a lot of my time unpaid to tutor them and develop their portfolios and resumes. I found them paid freelance work elsewhere and I also networked on their behalf. In the end I helped them find and secure permanent salaried positions in very good firms.

    At the time that they were both starting proper jobs, most of their friends that they graduated with had just been spending all their time applying to ads, not gaining experience, hence they are still unemployed.

    Ultimately there is no excuse for not paying proper wages but I know I did everything I could to pay in kind for these interns. I do think there is a need for another system that links up graduates with experience. Harsh reality is that there are just not enough real opportunities out there anymore.

  5. When I got out of college I wanted to learn how to be a chef. I offered to work for free at 3 of the best restaurants in Dallas. They all were nationally critically acclaimed restaurants and I leveraged that 3 months experience into paying jobs and eventually did become a chef. I then realized I wasn’t talented enough to be a super star chef and moved on but I am thankful for that chance.

  6. I feel both Dick and Mike have good points on either side. Although Dick’s perspective on what students should expect sets the bar rather low with an almost bleak outlook on post-college life no matter how upbeat of an attitude the words are spoken with.

    However, there is merit to doing work simply because you love it, and the experience will help you to learn far more than many college classes ever will. I struck a balance between working for free as an unpaid intern during school, and then after school pursuing a paid internship with the intent of barely averaging out the cost of my time/gas/food etc. Then I had a really stable direction to pursue in the workplace in which I feel I can reasonably apply anywhere with confidence.

    Charlie Hoehn gave a TED talk about free work I found quite interesting, a unique way of going about doing work that rings of an unofficial internship that when started with the best of intentions can benefit both parties and typically pan out into an otherwise invisible opportunity. His TED talk can be watched here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *