Article / Experience / Graduates / Graphic Design / Self Publishing / Side Projects

Favours for favours?

As part of the design community, the question of working for free often comes up. I think in most genres of the creative industry, there’s almost an expectation that we should be expected to take on projects for free, or under the guise of ‘exposure’, with varying opinions.

For designers who are right at the start of their careers, or who have a limited portfolio to show to prospects, it can be a difficult hurdle to overcome – after all, how can you get people to hire you if they can’t see what you’re capable of?

I feel there are 2 parts to this discussion – the first in being asked by prospects to ‘work for free’ (sometimes cleverly disguised as ‘exposure work’), the second is creating your own projects in order to showcase your work. The second one can be beneficial, the first one almost never is, so we’ll talk about this one first.

Asking for work

It’s likely that even if you’ve been in the game a while, there will be times as a designer when you have a need to prospect for new projects. It’s these ‘cold contacts’ that are most likely to be the businesses who; a) have little knowledge about how outsourcing works, and b) think that by asking for ‘freebies’ as a way of gauging your talent is the proper way to do things.

An inexperienced designer might be tempted to oblige. After all, it might lead to more paid work and it adds valuable content to your portfolio, right?

But hang on – let’s put this in perspective.

Let’s pretend for a minute that you’ve had 2 prospect responses. They both want to hire you, but one of them asks for a quote, while the other one asks if you can do the first element of the project for free ‘to see how it goes’.

Here’s where the ‘what if’ scenarios start to come into your mind. What if the guy who asked for the quote thinks you’re too expensive and decides not to hire you? What if the ‘free’ project is the one that will ultimately lead to the most lucrative work?

I can reassure you here that the first scenario is always the least dangerous. Because if your quote gets returned with concerns over the budget, there are always things you can do – like offer to complete elements of the work in order to meet their budget or payment instalment plans for example.

But the ‘freebie’ guy? Sure, he might hire you down the line for your usual rate – but I’m willing to bet that he’ll haggle and argue at every turn. And if you take on that project for free, which might take you several hours, then you are making yourself unavailable for proper, paid work.

How to respond if you’re asked to work for free

This can be tricky, particularly if you’re desperate for work. That temptation to grab every opportunity for fear of missing out can be strong. But in order to avoid devaluing your abilities, it’s important that you learn to stand your ground – and I’m saying that from a place of experience. By accepting free work, you’re not only doing a disservice to yourself, but you’re also giving the message that design as a profession holds no value.

So what can you say when a prospect utters those words, ‘can you do the first project for free/for exposure/as a test-run?’.

There are a few ways you could choose to handle it – as long as you remember that the answer should always be ‘No’.

The first thing you should do is to take a step back. Don’t rush in with your response from a place of emotion. The prospect isn’t doing this out of spite or malice – they are simply unaware of how the design process works. It’s your job to educate them.

Perhaps this is a prospect that you really DO want to work with. It could be that you’ve followed them for a while, and they’re just the kind of business you want to design for. If that’s the case, then consider responding with a polite note, advising them that although you are not in a position to offer free work, you can point them in the direction of other work you’ve done for similar industries. If you don’t have any examples, then perhaps you can seek out other projects you can do (for pay, of course!) so that you can approach them again in a few months’ time.

Or you can politely decline. Again, let them know that as a creative professional, you are not able to complete the project for free, but perhaps they can consider you again when they are in a position to hire you for your usual fee.

When it’s ok to work for free

What I am a great advocate for is self-initiated projects. I believe these types of projects can be a brilliant way of creating your own portfolio pieces, on your own terms. Whether you are an experienced designer or not, periodically taking time to work on your own projects allows you to explore different techniques and design methods which you might not get the opportunity for with client work.

The benefits are two-fold; you get that extra bit of creative freedom, and you get to escape that rut of always taking on the same type of client project. It gives you the chance to push the boundaries a little bit and inspires you to take different avenues.

I’ve done this myself a few times – with my self-published book ‘Ten Yrs Later’, and for some localised projects such as the creative festival I began working on during 2020. Both of these have worked for me in both a professional and personal scope because it gives me something else to showcase what I can do, and lets me ‘play’ and explore outside of my usual workload.

If you are at the start of your career or feel the need to change your niche, taking a bit of time out to create different pieces for your portfolio is the best way to do it. It can be as simple as choosing an existing or imaginary brand and redesigning it using your own style and techniques.

I hope this article gives you the confidence to realise your own value in what you do. Design, in whatever form it takes, is a valuable asset to your clients and should be treated as such.

Education / Inspiration / Self Publishing

Self-publishing as part of your marketing strategy

There are a lot of industries, the creative ones especially, where it can be difficult to find effective ways to showcase and market our work. And with such an emphasis on mediums such as social media and online portfolios, it can be hard to get ourselves noticed. So how can we, as creative designers, rise above all the online noise and showcase our work in the most effective way? The answer could be to self-publish a book, and here’s my story of how I did just that.

Sometimes, the only way to move forward is to draw a line and start again. I realised this after spending ten years at my old agency, where I’d become stagnant, waiting for things to happen that never would. Over time, my joy for what I was doing had diminished, and we were just…coasting. Something needed to change. And so, I decided to start again with the Severn Agency.

I wanted things to be different – I knew I didn’t want to rely on placing a few case studies on my website and hoping to be found. I had this idea of having some of my work printed. And with that thought in my mind, I started looking back at some of the work I’d done over the past ten years, trying to find elements that I’d still be happy to show. I poured over the smallest details of my designs, and what attracted me to them; what drew my eye and still captivated me.

That became my inspiration for the book, TENYRSLTR. It’s more than just a showcase of my work. It tells my story, captures the hard work I put in over those ten years to get me to where I am now. It serves as a reminder of the path I have taken. It’s something very personal.

What self-publishing my book taught me

When I was compiling my book, I wasn’t really sure about the end goal. In my mind, it was in part a therapeutic exercise for myself, in part portfolio to gain interest in my new studio. Everything beyond that felt a bit vague. It wasn’t until I got feedback from someone who I’d admired for many years that I began to rethink that, and everything became clearer.
The feedback came from one of the partners at the prestigious Pentagram agency, which is renowned as the largest independently owned design studios in the world. In it, he asked where he could buy a copy, which made me think; perhaps this book could have a life beyond being a promotional piece. Maybe there was another market for it.

‘“I thought the book was great… It’s a very personal experience you’ve captured”’

By looking back over my career so far; by reflecting over how my new studio had come to be, I had now regained the motivation I needed to move forward. Looking back can be a great incentive.
If I’d have taken the easy, more predictable route, by just creating my portfolio online, how would I have differentiated myself from those other creative studios? In truth, it would have been a whole lot harder, and would have taken much, much longer to achieve. I prefer to think about things a bit differently – you never know where it might lead.

A lasting legacy

As much as we need to rely on online media, I think we’ve neglected to consider more traditional methods of promoting ourselves. We’ve got lost in digital. And the process of self-publishing has taught me that it’s still a very relevant media. Perhaps there’s a new hunger for this more lasting, material concept; something you can physically hold and touch and come back to time and time again. There’s been a huge upsurge in things like vinyl music recently – same thing. Digital media is great, but it’s also fleeting and feels kind of temporary. Having something you can keep, and can own, has huge benefits. It’s something you can show to people and be proud of. Despite what some people have said, print is not, and never will be, dead.

Article / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Self Publishing

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

People of Print: TENYRSLTR BY SEVERN

posted by POP MEMBERS June 12, 2018

Graphic Designer Tony Clarkson tells us about his journey that led him to create his hardback book that promotes his new studio venture: Severn. “I’d been pretty restless at the old studio for quite a while but told myself that it would be ok, that things would change and things would…

Go to peopleofprint.com

Article / Graphic Design / Inspiration / Self Publishing

Creative Boom: Severn celebrates 10 years of design work ‘worth shouting about’ with a beautiful book

Creative Boom: Severn celebrates 10 years of design work ‘worth shouting about’ with a beautiful book

It happens to the best of us. One minute we’re excitedly launching our own business; the next, we’re stifled by a large client and our creativity is compromised. This is what happened to designer Tony Clarkson of Severn when he worked for another agency.

“I’d become very restless at my old studio,” he explains. “We had fallen into the trap of having one main client which took up most of the time and…

Go to creativeboom.com

© SEVERN AGENCY LTD