Feb 15

A long time ago in the land of ignorance and naiveté, I was a young, starving artist in school trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Having bypassed my aspirations of ace fighter pilot and medical doctor (I know I was all over the place), I decided on what came easily to me… drawing.

“Graphic Design Students… Please Stop Selling Out”

One day after having the last Little Debbie Snack Cake in my cupboard for breakfast and trolling through classes pondering when my Financial Aid check would finally come in, I decided to try my hand at hustling. Promptly gathering up some paper from the printer in our computer lab and a couple pencils, I went to the center of the school (the most social area) and set up shop, drawing people for $5 a pic. An hour later I was $60 richer and able to buy groceries to keep it moving until that Aid check came in… I thought I was invincible.

Fast forward a year into school and I was in the computer lab playing with Adobe Photoshop when a church official pops up offering $15 for one of us to design a flyer for him. Of course I jumped on it and after being scolded by my instructors for “selling out” with my $5 hustle, it still didn’t click in my mind that a $15 flyer was something to laugh at, not something to jump at. Yet how was I supposed to know? Nobody taught us about pricing and industry standards in school, and nobody warned us that the smartest and cheapest scavengers fed constantly on students.

“Graphic Design Students… You Are Worth More”

Soon I was graduated and green, and still dumb… this time I am working for a Publishing company, making peanuts… thinking life is grand because I was making a living off of those peanuts. The collective of designers in that building were all of the same mindset as I was… some were twice my age. Think on that for a second.

“Nobody will ever RESPECT your craft… Get Money”

A few raises, companies being liquidated, employees being laid off and countless assholes playing boss led me to a point where I reflected internally… and it dawned on me: Artists, Graphic Designers and basically ALL students of the arts are seen as people doing “FUN” things for money. A sales hack who does nothing but grind for money does not place value in paying for you to have FUN. A boss who dislikes having to pay anybody outside of himself does not like paying for “FUN”, and it’s a fact that will forever go on unless we creatives do something about it… wait, I did after a number of years… I want every one of you to do it too.

People regard that logo which you researched, sketched and designed for HOURS as FUN. So when you ask for $500 to give them something that is so memorable that it will yield a return on investment in the 10’s of thousands… they will laugh at you and choose instead to pay a naïve student $25 for something amateurish and sloppy. Students who read this, I implore you… do not sell out to cheap people. They do not respect you or your craft.

Today I saw an ad in the job listings which read like this…

“Looking for a student or someone willing to assist with a small web project for low or no cost (in exchange for portfolio building).

It made me laugh almost to tears until I realized that it would eventually get answered. Students, starving web and graphic folks out there – take it from someone who has made a decent coin in our trade. Cheap work is NEVER worth it, and building your portfolio by selling out to people who don’t respect your craft is the worst thing that you can do.

Your best website should be YOUR website, the one housing your portfolio which you present to hiring-managers and Art Directors. The hours you spend on building that guy’s site for free, only to have it get a glance by one of us out here hiring is never going to be worth it. If you want to impress people, make sure the site that has your work is the best. In a perfect world, that ad would go untouched… very much like the ones I see asking photographers to trade pictures for nothing.

So get confident in your craft, stand by your pricing and make people respect your professional work. When you deal exclusively with people that are willing and able to pay for quality, I guarantee you that you will find success in this thing of ours.

Don’t ever work for free.

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  • Even though it will be hard to these students to ignore this “opportunity” it is in their best interests. I believe that no matter if it is an internship or students with a side hustle they should be paid a fair rate. Anything otherwise is a slap in the face to the student and a cheap bastard trying to get over.

    There was an article or something I read somewhere that talked about internships. They basically said the same as you that you shouldn’t have to sell your soul in order to gain experience or a few bucks. The author said that it was crazy that people would think it is OK to work someone very hard and not pay them no matter what the experience the intern was gaining.

    Then on the radio yesterday Frank Ski and Wanda basically agreed with the free practice. Basically they worked their way up from internship for free and others should do the same. How else will they gain experience? The entire segment just sounded very ignorant and stupid

    • Sounds like old school mentality from old school heads… the type of people who think that the world and business never evolves and that cold calls and internships are the only way to success since it worked for them 100 years ago.

      It reminds me of the professors we had that were so out of touch with the job market that they gave us advice that did more damage than good when we graduated… the result – you either became a hustler or worked retail. This is why it’s so important that students check the source of their “advice” before taking it as law… I wrote this article because I am still in the trenches living off of this industry. I have been the person hiring and scanning resumes and I can tell you right now, an internship does not mean jack… let me see your work… and let me hear what you have to say about it.

      I would rather hire a non-experienced, super talented, hustler over a well-experienced kid with a poor book, who did free internships at various popular magazines.

      You know what’s funny? The places that I’ve worked only hired interns for one reason… it was too much of a pain in the ass to go through the interview process, underpay some sucker willing to work for dirt pay, and then fire him/her whenever the work we needed them for was over. Interns are free, they have their noses wide open and will stupidly do overtime if you sweet talk them enough and make open promises of a possible future with the company.

      It’s straight pimping and I am glad I never did it… but I was so wanting to do one when I was in school too. Don’t ever work for free!

  • I was actually thinking about this whole thing yesterday. To me it’s a cycle of growing up professionally.

    The reason we’re all warning the younger designers to avoid those cheap clients is because we jumped on them long ago. The thing is, we’re looking at it with our current brains and current experiences. If you asked me to do a website based off a template 2 years ago, I would have happily done it for 1/4 the cost that I would now. I’ve come to realize how much time and effort it takes to build a site and how much I’m willing to sell my patience for. Back then I was hungry and doing something new to me. Now I have experience in web and business in general. My stress is more expensive now.

    I think that we all worked for dirt and that’s how it needed to be. Obviously I would scorn the person trying to take advantage of a young designer, but in some regards it does that designer some good. For instance, you hopped on a $15 flyer design. On one hand it was pathetic of them to take advantage, but you learned learned a powerful lesson. You got a little grocery money at a critical time and have that experience as a building block for your professional stance.

    My brother is a part time web guy. Not that he loves doing it, but he just happened to know some code and people would pay him for it. I was sad when I found out how much he was charging because I knew he should be charging at least 5x what he was. I let him know how valuable he actually is.

    That’s the cycle. You get taken advantage of, you grow and learn from your mistakes, and warn the next generation. Eventually they understand they shouldn’t be designing a 64 page magazine for $500.