Designers, don’t give your work away for free

Designers who receive email inquiries for work are undoubtedly familiar with emails from potential clients requesting additional background info, portfolio links, questions regarding previous jobs, or samples. For those that do receive these inquiries, never fall victim to "clients" requesting proposals on your behalf as a preliminary test proving your value and ability to deliver – free of charge.

If you value your work, you deserve compensation and protection for your time and ideas.

Here’s one such example of these types of emails undoubtedly sent out to handfuls of web designers who may have provided their own ideas in hopes of being hired only to have those very same ideas "borrowed" without permission.

My name is [client name removed] with [client site removed], an interactive marketing agency based in [site headquarter]. We are looking to offer approximately $2,000,000 of our design and production work in 2007.

We have found you on [referring site removed] and if you are interested in doing some contract work with us please:

  • Complete the following questionnaire
  • Submit sample work as described at the bottom of this email (You may choose one or both, it is up to you but we would like at least one completed for review) The reason this is required is that in the past, with previous vendors, we viewed portfolios, however, they were misleading. This is the best way for us to see your current skill levels. There will be no coding or revisions, simply your best shot at design.

The end of the email included very distinct details and supporting documents & files to be used in the “review” to be created. It may not be fair to immediately label such emails as unbelievable or unfounded, so take each inquiry with a grain of salt. If you receive similar inquiries, follow-up and do your own research.

Your time and ideas are valuable. If an agency or client inquiries about work samples, redirect them towards previously completed work or request compensation. It is your own responsibility to guarantee the protection of your own ideas and work.

Discuss - 14 Comments

  1. doz says:

    Good words of wisdom here. If I may ask, is it advisible in a situation like this to send PDF files with screen captured images of previous work?


  2. Taylor says:

    I have seen a couple like these (only 2) and ignored them ’cause I was too busy with school, but I was still interested. Next time I will be sure to do some more research.

  3. Derek says:

    Ben, exactly what happened when I replied to one of the emails. i kindly requested additional information and provided a quote for a mock-up catered to their specific needs. Not surprisingly, no replies were ever received which prompted this post.

  4. Ben Bleikamp says:

    Anytime I get an email like this I simply send them a list of projects that I’ve completed and say “If you can’t get a good idea of my capabilities from this list of projects then give me a call and we can discuss your project in more detail.” Most of the time I never hear back from them…go figure.

  5. Brent says:

    Heck yeah! I completely agree. I hate it when I am asked to deliver free “comps” to win a design project. My product is my time, I don’t have a widget to sell, all I have is time. You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and ask them to serve you three meals and you “might” pay for one if you like it enough. Same principal here. Right on, my friend!



  6. Zach katkin says:

    Great points, couldn’t agree with you more that this is total bullshit. I also am not a fan of design awards, where companies get to choose from a host of designs for nothing, or next to nothing. I think too often, too many companies take advantage of freelance print and web designers, it has gotten so bad that the entire industry is in some respects marginalized and people have come to expect the world for nothing (or next to nothing).

  7. Auke says:

    The guys from the fake lotteries have come to the designers now?

  8. Derek says:

    [quote comment=”43334″]The guys from the fake lotteries have come to the designers now?[/quote]

    They must have. WIth a budget of $2 million, it sounds like designers are the new high rollers.

  9. Chanpory says:

    Unpaid speculative work including design “contests” always leave a bad taste in my mouth when I hear about them. No one asks a therapist for sample counseling sessions before hiring. Or a mechanic for a free trial repair. So, it’s frustrating to see companies who insist that designers show mock-ups and design explorations before getting “awarded” a project. In your case, Derek, this practice is taken to a new level by dangling a 2-million dollar carrot in a spam-like email. It might as well ask you to transfer money to a Nigerian bank account in promise of riches.

    The AIGA’s website has some opinions at the matter, essentially calling it downright unethical:

    DesignObserver also has some heated debate about spec work with Michael Beirut chiming in on the contest for designing INside Innovation magazine:

  10. Derek says:

    Chanpory, a sick feeling in my gut as well. I can’t imagine how many people this email went out to and how many designs the perp received in return.

  11. Thanks for the articles.

  12. Alex says:

    Completely agree with you Derek, nice article. I always direct any potential clients to work that I have previously created for others. I’ve found that there are many individuals and companies that try to tap into or trick you into giving it up for free, and if you ask me, it sounds like a waste of time. You always have to keep a sharp eye out in the business world. Charging an hourly rate or fee for sample work (or Pitch) is completely logical to do, I do it and if they disagree I simply yell out “Next”.

  13. SHANMAC says:

    I probably would have stopped reading at the $2 million. Too good to be true.

  14. Lavern Bustios says:

    Great information 🙂