There’s a rising trend in various industries–but in Design especially—there’s a trend in getting work for free. More and more, clients are looking for work on spec, and studios are looking for interns. Big agencies do spec work from time to time to land new large clients, and it creates an expectation that creative work should be speculative. You see the “American Idol” approach where studios and clients want a bunch of people to pitch ideas–and they’ll use what they like the best. I didn’t say they choose the best, just what their opinion of the best is. There’s the fundamental flaw–if the people judging the work aren’t qualified, then there’s a problem. I’ve been in several competitions over the years, where a company would pay a base fee to three or five studios to pitch a design, and the winning studio would finish the project and maybe even get more work, that’s a decent way to conduct a competition.
Internships are just downright bad if the person isn’t being remunerated for their time. Having someone work for free just for the experience is slavery, period. Both parties should benefit from the exchange. I recently met a studio owner at a party who had a regular stream of interns–every six weeks a new one. He laughed when he was telling me this, “why, there’s even a line-up to do it” he gloated with an air of arrogance. I checked out his studios portfolio online and it was awful. So the only thing he was sharing with his interns was bad habits and poor business practices.
I believe some people think hiring creatives is like a beauty pageant–where the creatives duke it out–and the client ends up with the cream of the crop. Irregardless of all the time it takes to make something out of nothing. Don’t be a starving artist, if the client you want to work for does business this way–walk away–there will be other clients that respect your profession.
I’ve given my work away before, but only to a charity that I believe in. If you’re working for a reputable charity, they should be able to give you a tax receipt the value of your work. If they can’t do that, they’re just using you. One mistake I’ve made in the past was to give paintings to a charity auction, where people with money gather to get a great deal on artwork. If you go in one of those, always stipulate a minimum bid–if the work doesn’t fetch that, then no deal. Respect even in these situations can be thin. Charity auctions can also give the artist a charitable donation receipt, if they can’t then its likely they really don’t care about respecting you. Its more about them getting paid for your efforts.