Is This Inexperienced “Designer” Being Exploited?

This afternoon I was listening to a radio talk show in which the host was interviewing business majors from a local college. One of the students expressed an interest in pursuing graphic design upon graduating next spring. She liked the idea of designing web sites, although it was fairly obvious in listening to her speak that she lacked a lot of knowledge. Also, she had no portfolio nor prior experience.

The talk show host – meaning well, I am sure – offered her design services “free of charge” to get her exposure, experience and something in her portfolio. He made what seemed to be a spontaneous on-air appeal to businesses and organizations needing web design, and suggested they contact her thought the college.

I cringed at his offer. Twice.

My first cringe was at the thought of any business serious about marketing and promotion engaging the services of an inexperienced freelancer to design a web site. Developing even a static informational web site can be a complex project. It’s one thing to work with a design intern who is being supervised by someone with more experience. It is another altogether to trust something as important as a web site to someone who has no prior experience and may not have back-up resources. I suppose it depends upon the size and caliber of the business. I know there are those who just throw up a web site and call it a day.

But the second and bigger cringe was due to the idea of offering the student’s services for free. Was it that design’s value to a business was not recognized or that the student was not considered worthy of her hire?

If a business deems it appropriate to include a web site in its marketing efforts and would otherwise make a financial investment to develop one, is it right to not pay for it at all? Is it exploiting the student’s inexperience to have her work for free? If a business hires employees and pays for their training, is it being hypocritical in accepting this offer and not compensating the student for her time?

Granted, a student should not hope to command the same level of creative fees as an established design practitioner. Yet even the efforts of a student are worth something.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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