Friday, January 14, 2011

Pro-Bono, or Pro No-No?

I've noticed a topic flying around Twitter a lot lately in the design community (world-wide), and that's the issue of whether designers should, or shouldn't do "pro-bono" work. There's quite a few different views on this. Some say yes, some say no and some say "meh...sometimes". It's a touchy issue for some, and no question at all for others. Here's my view on it: I'm a "sometimes" guy, and for several reasons.

Reason one: I do think it's totally fine to do pro-bono work for a non-profit under certain circumstances. If the non-profit is legit (obviously) and if you really support the cause. To me, I'd rather donate my time and unique skills as a graphic designer, than donate money. Good design is something they could use, and I can provide. Anyone can hand over a few coins or bills, but not everyone can design an effective logo.

Reason two: I don't feel that because someone is a family member or friend, you should be obligated to do free designing for them. If you have the slightest "meh.." at all, scrap the idea of helping them. Now, if they're willing to pay full price, that's sort of a different story, but still be careful. Later down the road, it may backfire and you'll be wishing you referred them to someone else. If you say no and they get angry, don't sweat it, they'll get over it. I'm not saying turn away every friend or family member when they ask for free design work. I've done my share of designing for family and friends, and I'll definitely do more. It depends on what I'm designing and if I really care for the cause. Example: if my church back in New York asks for something to be designed, I'll do it without blinking an eye. If a friend that I've hardly talked to in a few years (except for the random interactions on Facebook or email) asks for a logo of a new business they're starting, it's probably going to be a "no", with a referral to several places in the area that can give them what they want for the right price.

Reason three: I do feel like we designers need to get our heads out of our rears. I'm not saying we should do a ton of free design work, but when the opportunity comes for a really good cause (that you support), whether that cause be a friend, organization, church or relative, take the opportunity and run with it. Make sure the person or place knows that they are on your time clock, and that you will get to their project as quick as you can, but they have to understand there may be delays. Also, don't take on too many "pro-bono" projects. I think this is where some people have had bad experiences. Honestly, I wouldn't do more than one at a time, with a good few weeks or even months between each job. Just for a small breather.

As much as this is a business, it's a also a gift, a skill, something we can offer to those who we feel really need it. Now you know where I stand on this whole random matter. I'm curious how others feel about doing "free designing"? Comment below with any thoughts you have. I'm not going to try and change your mind if you don't agree with what I've said. I promise. And if you've had a bad experience, or a good one, share it! (But leave out the names).

Also, this neat little website showed up on Twitter today from Smashing Magazine:, check it out, it's kind of a funny and useful model.

(Photo licensed under Creative Commons.)0


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