With the DIA (Design Intelligence Award) team in Hangzhou, China

Getting asked to ‘work for free’ is a confusing scenario. Professionals in almost all fields face this kind of situation in their careers, especially the young, inexperienced ones. Designers, like most others in this position, are confused about how to respond to such a demand. It is more frustrating when a seemingly well to do manager (who is getting a nice fat salary) tells you they don’t have adequate resources for a project. It has become a trend in Indian companies to get work done for free or for a far lower amount than it is worth. In another language this would be called exploiting. Very few companies have any ethical standing on this issue and most don’t think twice about exploiting young designers to reduce their costs.

I have always followed a three-point return system that I call EFL (Earn, Learn and Fun) returns. Every project must give you at least two of these three returns. Earning could be in terms of money or reputation or exposure; Learning can be in terms of a new subject, or a new tool; and Fun could involve working with a great team, traveling to new places, taking in movies, culinary experiences, etc. If at all a project offers only one type of return it better be superlative! For instance, a boring project that you have worked on a few times earlier must get you far higher earnings to compensate for the lack of the other two returns.

Do not confuse being busy with being productive. Just because you have a lot of work doesn’t mean you are earning enough or learning enough. Choose your projects wisely, and weigh the EFL returns before you take on additional work. That way you can ensure that you are always being productive and getting the returns you deserve. And even if you do then agree to ‘work for
free’, you are still earning something of value.

Sudhir Sharma, Editor-in-Chief

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