I Design for Free, and People Tell Me to Stop

Why are they wrong?

Carla Tugues
Jul 10 · 5 min read

I am a very talented graphic designer (so I’ve heard), but there was a time when I hated any graphic design project (and did it anyway).

I can’t explain how hard it was for me to open Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, InDesign, Wordpress, Instapage, Netbeans, Slides, PowerPoint, you name it. It was like running into a torture cell while knowing that I was going to suffer until I managed to deliver my client’s requests.

One day I decided to quit. It made no sense to keep designing if it made me miserable. That’s how I started to write and found a new and very individual way to let my creativity flow (I needed to make a living after quitting the only thing I knew how to do).

I fell in love with writing. I always wanted to be free to create, and I found that freedom when I decided to share my deepest and darkest thoughts here on Medium. More than that, I started to understand my true self and fell in love with my life.

And graphic design.

A few months after deciding to quit my beloved and hated career, I had another chance to make things right and did what my heart asked me to do. As crazy as it sounds, I started to design for free.

The journey of giving

In the beginning, my intention wasn’t to give away my creations (single moms need money); it was to work in the projects that I liked. The funny thing is that, most of the time, the projects that I like don’t have any budget.

Writing allowed me to accept some small requests that I finished faster and better than ever. I was shocked by how productive I am when I am not expecting anything back.

One thing leads to another, and in one year, I produced more artwork than the sum of all of my professional years. Today, my laptop is about to explode with recent content and, although I made no more than three hundred bucks with my design talents, I have earned much more (which I will talk about later).

I must warn you that giving will spread through your whole life and you won’t be able to do anything about it.

And you will be happier than ever.

Besides being with my daughter, the joy I get from my everyday life mainly comes from the efforts that I make to help whoever needs me. My satisfaction with my life is directly related to how much I do for others.

The earnings of giving

If you expect me to say money, you can stop reading now (you won’t get me anyhow).

Did you know that money worths because we trust it? If not, it would only be a piece of colored paper or a coded message that only computers can understand.

Trust is the keyword here.

When we give, we earn trust.

Haven’t you realized that you are always trying to find out what people may charge you or what you may charge people?.

Others can feel when we give with our hearts, and it is the first step to build a beautiful and healthy relationship with anybody. When we have teammates and friends instead of clients, everything in work works way better.

A net made with trust is the most valuable resource that anybody can have.

Money conditions creativity

As a freelancer, I thought that I needed to be extremely careful with my budgets, but I was terrible at calculating and communicating my rates to my clients. Worst of all, many beautiful projects didn’t have what I was asking.

I also accepted many clients and projects that didn’t align with my values and passions, and I dramatically struggled to deliver that kind of work.

The cherry on the top is that in the end, the client is paying you and he will always be right (whether he asks you to make a logo with Comic Sans and Arial or use red letters on a blue background).

But, when you design for free, besides choosing your clients and projects according to what you love, people are more willing to listen to your professional recommendations or mediated creative solutions.

Like I said earlier, you won’t have clients, you will have partners and allies.

We are free to choose who and what we give.

So, why is everybody wrong?

Although it is effortless for me to offer my graphic design skills for free, I don’t talk about it often with friends or colleagues because they judge me.

The few times that I have commented on it, people always dare to tell me that I am wrong and that I should charge. It is funny because they don’t realize that I used to charge, and don’t know that I almost divorced from my beloved career because I was chasing money.

Creative people seek freedom by default and creating for free means cutting the leash.

I understand that people’s recommendations come from good intentions, and it is almost crazy that I am recommending you to work for free. Although we all need to make money to pay for essential things, we can always make some space to give our talents to a project or two.

When I did my first free design job, I just couldn’t stop.

Life pays you back

If you worry that you will end up like me (taking full time on the free job) let me tell you that if you do it, your life might do a 180º spin.

You can call it karma, the Universe or God, it is up to you. I am ignorant enough to admit that I don’t have a clue about how or why does “giving” pays so much, but I taste the blessings every day in every area of my life.

Millions of tiny successes make a successful life, it may sound like an ant work, but if you think about it, compared to the vastness of the universe, we are no more than oversized creative ants. Every time you give, you succeed at least two times (when you give, and when you receive).

The path that your life will take when you start to give with your heart is absolutely out of my reach or knowledge, but I can assure you that it will be the best for you and you will know it.

So, why not give our vote of trust to a kinder lifestyle and earn the trust of our network?

Remember, you probably won’t be doing everything for free, so why don’t you give it a shot?.


The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

Carla Tugues

Written by

Writer | Designer | Eco-artist | Brain lover | Sushi hater | Life is the most precious gift. Why do we wait for our deaths if we can enjoy every second we have?

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.