Critiquing pro bono work
April 14, 2005 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Ever had several people offer their thoughts on how to "fix" your free design work?

Quickly summarized: a professional designs and constructs a website for a local event, then agrees to design a poster and postcard - all of the work done for free. At every step, the event organizer solicited comments from several people loosely connected with the event - all of them offer conflicting design ideas and criticisms, most of it simply armchair designing.

This event has a budget of almost nothing as well as a dire need for volunteers and promotion in a hurry. In cases like this - how much design direction is reasonable before it becomes insulting?
posted by davebush to Society & Culture (14 answers total)
Almost none.

Inform the event organizer that after the initial design discussion/consultation, input will not be needed. After that, I'd just ignore people.
posted by Specklet at 5:01 PM on April 14, 2005

If I'm doing something for free, I usually make it very clear that it's done in my spare time (which is very rare and valuable to me) and that I appreciate suggestions and want to get something that they like so that they help promote my business, but I can only spend a little bit of time on it so I need to do things that I know can be done quickly.. and some of their suggestions don't fit into that category.

Because you're doing something for 'free', you're not placing an up-front value on your time. It's best for all involved that you remind them that your time IS valuable, and you're providing value for them and getting some in return through publicity, but you have to keep the balance in mind.
posted by SpecialK at 5:03 PM on April 14, 2005

When you do things for free -- it's not constrained to designers by any means, though they're especially vulnerable to it -- you run the risk of conveying that the value of your time is zero. People who do as you describe may be doing so due to this erroneous interpretation.

My advice as to how to cope with it when you don't wish additional feedback is to politely inform the backseat drivers to pipe down. If they continue, you have the option of ignoring them or walking away.
posted by majick at 5:08 PM on April 14, 2005

Maybe you could do what you probably already do with your professional work - inform them up front that they get a certain number of revision rounds for free; after that, you will have to start charging for your time.
posted by SashaPT at 5:38 PM on April 14, 2005

I'd say that at this point, you do what you want and bugger everyone else. Be polite in listening, but don't act on anything you don't care to do. If anyone protests, tell them "I decided differently."
posted by five fresh fish at 5:51 PM on April 14, 2005

You are under no obligation to heed their advice, but remind yourself that they are under no obligation to use your work. Just deal with it politely and don't let it get under your skin.
posted by randomstriker at 6:22 PM on April 14, 2005

Just because you agree to work on something for free doesn't put you in charge.
posted by bingo at 7:24 PM on April 14, 2005

I'd make it clear to whoever is in charge that one of the reasons you've decided to work for free is for the opportunity to be creative. Text changes and minor modifications aside, the design is your decision.

Seriously, I am so picky when choosing pro-bono work. It had better be for something I believe in and people that believe in me.
posted by letitrain at 7:33 PM on April 14, 2005

This is what makes pro bono work such a pain in the ass. Clients typically don't value something if they aren't paying.

Set limits before a project starts.

You (the client) get a professional product for no fee that will accomplish goals x, y and z. In exchange, I (the designer) will be allowed creative control of the product and will retain the rights.

This has to be understood and agreed to before the project begins. To drive the point home, draft a proposal that outlines what the services would normally cost. Then they'll know what they normally would have to pay.

State that they will have one chance to provide you feedback after a design has been delivered. Have them submit feedback in writing to avoid the perpetual design by committee review. Tell them this is standard professional practice. Make whatever changes are relevant based on feedback and deliver the design.

If they don't follow this format, politely explain that you can't work with them. Refer them to other resources to get the job done so there are no hard feelings.
posted by quadog at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2005

Bingo: Actually, it kinda does.

My approach would be, from the start, to do a few different versions. I know it can be time consuming, but I'd tend to use either tried and tested techniques I can bang together in my sleep, or experiemental stuff I've been wanting to try on something real for a while. Either way, I'd be seriously minimising my time investment.

After handing them three different versions they can pick which one, if any, they want. No hard feelings.

Unless, of course, there's a rock solid specification available before I start. Ha!
posted by krisjohn at 8:43 PM on April 14, 2005

I donate some design work, and after similar difficulties I got the group to appoint a contact person who would collect the raw material for me and also convey any criticism to me, which at least cut down the time I spend organizing their stuff and talking to people or writing email about it. This way I don't have to evaluate half a dozen conflicting critiques before finalizing the work.
posted by zadcat at 10:55 PM on April 14, 2005

Quadog's answer is right on the money, in my opinion. I think that no matter what you are getting paid, act with extreme professionalism, because it conveys that you are serious about what you are doing, makes a good impression about your profession in general, and if all else fails at least lets you respect yourself even if no one else does.
posted by matildaben at 10:55 AM on April 15, 2005

Ideally, you would build into a project plan a draft, collect feedback, have a final review, and then say "that's it!". I also agree you should try and treat the project as you would a paying one - otherwise it's not worth doing.
posted by xammerboy at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2005

Bingo: Actually, it kinda does.

Obviously, the people davebush is working for would disagree with you. You can say that they're wrong, but that doesn't solve the problem. Obviously they have different ideas of the relationship, and this kind of stuff needs to be sorted out at the beginning.

quadog is right that clients typically don't value something if they aren't paying. The other side of the coin is that volunteers typically begin a project assuming that any extant authority structure is actually a joke, and that they will therefore proceed however they please.
posted by bingo at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2005

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