I want to design stuff for free!
March 1, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

I want to do web design work for free. Where should I be looking for collaborators/clients?

I'm primarily a print designer, but I've been doing web design for the past year or so, and I love it - I've had some large projects to learn on, and figuring things out as I go is really fun and a great challenge. My last big project is coming to a close, and I want another one. I love my day job and I'm not looking to get out or market myself independently, so I'm approaching this as a chance to learn more and collaborate, not nickel-and-dime (ie, no Elance-type stuff). I'd rather work for free on an interesting project than compete for lowball rates on something boilerplate.

The question is, where do I find those interesting projects?

I have lots of skills that would be useful for a small non-profit or startup business - HTML/CSS, PHP, Javascript, Wordpress, MySQL, email marketing, social media, some SEO stuff, all the Adobe programs. I'm not that particular about the type of business, but I want a project I can sink my teeth into and a client that's creative and loves what they do. I know that finding good clients is trial-and-error, but where should I be looking? (Forums, job/volunteer boards, ???)

Here's where I've looked so far:

- Through Googling, I found Taproot and Grassroots, but the former is not in my city, and the latter looks a little more focused on providing basic services (which is great, just not what I'm looking for here). Am I wrong? Are there any other similar organizations?

- I tried posting a Craigslist ad for this a while back, but it seems that its not kosher to offer free services right next to people offering the same thing for a fee. Which makes sense in retrospect; I don't want to hurt anyone else's business here. Is there a Craigslist for artsy/collaborative/creative projects?

(This question has some great general advice, it's just sourcing clients that I'm stuck on.)
posted by ella wren to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I worked at a non-profit organization which used both a graphic designer and a web designer from Grassroots. The graphic designer was awesome and did incredible work for our organization - the web designer was just OK and I ended up replacing a lot of their work with mine a few months later (I'm a web designer as well, but didn't have the time to spend redoing our site when we first joined Grassroots).

Speaking as someone who has worked on both sides of the aisle, I strongly recommend that you do not give your services away for free. Even a small amount ($250 maybe) would make the non-profit/startup you work with value your work much more. When someone receives a service for free, especially if they don't fully understand it (common in web design), they will quickly come to take advantage of your time and skills without realizing it. Having a more formal contract with a small amount of payment makes you much more legitimate in their eyes and, in my experience, makes it a lot easier to set boundaries and have clear expectations of what the final product will be.

As a side note, you may also want to check out http://www.idealist.org/
posted by orangeseed at 6:35 PM on March 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I also highly suggest that you do not do work for "free" as it may not allow you to be taken seriously as a web designer.
posted by xtine at 7:01 PM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't used it, but they seem to be looking for volunteers in a variety of areas, including design work.
posted by andoatnp at 7:10 PM on March 1, 2011

Hi Ella. I work for a public radio station in Chicago (actually, I work for the only public radio station in Chicago). I'm head of digital there and I'm about to start work on a really fun and interesting project that you might be interested in; Pandora for public radio. Separately, I'm also an armchair entrepreneur and I'm working on a personal project that all of my friends are really excited about. I guess you could take your pick, if you found them interesting. I'll send you a MeFi Mail, but you can also get in touch with me through the stations' site, if you like.
posted by syed at 7:19 PM on March 1, 2011

Why not just create your own project?
posted by spilon at 8:49 PM on March 1, 2011

As a designer, I can tell you that a baby dolphin dies every time a designer works for free. Even if you consider your work 'fun' please consider charging a fee. Take your design work seriously. It will help the industry and design community.
posted by jnnla at 9:43 PM on March 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

Dittoing jnnia. At the very least, do yourself a favor and establish a written and signed official contract outlining exactly what you plan to do for "free" so that you do not find yourself in a legal bind later. I hate to say it, but you're truly doing yourself and the rest of the community you wish to belong to a great disservice by going into this without setting boundaries (ie: fees).
posted by patronuscharms at 1:14 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out OpenHatch to find volunteer software projects that could use your help. Start here.
posted by brainwane at 2:05 AM on March 2, 2011

Look for places facing financial challenges right now who cannot afford high fees. I think local recreation programs, sports teams, and school systems have been particularly effected by the economy and cut backs yet rely on websites. I know that my kids' school (which is private/Catholic) benefited greatly recently by someone who did a website and another person who did brochures/promotional packages for free. The school could not have paid for such professional services in this economy yet really needed the services to recruit new students and to keep people informed.
posted by maxg94 at 5:47 AM on March 2, 2011

Response by poster: You guys bring up a good point about the ethics of working for free. I saw this as just a tiny step further than doing personal projects for myself and for friends - I figured if I'm going to be playing anyway, why not do it in a way that's useful to others? But, point taken - I will definitely focus on volunteer/non-profit organizations. Thank you for the suggestions of places to look into!
posted by ella wren at 4:33 PM on March 2, 2011

I've done some web work for Open Source projects. While technically it was for free, I was really returning the favour of free use of software I was already using. Plus Open Source involvement looks good on your CV (at least, it does in places where I've wanted to work).
posted by Sparx at 7:51 PM on March 2, 2011

Lots of good suggestions above. Just to riff on them:

* Are there non-profits you'd like to support in your area? I bet there are. Make a list of 10 or 20 of them and contact them to let them know you'd be available for web design work - either for free or at a discounted non-profit rate.

* If you feel at all comfortable with it, DO charge something. I've done work with non-profits, and charging a drastically reduced rate has worked so much better than charging nothing. (For one client, I even offered a few hours free before the discounted rate kicked in, and they were so happy to have someone reliable they refused to take the free hours.)

* If there are any open source tools you like - especially WordPress or Drupal - you could design themes for their theme libraries.
posted by kristi at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2011

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