March 2, 2017

Paula Scher on pro bono

“That’s why pro bono work is great. You choose to do it, and if you’re choosing to do it to grow your own work, your deal is essentially that you’re not going to collaborate. You’re going to do the job the way you think the job is gonna be done.”

Paula ScherPaula Scher, photo by John Madere

I agree. Pro bono’s a swap. You give up your fee, and the client gives up the ability to ask for changes. It’s good for both sides. The client gets free use of work that you want in your portfolio — work that persuades others to pay you.

Paula Scher on why and when it’s worth working for free.

Here’s a good example of when pro bono design pays off (in the archives).

And The Great Discontent interview with Paula Scher is an interesting read.

September 28, 2012

When pro bono design pays off

Working pro bono is an excellent way for inexperienced designers to build their portfolios, and for experienced designers to do great work for causes they love.

Javier Mateos of Mexico-based design studio Xplaye helped both himself and others with a successful pro bono effort. Two years ago, Xplaye started a series of tribute exhibitions that involved taking a famous music band and translating some of their songs into illustrations.

Last year, the studio created a tribute to Grammy Award winning Café Tacuba, one of the most popular bands in Mexico. The project wasn’t intended to make a profit, but rather to raise funds for children with spina bifida.

Through social media, Café Tacuba heard about what Xplaye were doing. They were so happy that they decided to autograph every illustration for an auction to increase the donations for the association helping the kids.

Café TacubaCafé Tacuba signing Xplaye’s illustrations.

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

The project was covered on CNN Mexico, in Rolling Stone Mexico, on, and in the most important TV and print media in the country.

Roughly $10,000 was raised, and five companies approached the spina bifida association to offer materials and supplies.

“This project grew our design bureau in a wonderful way. As a result we are now invited to many conferences, we’re asked to give interviews, and we gained respect from our colleagues in Mexico. It was an amazing and successful experience!”
— Javier Mateos, Xplaye

Just one example of how to grow your business while helping those in need.

In Work for Money, Design for Love you can read other case studies where pro bono design has led directly to paying clients.

Pro bono resources:
Five myths about pro bono design, on Co.Design
AIGA job board, contains a pro bono section
How to improve your portfolio with pro bono design, in the archives

And here’s a video of Café Tacuba unplugged with Gustavo Santaolalla. I love their sound.

February 22, 2010

How pro bono design improves your portfolio

You’re a design student with a portfolio full of fictitious projects. You want to work with clients to build your experience, but you need to develop your portfolio to get those jobs. That’s when pro bono design can be a massive help.

Pro bono publico (usually shortened to pro bono) is a Latin phrase that means "for the public good." It’s generally used to describe professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment as a public service. But unlike traditional volunteerism, pro bono uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.

Small non-profits are the companies that are most in need. Larger non-profits are likely to have a percentage of their annual budget allocated to brand identity work, and will probably already have a working relationship with a design studio (although it can pay to ask if there’s a company you particularly want to collaborate with).

Search online, in a phone directory, or a local paper for a nearby organisation. There are a few advantages of staying local: You can meet your client face to face, helping to build confidence, and making it easier to ensure you’re dealing with the decision-maker rather than passing design ideas through a middle-person. You get the opportunity to take your own photos of the finished design (on signage, stationery, etc.) — if done right, these contextual shots can turn an average case study into a great one. And you’re building your network of local business contacts. The stronger your network, the more help that's available down the line.

Approaching a non-profit about pro bono work

Talk to the person responsible for the branding. In a small-sized company this is likely to be the managing director or chief executive. Pitch yourself as a talented designer with policy of devoting a small percentage of time toward pro bono, and that your client's mission is one you have a great deal of respect for (this should, obviously, be true). Detail the savings you are offering your client (your standard rate for an identity project, discounted by 100%). This’ll make sure the value of the outcome isn't underestimated, and helps keep your client motivated.

Ask for a 30-minute meeting, where you'll talk about design needs and set a course of action. That’s where you’ll arrive with your standard questions to help set the design brief.

Your client might be wary about having his or her brand identity created or redesigned. It might be seen as a risk rather than a way to help build the organisation's reputation. So the more in-depth your initial discussions, the more at ease your client will be.

Time the meeting, and if you haven't finished within half an hour say you’ve reached the end of the allocated time, and that you can call or email at a later date for any other information — your client will appreciate that.

I’ve outlined a number of questions to ask in the Logo Design Love book.

A few related reads:
Paula Scher on pro bono.
When pro bono design pays off.
10 tips for designers working pro bono, on Co.Design.

David Airey
Brand identity design

Independent since 2005
Website hosted by Fused

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Northern Ireland
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