Graduates should "work for
nothing" says D&AD chairman

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D&AD chairman Dick Powell

News: young people wanting to start a career in design should offer to work for free, according to Dick Powell, chairman of design charity D&AD.

"Offer anything, do anything," said Powell. "Work for nothing, make tea, carry bags, and learn, learn, learn."

Powell, who is also co-founder and CEO of leading industrial design studio Seymourpowell, made the comments in a speech to graduates at the New Designers exhibition in London earlier this month.

"Your goal may be to get a job, but your first task is to crack open the door," he told the audience attending the preview of New Designers Part 2. "And you should stop at nothing to achieve that. Be prepared to do anything, anything at all to get into a business."

He continued: "Offer anything, do anything, call in every contact you have, get on LinkedIn and let it take you everywhere, work for nothing, make tea, carry bags, and learn, learn, learn."

Speaking to Dezeen after his speech, Powell said that doing an unpaid internship is "the easiest way to get a job".

"You've got to invest [in yourself]," he said. "It depends on the industry. In advertising it's normal - you don't get paid. Other businesses will pay for lunch, travel, that kind of thing."

Seymourpowell pays its interns, he said, but felt that the company would be able to help more young designers if it offered unpaid internships instead. "We always try to pay a basic wage but it would clearly be better for them if we took on six that are unpaid than two that are paid, but we choose to pay them."

Unpaid internships in the creative industries have caused controversy this year, with the RIBA calling for students to report companies offering unpaid architecture internships and Tokyo architect Sou Fujimoto defending the Japanese "open desk" practice, whereby foreign staff work for nothing to gain experience.

Fujimoto provoked a furious backlash when he told Dezeen that unpaid internships are "a nice opportunity" for both employers and interns.

D&AD is a British charity working to promote and inspire best practice in design and advertising.

The organisation have launched a guide to getting into the industry, called The Creative Notebook. "People wanting to get internships should get a copy of that," said Powell. "It's full of advice on how to get internships." The guide is free for D&AD student and graduate members.

Photograph by James Champion.

Here's the full speech Dick Powell gave at New Designers:


When I graduated from the RCA, I had an unshakable, cast iron, rock-solid self-belief that I could make a difference; that I could make things better. Better for People. Better for Business. And Better too for the World. That I could make things Better by Design.

And while much has changed since, I still have that rock-solid self-belief ... making things Better by Design remains my credo, my rallying cry, my philosophy.

That rock-solid self-belief was born from a combination of arrogance, ambition, passion and naivety, but there was something else too. Something which I believe, irrespective of the field of creative endeavour or the design discipline, characterises outstanding creativity and innovation. I had no fear of failure... because I had nothing to lose - no mortgage, no big costs, no family to support and, unlike most of you, no big debts. I could not have been any poorer.

And today, all of you are at the same point in your life - graduating from education and out into the real world of our creative industries, with little to lose and the prospect of a career in the Creative Industries, which are hugely important to the UK, financially, practically and culturally.

So here are 6 tips for breaking into those industries:

1. Design is fabulously rewarding. We do it because we love it. We do it because we can make a difference. And the chance to work at something you love is so much more important than just working for money. If you are motivated by the need to make money, you’re in the wrong business! If you are talented, ambitious and prepared to work hard, to go beyond expectations, you will have a rewarding and satisfying career - and money will follow.

2. Never stop learning! Your courses have been very focused around a single discipline, but our industries need designers with bandwidth: a hunger for a wide view of the world and a deep understanding of people, markets, business and technologies from which they can build a point of view. Today, you’re probably thinking you’re done with education! Wrong! For those of you who will ultimately succeed, the learning starts today!

3. Your goal may be to get a job, but your first task is to crack open the door... and you should stop at nothing to achieve that . Be prepared to do anything, anything at all to get into a business. Offer anything, do anything, call in every contact you have, get on LinkedIn and let it take you everywhere, work for nothing, make tea, carry bags and learn, learn, learn.

4. Be really really good at one thing. Be a star at one thing. Be an expert at one thing. Your courses have had to focus on equipping you as best they can to be a great all rounder - research, creativity, execution, trends, markets, and equipped with extensive knowledge of design and its practise. But that makes you all more the same than different, so it’s hard to stand out. But every business needs dedicated skills of different kinds - skills with tools, like Alias or Pro-Engineer, or skills at drawing, research, film editing, animating, budgeting, selling or whatever. Being a star at one thing can get you in, maybe not in the role you want, but at least you will be in and learning - after that, it’s up to you.

5. Scale your ambition. Of course, you’d like to work for Apple - we all would!. Don’t abandon that ambition. Just be prepared to spend time building experience and making yourself useful in a thousand ways to small companies of any kind or discipline. Which brings me around to where I started...

6. Fear of failure. In business, as in life, failure is part of learning. Every failure, every rejection letter is a process of learning and improving. And the best way to scrape yourself off the floor and get your head into the right place is to never stop designing. The golfer, Gary Player, was accosted by a journalist having just won a tournament. The journalist observed that he had been a bit lucky with one or two shots. Player responded “You know what? The more I practice, the luckier I seem to get!”. The more you use your skills, the better you become. The graduate who is out of college a year and is still hawking round the same college portfolio is doomed ... For every opening you have, ahead of every interview, ahead of every letter you write or phone call you make - discipline yourself to use every second to fill your portfolio with fresh thinking, and new ideas which are tightly focused and highly relevant to the person or business you want to see. Find out what they do and do some of that. That way, you’ll pique their interest and you’ll develop the informed point of view they want to hear.

And finally, this week at New Designers is a major opportunity to make those first valuable contacts and build a network which might one day lead to a job. That’s what all this is about. Today, you join that network, an embryonic designer with a future. Welcome to our world!

  • Peter Marais

    What a bunch of moronic comments. Everyone seems happy to pay ludicrous fees at university or design schools, but when a company takes you in and you have the privilege to learn from the “real” experts, that is functioning, profit-making designers, who run a profitable business, then working for free is suddenly not an option. Ever.

    Why? You work at university, right, shouldn’t they pay you? Why should your lecturers not pay for getting “good” ideas from their students? Now apply that to a company. You are an undergrad or recent grad with zero skills or experience. If anything, the company is operating at a net loss because they often don’t really need interns. It takes time to teach them the ropes and they are not valuable, which is why they are let go! Duh. In addition, there are way more grads than jobs.

    Now whose fault is it that you choose to live and work in London? Why should your remuneration take that into account? Whose fault is it that you have uni debt? Why should the design firm pick up those bills? The main point of an internship is that you learn; more students can learn if it’s unpaid; if it’s paid, far fewer grads are taken in. Which do you prefer?

    I learned everything I use today on a daily basis as an industrial designer by working for free at copper foundries, carpenters for over a year. I’m one of five kids and I didn’t get a cent from my parents. I taught English abroad for a year to fund myself. What this thread shows is that there are a lot of lazy, self-entitled “designers” who think the world owes them something.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Fortunately, here in the USA, we have the Emancipation Proclamation, where the UK does not. The UK, to eliminate slavery, changed the term to “indentured servants”, so the UK mindset still embraces working for free. How many other professions in the UK allow for unpaid workers?

  • mike dempsey

    Read Mike Dempsey’s thoughts on this hot topic on Graphic Journey here: http://mikedempsey.typepad.com

  • burnside

    Concerned. It pains me to say that unpaid interns are not unknown in the USA. I’m unsure of the practices at architectural and design firms here but in my own field of network broadcasting, the practice is quite common.

  • http://abdsign.blogspot.com Alba B.

    Dear Sir,

    Reading your speech, “graduates should work for nothing” really made me jump from my seat (nor explaining to you how pissed off I am).

    Have you ever been in the circumstances of being alone*? Clarify here:

    — having parents and family, who cannot provide your maintenance (feeding you, paying your rent, and provide your life costs) anymore (supporting you until you graduated – you are supposed to walk alone now). Therefore, INCOME = 0, LOVE SUPPORT = infinite.
    — having a family who needs and expects to be maintained by you, at this moment and possibly consider to program in the future. Therefore, INCOME = 0, LOVE SUPPORT = infinite.
    — and if the previous two points were not enough, there is still the chance, if you are a in a relationship, and both of you are part of the creative industry. Therefore, INCOME = 0, LOVE SUPPORT = infinite.

    To me MATH** is easy. WORK > BE PAID > LIVE LIFE.

    If your math is: WORK > BE UNPAID, could you please give me the answer to the third part of the equation? How can you live life?

    So Mr. Powell, if you haven’t been in this kind of circumstances where I can’t say all the people out there are, but I can guarantee a lot of people of my generation are (and the comments here are a proof), please do NOT give this advice from the throne of your wealth. Just because you are the fruit of a previous generation, where economical crises was not part of the everyday dictionary.

    Correct me if I am wrong with your thoughts, to me your speech, looks more like Roman Empire generation thoughts, where slaves had to do everything/anything by working for nothing. Just because we are creatives, we have to accept people like you, to trample on the effort we did to graduate, learned and make what we love the most? Creativity!

    Dear Sir. To me your speech sounds just like the desperate cry of a person afraid of young competitors.

    alone*: provide life on your own = food, rent, life, family, fees etc = life costs.
    MATH**: life math.

  • http://www.dash-design.com mojtaba

    Oh! I will work for free for like three years and sure I will be prepared and experienced, but there must be a free home for me + food + clothes + wifi + gas money for these years!

  • Dick

    I would like Dick to work for free and see how much he likes it.

  • http://www.theogamespetrohilos.com Theo

    No one should be working for free. Each time you work for free without doing it for a worthy cause you devalue yourself.

    Apprenticeships should be built into design education rather than an afterthought or an alternative to proper employment. The design student should be more savvy and learn more about the businesses they go into rather than playing the martyr. It is the rich who can afford to work for free.

  • Graduate

    Absolutely furious.

  • nonarchitect

    Damn, its time for this old dinosaur to retire. He should be fired.

    I never took an “almost unpaid” internship from OMA because when I visited their office, all I saw were very good looking workers cutting blue foam and slaving on CAD. I think OMA is one of the most intelligent architecture offices that we can still call the “old guard”, yet even at this office I don’t think the intelligence I could gain is worth the few months’ rent.

    If I were going to work for free I’d work for the Obama campaign, or Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama.

  • C. Moritz

    I hope the audience chased him off the stage!

  • http://www.nicholawatkiss.co.uk Nichola

    I think that Dick thinks the majority of us design graduates have never lifted a finger before or actually had a job. Most of us worked part-time to afford to study the course and he comes out with all that rubbish about carrying bags and making tea.

  • Luke

    If that’s the case, we should all be working for free. After all, are we not always learning on the job no matter what level of experience we have?

    It’s totally preposterous to assume a grown adult, because that’s what you are when you finish university, should work for no money.

  • Venellope Von Scheetz

    I’ve been a graduate for three years now with a design degree and have struggled so much to try and get a permanent foot in the door.

    I even exhibited at New designers all those years ago, and am grateful thus far to some design companies for their time and help with my career.

    However, that doesn’t change how disheartened and deflated I’ve felt due to the way the design industry has treated me. I’ve tried SO hard and taken up cleaning jobs, worked on a till and stood on my feet all day in crumby part-time retail jobs that don’t pay the bills… all while doing these unpaid and some short-term paid internships and worked very hard.

    He’s right in the sense when he said ‘he had nothing to lose’, because I’ve still got what feels like nothing three years later to credit all of my efforts!

    I’ve made countless cups of tea, taken rubbish out, ran post office errands, carried heavy suitcases, fetched directors their lunches and have even been chucked on a train for a 200-mile round trip in a day and back to deliver a bag full of clothing… It didn’t get me anywhere today.

    In all fairness, I’ve had some great things happen to me design-wise in the midst of it all too. I can’t shake that and I’m very grateful, however they were just one-off’s that again didn’t lead to anything. But it’s all good for the CV, right? Well, if only recruiters out there fully understood how hard it is for a design graduate.

    It just feels like nobody in the design industry cares anymore about young talent. All they can say is, ‘if you work for free for us you’ll get lots more experience’, or ‘just do this mini project for us as a free trial day, and then we’ll see if you have a second interview’, which I’ve done many of. Of course these have led to nothing.

    It has left me feeling pissed and used. This has led me to conclude that:

    1) They could have taken my design and sold it without my permission. They got the money for it, not me.

    2) I’d done a load of their own work for them for free, only to find they didn’t want me anyway, which is just cheap and disrespectful. (However, I must give credit to one company… they did pay me for a trial day so there are some goodies out there.)

    Another classic is… ‘you’re not quite experienced enough yet’ which, in all due respect, I know I’ve got just enough of the right skills now to qualify for most junior or entry level positions.

    There’s not enough companies out there supporting fresh talent or paying for them to train up to actually have enough experience. I believe anybody can do anything if you put your mind to it… degree or not. So what’s the fuss with this whole ‘experience’ malark?

    I’ve got the basic foundations required, I’ve done my time, like thousands of you out there crying out for a company or someone to take you under their wing, and actually take you seriously and give you a long-term permanent paid chance to grow and learn with them!

    Meanwhile, I’ve been spending what little money I’ve had on updating my portfolio, spending hours searching for jobs, getting rejected, putting myself out there with as much strength and confidence as I can muster. Sometimes I just can’t see the end of this horrible roller-coaster ride.

    I knew it wasn’t going to be easy when I took a design degree, and fully accepted the responsibility of my choices, knowing I’d have to take up some unpaid work. But I never imagined over three years later, I would still be told that I need to work for free again to gain more experience! It’s such a joke, and it’s so hard to get anywhere in this industry unless you come from a wealthy background, know people who can get you in through nepotism or recommendation.

    Talent and experience sometimes has nothing to do with it. So no disrespect, but he is living in a different reality, and should rethink what he said and adapt it to those who need to be given hope as young designers in this unfair and unjust society.

  • tim reading

    D&AD need to distance themselves of this opinion and people like Dick Powell, who hold influence in this industry, should not make such statements that encourage exploitation and slave labour. Something should be done to stop companies applying these practices not promoting them.