Unpaid work is not "acceptable
on any level" says Dick Powell

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Dick Powell

News: D&AD chairman Dick Powell has moved to defuse the controversy over a speech advising young people to "work for nothing" in order to get a job in the creative industries. In a letter to Dezeen, Powell states that "there are no circumstances where working unpaid in any capacity is acceptable on any level" and adds: "I apologise to your readers who may wrongly have a different impression".

Yesterday's article provoked a furious backlash from Dezeen readers, who posted over 100 comments and expressed their anger on social media.

"I'm grateful to Dezeen for this opportunity to clarify a number of points which have understandably caused a great deal of concern and anger," Powell writes in the letter, which we publish in full at the bottom of this story. "It was certainly not my to intention to infer working for free... I should have made it clear that I was referring to student internships and NOT graduates."

Seymourpowell took to Twitter yesterday to claim Dezeen had misrepresented Powell. "This article is a total misrepresentation of Dick Powell's speech the article refers to," the company tweeted.

Powell, who is also co-founder and CEO of leading industrial design studio Seymourpowell, gave a speech at the opening of graduate show New Designers Part Two earlier this month in which he said: "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."

Unpaid internships or placements contravene D&AD guidelines. In the design charity's list of ten commandments for placements, it states: "Pay them and treat them right, and expect the same in return. We mean at least minimum wage."

Here is the letter from Powell:


I was shocked and rather saddened to read your article yesterday headlined "Graduates should 'work for nothing' says D&AD Chairmanin relation to my recent speech at the opening of New Designers Part Two on 3 July.

Your article does not reflect my views, nor those of D&AD and I'd like to put the record straight, so I'm grateful to Dezeen for this opportunity to clarify a number of points which have understandably caused a great deal of concern and anger.

Sadly, these days, it is harder than ever for graduates to find work; the jobs don't come to them - many don't realise that their graduation is the start of a lengthy, often soul destroying process that is as much work as work itself.  The message of my five minute speech [see transcript here] was intended to fire up and inspire them to that process . . . a process during which the learning doesn't stop. And the hardest part of that process is to stand out from the crowd and get yourself in front of the right people.

It was certainly not my to intention to infer working for free, more an attempt to impress upon them that they should stop at nothing to 'crack open the door' (buried among a longer list of wilder ideas to emphasise the message). As I wrote these words, and afterwards in conversation with Dezeen, I should have made it clear that I was referring to student internships and NOT graduates.

The question of internships is, rightly, a matter of hot debate. To my mind, a student internship is part of a student's education and, just as important, it's one of the best ways to get yourself in front of the right people and crack open the door to a future job (several of SP's younger designers first came to us as student interns). Internships are a quid pro quo arrangement - agencies get to meet and experience talent, and maybe short circuit the employment process, while students build valuable experience, continue to learn and can showcase their talent . . .  but being part of a student's education is no excuse for not paying interns. Indeed, at Seymourpowell we pay all our student interns. But unconscionably, not every agency or design company concurs with this moral position.

In my view, and in D&AD's view, there are no circumstances where working unpaid in any capacity  is acceptable on any level! I apologise to your readers who may wrongly have a different impression as a result of your article.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this clear.

Dick Powell, Seymourpowell

  • Dom

    HAHAHAHAHAHA

  • rohtmuz

    Dick did you not therefore say:

    “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.”

    If you did, I fail to see how this can be misinterpreted as anything other that encouraging people to work for free!

  • james

    Credibility wavering.

  • Jesper

    Only option, Dick: claim temporary insanity.

  • Damien

    Unpaid internships is neither acceptable, as soon as the employer is making some kind of profit from intern’s work.

  • Grace

    “As I wrote these words, and afterwards in conversation with Dezeen, I should have made it clear that I was referring to student internships and NOT graduates.”

    Was this speech not directed to this years crop of design graduates? i.e. no longer students. Either way, some companies now no longer hire graduates as they prefer to use student interns who evidentially don’t need paying.

    • Scott

      Obviously I don’t agree with unpaid work but in saying that I can almost see how this could be out of context: the graduates could be getting their bachelors and so as he encourages unpaid internships for them while they do their masters (which I still disagree with but he plausibly meant).

      The case I would have argued was that ‘work’ for free was create things for people for free on one off scenarios; he should have argued he meant something along the lines of redesign a small companies logo and try get them to use it or something along those lines, rather than take employment without money.

      None the less I don’t think he really meant any of that and I’m glad there is a larger moral compass than his providing his interns with some pay.

  • lemi

    Unless you are in the business of design, by that I mean that your are able to detach yourself from the investigatory process of design as the principle priority and confine your process to a set amount of time that your commercial agreement allows you to procure reasonable fees, you will be working for next to nothing anyway!

    It is ridiculous to take Dick’s comments out of context. Design especially architecture is not valued, certainly not more than plumbing, but perhaps equal to taxi driving and there are few taxi owners and many, many drivers.

    Having said that, the sincerity and desire that most architects have is immense and the envy of most other professions. I think it is in this context that Dick was endeavouring to encourage designers to find any forum to exploit even if it exploits them in return.

    The industry will pay crap in any case no matter what minimum wages may be. God bless all lovers of design.

    • B*tchPlease

      “It is ridiculous to take Dick’s comments out of context.”

      Hmm, you clearly illustrate the saying, “dumb IS as dumb does”. HOW was anything taken out of context when the entire context was presented, including the full transcript of what he said, the audience, occasion, and location of speech explicitly stated?

      • Fritz

        B*tch please is correct. I’m tired of reading comments on this topic by apologists for abusive and exploitive behaviour. Perhaps lemi is short for leming.

      • lemi

        The context is the miserable economic environment, for employers and employees!
        I suggest, Dick was rhetorically inferring, that one should exercise the pathos for architecture in any way possible so as not to lose the desire and end up deflecting their career.

        Now the context of my comments is that I have been a graduate, worked for free for three years and paid my bills selling hot dogs to clubbers till dawn. I love architecture though the industry reveres plumbers and pays us in sewerage.

  • Anthony

    Back pedal FAST! Everyone can read between the lines! I said it but I didn’t say it/mean it/should have said something different!

    As the Chairman of an industry body that represents sectors of the design and advertising industry and is supposed to champion and support young creatives, graduate or not, you can’t get away with it. In this day and age, we can all see through the PR spin, Dick!

  • Jonathan

    I’m still outraged by his “clarified” opinion. The problem still remains that any work for free, whether student internship or graduate internship, creates a financial and social divide in our profession. It perpetuates the success of those who can afford an unpaid summer and the failures of those who cannot afford it.

    I would challenge him as an employer to be just as vigorous in hiring interns as he suggests interns to be in seeking opportunities. If it truly is about opportunities, then why not hire as many interns as apply and pay them all. Do anything to help them get their feet in the door. Also, be just as willing to accept the financial risk as you challenge them to be.

    • Lex

      Yup, students in the same generation as mine (now graduated) that got to do unpaid or low-paid internships are certainly ahead of those who couldn’t. I had to make some decisions just based on money, many times, and I can see that those who didn’t have to consider money because of their parents have taken the “fast lane” in their career.

      And here we are, proletariat designers, trudging through the normal lane while the executive class whizzes on by to the top agencies right out of school. Blech.

  • HulloHulot

    ‘Unpaid internships or placements contravene D&AD guidelines. In the design charity’s list of ten commandments for placements, it states: “Pay them and treat them right, and expect the same in return. We mean at least minimum wage.”‘

    They don’t just contravene D&AD guidelines. As others, I’m sure, said yesterday, unless you’re a charity, unpaid internships are against the law at a graduate level: https://www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns

  • P.S.

    Apology accepted. You are a real man after all.

    • beatrice

      Wha? What apology?

  • retep

    Keep digging Dick!

  • Chris

    The problem is there is currently no differentiation between a “student” intern and a “graduate” intern.

  • Anders

    If it was the case that companies who use free interns also did not charge the client for the hours spent by the intern on a project, this would be a different discussion.

    But this is not the case, is it? In my experience, companies that charge 100€ an hour charge this regardless of who is clocking the time, so an intern working for free is pure profit.

  • Asa

    Who cares what this guy thinks or says anyway?

  • sabi pip

    But the article reflects perfectly, a very sad situation!

    As a young professional you are EXPECTED to work, if not for free but for very little money. Long hours is detrimental to your personal health!

    If you don’t do that you will be accused of ‘lack of passion for the job’ and reminded constantly that you are very easy to replace.

    Architecture and design companies should go under the radar of occupational safety and health commissions! We should all react to this kind of illegal practices!

  • Morningstar

    I run a design studio in India, and we support new talent and interns wherever we can. Everyone gets paid if they are in my studio and doing productive work. That’s called a social contract. And also an old-fashioned thing called respect.

  • Johannas

    Such a lukewarm, flip-flop politician. Being an American, I can honestly say that’s the last thing we need more of. “I apologize to your readers who may wrongly have a different impression”. What a joke.

  • Redfern

    Is it okay to encourage young people to do “anything” to get a job? It looks like he is saying it’s okay for interns to tolerate, for example, sexual harassment or even encourage it so that they could be given a chance to work in a design office.

  • Rich

    Do D&AD ever play AD&D?

    • HulloHulot

      No, they play 4th ed.

  • Tyler

    Students don’t need to eat.

  • stand with us

    To courage better working conditions for young architects, Dezeen shouldn’t publish “unpaid internship” or “unpaid employments”.

    • dezeen_intense

      We don't.

      Marcus/Dezeen

      • ewa

        You do actually. I participated in one.

        • chris

          Advantage and point: ewa.

        • dezeen_intense

          We stopped allowing companies to publish unpaid internship ads on Dezeen Jobs about two months ago. We changed our policy in light of the controversy surrounding such positions and there haven’t been any since then.

          Marcus/Dezeen

          • beatrice

            “We changed our policy in light of the controversy surrounding such positions” Not from a moral sense then? Does Dezeen have unpaid staff itself?

          • dezeen_intense

            We pay all our staff, including interns. We changed our intern policy at the start of this year and wrote about it at the time: http://www.dezeen.com/2013/02/21/were-scrapping-u

            Marcus/Dezeen

  • Paopao

    Mr Dick remains Mr Dick and loses credibility.

  • Post-graduate

    Regardless of any debatable credibility that can be given to this letter, the fact was that Dick was addressing an audience of graduates, advising them to work for free. I don’t believe he is currently in any position to argue that his comments were being taken out of context when such an obvious mistake of audience awareness was made.

    This letter even admits that his comment was indeed directed at graduates, when he attempts to justify the comments as some kind of inspirational rally—at New Designers, a graduate design show. The letter is a contradiction in itself. In one paragraph Dick refers to this attempt at inspiration, while in another claims to be referring to interns who are still students.

    It is a pitiful claim at misrepresentation and is actually shockingly revealing as to how deep the problem of interns still runs throughout the design industry, as well as many others I’m sure.

  • colin

    Tip: where you write ‘infer’ I think you mean,’imply’.

    And: “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” (from the first article).

    Erm..?

  • Daniel

    Did no-one else think it’s pretty weird he also said this in his apology letter?

    “Internships are a quid pro quo arrangement – agencies get to meet and experience talent, and maybe short circuit the employment process”.

    Openly stating that interns jump ahead of ‘the employment process’ – what about recruiting fairly, transparently and openly? The guy has clearly lost the plot.

  • mcmlxix

    He’s still contradiciting himself. “Unpaid work is not acceptable on any level.” Does not compute when his students are unpaid and graduates are paid. Apparently, “any level” excludes students.

  • Joe

    Dick Powell had stirred up controversy here, that much is true. Though this is so, everyone in the design industry looking to move ahead (let alone succeed) has to recognise that this business is (and perhaps alway will be) an uphill struggle when it comes to money – especially whilst facing financial downturns. Many will argue their profession (not just design) to be cut-throat, but the design industry has facets that which makes it difficult.

    Pointing out the obvious, the idea of being a ‘designer’ who’ll help in improving how we live and work etc is a beautiful ideal, the pitiful and harsh reality is it’s also a selfless one.

    An example (and we all know this) is when we try to ‘convey our best ideas’ – at the costs and overheads with materials, prints, computers, software, models etc. Measure that with the time spent – it makes no sense at all, especially when we compare the labour/reward against other professions. To students, graduates and prospective professionals – a lot of hopes and ideals will be culled by this.

    Dick Powell’s speech was simply stating this age-old ‘elephant in the room’ to yet another generation of hopefuls. Yes, perhaps honed talents may certainly succeed, whilst other may have to continue hand-to-mouth with faith until they have to face up to themselves; is a terrible notion that seems to stick, and some companies prey on this (a bit like the sleazy ‘casting couch’).

    Powell’s failed to motivate the new generation with his pep-talk about ‘realities’ when people expected him to guide – sure, the audience all knew it’s not easy so asking them to ‘prepare to work for free’ wasn’t going to go down well.

    True, it might not be easy and the tradition where the talented (‘lucky’ or connected) may get jobs, whilst others may work for free to get ahead or die-off with their hopes will probably (and sadly) go on…

    Whilst Dick Powell may have worked for free in his youth (I certainly did – but it fortunately did not last for long and I did ‘get my foot in the door’) – it’s just not addressing this ‘industry problem’.

    Given his his position he ought to creatively seek ways and incentives to make a change in this (along with his peers and contemporaries). They must seek in addressing a change in this culture; through clever initiatives and offer hopefuls, graduates and young up-start professionals in moving closer to success.

    We are in a unique age of computing and media where great ideas like Kickstarter can incubate – so why aren’t organisations doing the same?

  • B*tch Please

    “Your article does not reflect my views … It was certainly not my to intention to infer working for free.”

    - Except where you clearly stated verbatim that they should work for free. And it was not so much an article than a report with direct *transcript* of what you said, leaving no issue of confusion.

    “I was referring to student internships and NOT graduates”.

    - Except that you were speaking directly to graduates specifically about what to do to get jobs, with NO question whatsoever about students.

    “Indeed, at Seymourpowell we pay all our student interns. But unconscionably, not every agency or design company concurs with this moral position”.

    - Since when did abiding by the law become a “moral position”? Even your balls are laughing from wherever it is they’re hiding after deserting you.

    So, Dick? B*tch please. You clearly lack the balls to own up to your own mistake, but you (& your fellow t***s @ SeymourPowell & D&AD) will have to come up with a better excuse than that lame was-taken-outta-context wail.

    The entire context was presented, including the full transcript of what you said, with the audience, occasion, and location of speech explicitly stated.

  • Jonny

    Who cares? I don’t see the big deal here. He said something that he now realises was wrong or maybe reflects an opinion, that on second thought, doesn’t completely represent his feelings.

    We all do it. You get talking, you’re winging it and you don’t pick your words perfectly. Let people make mistakes! I’m reminded of a mote and a beam.

    • Tom

      Yes we all make mistakes, but someone in his position can do incredible damage to the profession and especially the very people he was attempting to inspire with his ‘mistakes’.

      Also as one of the big name speakers (not to mention being the opening speaker) he was not winging it. This was a pre-planned speech that he would (or certainly should) have taken a great deal of time to think about in advance. Anything said was not an accidental misrepresentation of his opinion but a considered message that he felt, in advance, was a perfect choice of words.

  • chaser martinsyde

    Would love to have been a fly on Seymourpowell’s walls during that damage control all nighter. His was a wholly disgusting address to graduates, but his justification indefensible.

  • duykim5

    “There are no circumstances where working unpaid in any capacity is acceptable on any level.” Yeah, that should include internships.

  • Silicon M

    Dick is back! We love you now Dick. Thanks for clarifying your position.

  • syrup

    Were there any reactions by students during his speech?

  • http://www.michaelwigle.com Michael Wigle

    When the world quits begging for jobs and starts making their own, we will leave the economic nightmare of the past. Be an entrepreneur. Take risks. Live free.

  • getoverit

    Dezeen is full of cynics! You’re all the reason that our generation is looked down upon. Dick Powell is not the reason it is a tough world out there for those beginning a career in the design fields. His idea promotes the fact that just because you will have a degree and relative talent it does not make you in any way entitled.

    You have to work very hard, not just in school, to continue to learn all aspects of the industry in order to stand out and pave your way.

  • beatrice

    I’ve noticed that designers with the biggest mouths are the ones that use unpaid interns. Often multiples. Often while they live in nice flats in Hackney with inflated rents. They often pout praises in public on their interns, sometimes even honouring them by naming products after them, but not even offering them 50 quid a day for their troubles.

    Exploitative tightwads.

  • MikeT

    “I apologise to your readers who may wrongly have a different impression as a result of your article.”

    So it is Dezeen’s fault that their readers understood “work for nothing” as “work for nothing”?

  • P Marais

    Unpaid work is standard across the world in many fields and industries. I’m from a family of four and our parents did not support our studies or subsidise our unpaid work My eldest brother is a lawyer in South Africa and did his pupilship for 12 months, unpaid. My sister is a wild game manager and worked on a game ranch for 12 months, unpaid. I am a curator in Johannesburg and worked for 3 years for a minimal salary before going alone. The last sibling is an electrician in Canada who completed a 2 year unpaid internship.

    We are all earning well. That’s because we’ve shown we’ll stay the course while everyone else moans on a blog how the company that they’re not working for is not subsiding their choice to study at an expensive university and live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Who’s fault is that? Employers know that people who get this upset about learning for free while young aren’t valuable assets, regardless of your talent. Ask yourself this, in monetary terms, what’s more valuable? A grad with zero experience and little work ethic (the average grad student) or the learning environment that the intern will work in (access to experts, a functioning business, building up of contacts etc): the fact of the matter is that working for free at an average company is a net gain.

  • conkers

    I don’t get the big deal. Probably he worked for free when he started up. Many of us have certainly done it (free or almost free). The truth of the matter is that there are far too many design grads for not very many jobs: get real and get the nugget from his talk “make anything you can to get in the industry and learn”.

  • TamHarris

    I’m sorry, I still don’t agree with working for free. If you are a company using someone to perform a service you should be paying them.

    Students have huge expenses in paying for their degrees and materials, a fact I’m sure we all remember. Free work to break in to an industry is a leftover from another time. Let it go.

  • Missar

    Probably not the best speech to deliver to people who have just graduated, if the entire thing was aimed at students still in higher education.