Dick Powell

Unpaid work is not "acceptable on any level" says 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