How to react when someone asks you to design for free?


New Member
I am an experienced designer with appeal in medical science, therefore I applied for (3 months unpaid) internship for an clinical IT role in a well- known medical research organisation.

I was impressed that my application got accepted while I have no degree or knowledge in that field. During the interview, the manager said that they are looking to improve their website design and he would welcome any feedback.

It’s been two weeks, and all I did was Googling for informations from the net and place them in Microsoft Words. I’m not learning anything. A few days ago, the manager asked me if I could help teach him how to use all the necessary Adobe softwares twice in a week. I spent a whole day lecturing him and three other colleagues on how to use the softwares and I agreed design a poster for internal use.

The next day, he came to me and ask if I would design 5 websites for some new organisations they are going to form.

I feel insulted.

Why am I the one who’s doing the teaching and they’re the one who’s learning here?
Asking a designer to design for free sounds like saying “your job is easy, so what’s the big deal?”.

I promised them that I would stay for 3 months and strongly wish to keep my words. I now know that they hired me because of my profession and I do not mind ‘teaching’ them how to design- I just don’t like the fact that they are asking me to design for free.

What shall I do? I’m starting to feel reluctant to go to work because I feel devalued as an individual yet on the other hand I would feel bad if I don’t keep my words .

How can I politely refuse and make them aware of how a proper design can bring true value for the organisation?
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What are you expecting to learn? What was the agreement for the unpaid internship?

If creating designs and websites wasn't part of the original plan then I would politely refuse.

Remember, it's unpaid so if you feel the need to walk away then do it amicably.
An internship is basically 'working for free' under another name, the trade-off being that you gain experience of working in-house in a commercial environment. In that respect, being asked to do actual, valuable work is something which I'd have thought adds value to the experience (it's not like they're asking you make the tea or using you as a general dogsbody). That said, if they feel that they can bring in someone for free to train themselves up in new skills - effectively strip-mining your CV for the purposes of eliminating any prospect of paid employment in an area in which they're currently lacking - that's another matter. I'm sure they could argue that they're providing an opportunity for you to gain experience in training but I'd probably feel - as you do - that they're taking the piss.
I would look at it as a way of "what can I GET from this" After all you are helping but you are also there to learn something. It also adds some experience on to you
Unpaid internships are not illegal, it depends on their circumstances, there are some instances where the national wage is exempt - but it's worth checking out.

Although - I do agree with you on not ever working for free. If someone expected me to work for free I'd tell them where to stick it.