On unpaid internships.

11 Apr

I just read an interesting editorial in The New York Times regarding unpaid internships for college students. (And you can read the resulting letters to the editor here.) It’s a nuanced subject, but I generally agree with the author, who writes that “colleges shouldn’t publicize unpaid internships at for-profit companies.”

But as someone who has taken both paid and unpaid internships (and has done both paid and pro bono design work), I do feel that it is OK sometimes to work for free, depending on the employer or client. I did an unpaid internship for the non-profit Minnesota Center for Book Arts as an undergrad, and learned a tremendous amount — not just about the book arts, but about the ins and outs of such an operation. And I make it a habit to regularly do unpaid design work for non-profits: I have done work for community-based theatre companies, parks, non-profit educational organizations, and local arts organizations. In fact, this is really the work I like the best, because I usually have more control over it. But I am fortunate: my job here at the University pays the mortgage. Most of you aren’t in this position. Yet.

I really believe that the worth of a designer must be recognized. (As does AIGA.) Don’t get me started about the company that recently posted fliers about a “logo contest” in our hallways, reducing the worth of a comprehensive corporate identity to a $100 gift card. Last summer, a student of ours secured a full-time summer internship with a locally-based corporation (I’m looking at you, ShopKo), but they expected her to work for free. That’s exploitation.

It’s a fine line.

{And of course, there’s a flow chart for everything.}

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