Work For Friends = Bad

duncan's picture

As designers it seems we all encounter the argument that "it is not a good idea to do work for friends, because it can ruin a friendship" in many different incarnation. I am wondering if anyone can point me to a resource where someone has explored this philosophy in something like an article or a study?

You see I have a friend that is insisting that I help him with a project and -- in this case especially -- it just really seems like a terrible idea. I know I have read people's positions on this in several different places, but in my moment of need I cannot turn any of these sources up.

Please help.

Duncan

blank's picture

Any collected volume of columns by Ann Landers or her sister Abby will provide you with countless examples of why working for/with friends and family can go terribly awry.

dezcom's picture

Duncan,
I can't point you to a published source. I think if your gut tells you this is not a good situation, you are probably right. I have made the mistake twice because it is hard to turn down a friend in need. Both times I regretted it. The hard part is telling them you can't do it. I guess that is why you are looking for someplace to quote chapter and verse. That way, you can show your friend that it is not you who thinks so but this high, exhaaulted, published authority with impeccable credentials who is one step shy of god :-)

Wish I had one for you. I still say DON'T DO IT!

ChrisL

duncan's picture

ChrisL,

I'd say you've pretty much hit the nail on the head. I feel like if I had some examples to reference instead of just a gut feeling then I could explain myself with more clarity.

Duncan

Alessandro Segalini's picture

I've lost one, and for sure I had a share in this weakness. So far, was he really a friend ?

Don McCahill's picture

Duncan

Can you not be "way too busy" to take on the work from him?

muzzer's picture

just lay the smack down at the start. let it be clear that you are the driver and ther will bo no backseat driving! If you were any other sort of professional (plumber, doctoer, mechanic etc) then you would say what is happening and yer friend would agree.

Si_Daniels's picture

Duncan, you don't say if this is a design project but let’s assume it is.

Simply outsource the project to an acquaintance (the more eccentric and difficult to work with the better) or perhaps to a cocky know-it-all design student (you're on Typophile so you won't need to look far) - act as middle man handling the “invoicing” and take 20% commission for yourself.

Sit back and watch the hilarity ensue, while making a tidy profit. Who knows, both client and designer might learn an important lesson or two.

aluminum's picture

The only way to do work for friends is to treat them like you would any client. Contract. Timeline. Budget. etc.

Otherwise, say you're realy busy and that you'll come up with something and if they like it, great, if not, no biggie. That way you're not committed to anything long-term or with countless revisions.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I'm with Muzzer: tell your friend straight out that you value your friendship and would rather not do this job yourself. That said, you could also helpfully refer your friend to another designer who would be willing to take on the work.

duncan's picture

Thank you everyone for the advice.

Sii - It is a design project.

There are a few places where I made mistakes in this case and this whole discussion is really bringing to light some of the major problems I tend to have with clients in general. Namely I am a friendly person -- possibly too friendly -- and this often results in clients not respecting my abilities or not taking me seriously.

duncan's picture

On this project in particular:

The Friend that needs a designer frequently visits my in-house day job and knows that we (Other Designer and I) keep a fairly laid back atmosphere in our office. His interpretation of this atmosphere is that we are not very busy and we can stop whatever we are doing whenever he sticks his head in the door.

Initially Friend asked Other Designer for help and when he wasn't satisfied with their working relationship he came to me because I am easier to work with (this is not the first time someone has expressed this to me after dealing with Other Designer).

I advised Friend that he started this project with Other Designer and he should finish it with, but Friend refused my advice insisting that I am the one who can help him. I listened to his ideas and issues and re-advised him to go back to Other Designer or find someone else because in my mind it is not a good idea to take over a job that the other designer I share on office with has already been working on.

Basically it boils down to: Friend is thick skulled and determined that I am the man for the job.

Duncan

duncan's picture

It seems that there are common mistakes I make with friends.

I sincerely want to help to them and listen to their problems. The problem with this is that the line between personal and professional gets blurred. Next thing you know I am doing work and we haven't even talked about the fact that "this is work" and "I may not really have time to invest in this project beyond chatting over a few beers."

I don't mind talking shop or giving friendly advice and I really don't want to be some kind of rigid authoritarian that will only talk about what I love to do when I am on the clock.

Of course I understood that navigating this blurry border is a necessary task I got my self into when I decided to pursue design as a profession. At times like these it makes me feel like I have to be paranoid about the line that separates friendship from business and networking.

Duncan

duncan's picture

Like I said a little earlier this discussion also brings to light problems I seem to have have in general.

I find that I have problems in general with clients not treating me as a skilled professional. I am a laid back, easy to work with kind of person and Clients like this about me. I am able to explain things to them in a way that they can understand and help them comfortable with the whole design process. The problem is that a lot of times this turns into the client in return showing little if any respect for my abilities and treating me like they know more about design than I do.

As someone that went to art school instead of design school it makes me wonder if there is something I missed about how a designer is supposed to present themselves to a client or some kind of speech we are meant to give at the beginning of each new project.

Thank you very much to anyone who has read all this. I really appreciate that people here on Typophile and willing to "listen" so kindly and offer advice.

Duncan

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I have found these useful...

Talent Is Not Enough, by Shel Perkins

Careers By Design, by Roz Goldfarb

charles ellertson's picture

From your description, this doesn't really sound like a friend.

With friends, I take the opposite tack from aluminum. For friends, whatever I do is free. Over time, I've settled that the only way to stay sane is to have two prices: full price, and free. With friends, I'll also say up front that I don't believe I can do something when I don't believe in it, or don't have the time, whatever -- it can be hard to do good work when you don't believe in something. Of course, with paying clients, you put on your professional hat and do your best as a professional. Friends are different, they aren't approaching you as a professional, but as a friend who has certain skills.

timd's picture

>I am able to explain things to them in a way that they can understand and help them comfortable with the whole design process.

That is part of being a good designer to my mind, I have often worked with people who treat design as though it is a guild secret that nobody can learn unless they pass an apprenticeship and it is a tactic that can work, allowing a free rein to do what they want rather than what the client needs (although that is not necessarily the result). Clients are, thanks to computers and glossy interior magazines (okay, a simplified list), becoming more design savvy and more inclined to have a vision and you have to be able to guide them to or away from that vision by explaining the reasons that it isn’t serving their needs, but it does require experience and persuasion and sometimes demonstrating to them to explain why it won’t work (sometimes you fail). It is in the experience and persuasion that you, hopefully, gain their respect.

As for work for friends, I have used Charles’ methods and found it satisfactory.

Tim

jordy's picture

I think a lot of this discussion revolves around who you friend is, whether or not you get along well with him/her. I worked for a friend recently and it worked out well, and I was paid. Examine your friendship carefully before committing to working with or for him or her. Is your friendship based on a shared interest in your profession or is it based on something else? Is it a real friendship? I guess that, as one gets older, an understanding of friendship becomes clearer. And that understanding of friendship is rather important. I agree with Aluminum, while working for friends you still have a client/designer relationship and if they are good friends as well as good professionals they already understand that.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I don’t mind talking shop or giving friendly advice and I really don’t want to be some kind of rigid authoritarian that will only talk about what I love to do when I am on the clock. [...] As someone that went to art school instead of design school it makes me wonder if there is something I missed about how a designer is supposed to present themselves to a client or some kind of speech we are meant to give at the beginning of each new project.

I think we all have to learn where to draw limits, and sometimes this means trying different approaches and learning as we go along (i.e., making mistakes at first!).

If your friend hangs out a lot at your day job and doesn't "get" that you and your business partner are trying to get work done, it's time to tell him -- kindly, but firmly -- that he can't come by unannounced during office hours. You don't need to turn into an authoritarian to do it, either. But he has to understand that you guys are trying to make a living. Maybe someone needs to spell it out for him.

By the way, there's another book I meant to recommend the other day, but I couldn't remember the title or author. It's called The Designer's Commonsense Business Book, by Barbara Ganim. It's a little dated (early 90s), but it has some really great tips on how to deal with clients, making sure you get paid, etc.

jac's picture

Full price or free? amen!

Jac
"pronounced by saying 'Jake' without conjuring imagery of lumberjacks or mans best friend."

alexfjelldal's picture

Duncan, if you decide to work with Friend (whom i find less and less sympathetic the more you write, sorry to say:-/), make a contract with him, also if it is for free. specify as exactly as possible what work is to be done. That makes it much easier for you to finish the project.

alex
.........................................................
Bison Design
Spön

duncan's picture

Thank you everyone agian for all the thoughtful advice and concern.

I sent Friend an email explaining my position and reiterating my reasons for not working with him. Hopefully having it in writing will do the job of spelling it out.

Also, I am definitely going to look into the books that have been recommended. I feel like I usually take a pretty common sense approach to solving problems so I am especially intereested in The Designer' s Commonsense Business Book.

Duncan

crossgrove's picture

A good rule to follow, whether the party is paying or not, whether you like them or not: Before doing any work at all, or even saying "maybe", get all the expected results down on paper, in the most concrete terms possible. When someone says they expect you to do a logo for them, they might be happy with the 2nd thing you show them, delivered as an eps, or they might expect you to do unlimited revisions, for months, until you happen to come up with something they like, after which they want 3 versions, plus ones for web, plus black and white, in 5 formats including WMF, plus, plus, plus. You would want the deliverables spelled out in either case. Boundaries is the key concept.

duncan's picture

Thank you Carl. Establishing those boundries and getting the expected results down on paper are two things that I am really going to work on.

Duncan

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

...or they might expect you to do unlimited revisions, for months, until you happen to come up with something they like...

A long time ago, I worked at a studio where they once had a client like that... It was pretty frustrating for my boss.

When faced with a similar situation, a former classmate of mine started charging for each new revision/printout. :-)

dezcom's picture

It has happened to all of us. Now that I am older, I specify number of revisions in the estimate. For example, I might say the price will include up to 3 revisions and there will be a charge for each revision thereafter. I don't consider fixing an error that I have made a revision though.

ChrisL

Another book you might want to look at is Clement Mok's "Designing Business"

Si_Daniels's picture

>Hopefully having it in writing will do the job of spelling it out.

If not, send them over to this thread. ;-)

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