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It’s the end of the world as we know it aaand iiiii feeeel liked.

Ok, we’re in a plague. And if we’ve learned anything during the plague is that we want to work to keep our livelihoods, but we also want to read online discourse, ya know to pass the time! Luckily one topic has addressed both of these desires for me and that is designers warning of a growing number of predatory businesses offering a new, insidious form of payment for design work: Exposure.

Exposure?! Say it ain’t so. Isn’t it bad enough social platforms have turned us all into little Oliver Twist begging for more likes sir? We already have designers singing and doing improv on ME-TV to stay relevant in this hell-scape. How much more blood do these channels demand after we fed all of our work to them? Don’t say we didn’t warn you about this.

It all happened so fast. I see designers almost daily decrying exposure propositions for their work and I can’t tell which scenario is worse. Designers who are actually working for like currency or that there are businesses this slimy scavenging our industry? Let’s find out!

Is This Even Happening?

Sorry, but I’m dubious.

Are there really some predatory, opportunistic businesses that have the audacity to ask for work in exchange for exposure from their brand in the middle of a plague?! And are designers actually out normalizing this abnormal and accepting this form of payment? Ok, I guess that’s possible.

But then I grow doubtful and wonder could some opportunistic designers be falsely creating non-existent ‘EXPO$URE’ demons for self-empowering, safe content to promote on their platforms during a time when everything has to be screaming to even make a sound? I guess that’s possible too.

Either way, you can’t deny it is a nice silver bullet for engaging content. Non-confrontational? Check. Does it champion a good Us Vs Them underdog story? Check. But best of all it tells us our favorite in-demand designer isn’t above telling an Evil Empire to go fuck itself. Just smash that follow baby!

Yeesh, this is all sounding very bleak.

Yes, It’s Happening.
Kind Of.

 I can personally say the exposure carrot has only dangled loosely three times in my direction throughout my career. It was never taken seriously obviously but since it can happen I wonder to what extent? So to get some clarity who better to ask than my good friends in the design industry?

Over the week I sent out a quick poll to see how many designers frequently get the exposure request. The results? 54% NO, 46% YES. Admittedly I was surprised by the yes ratio so I reached out directly and here’s what I found.

All requests seem to be happening in areas where these prospective leads feel like they have an upper hand instead of fair and balanced on say a phone conference or an email exchange. In particular, one area has become a hotbed for EXPO$URE. You already know what it is. Social DMs.

Shocker. Could you believe that on a free public platform where you can get instant access to any designer in the world that some opportunistic businesses might be looking to cheat them out of money earned? I plead with you. Never agree to do work for exposure. 

Shades of Grey

I feel like it’s implied but I’ll address what I don’t mean when it comes to forms of trade payments. Volunteering, donations, charity, internships, or even one of the oldest forms of payment, bartering. These are acceptable because the designer gives value to the reward of how they see fit.

I could never put exposure currency under any of these because it’s an ethereal mist that can’t ensure reward. Changing and varying minute by minute, what could be considered worthy praise today could be worthless in an hour. When it comes to hype it’s likely best to create your own.

Maybe We’re Too Exposed?

It’s surprising to find so many designers still using loose business practices, especially now, when it comes to landing jobs. I get being new and green so there’s no better time to start applying solid methods than now.

We invest massive amounts of time each year on evolving our styles and the speed in which we create but often neglect what is essentially our biggest earners. Websites, contact forms, questionnaires. These should never be neglected because you’re getting easy leads in DMs.

I can’t stress getting out of a DM fast enough for potential work. If someone reaches out to you via DM that convo should last the length of one message only. Here’s a cooked-up response you can keep handy.

"Hey, thanks for reaching out. This already sounds like an excellent project and something I’d love to help with. My best form of contact is you@yours.com so please feel free to email me more details about this project and we can set up a time to discuss shortly. Thanks again!"

That’s it. The conversation doesn’t need to continue in any other social platform past that. And, if the potential client doesn’t want to take that next step then they weren’t that ready or serious, to begin with. But if they do the ball is now on your turf and proves much harder to talk to you down. Win-win.

If I’ve learned anything from this it’s this. We are leaving ourselves way too exposed to these types of predatory practices and in some ways have allowed a payment option like this to even exist in the first place. Yes, today it’s EXPO$URE but what new, demeaning form of payment will be acceptable next? I’d say that’s up to us.

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