Design for Free

There was this recent news item about an architect, Mr Hafiz Contractor offering to design 19 railway stations for free for the Indian Railways. The minister announced this with much fanfare. The article also mentions their call to architects inviting them to do pro-bono work for them.

This raises so many questions, in so many levels.

Why should Indian Railways, with the kind of money at their disposal, call for pro-bono work from designers?

What does the architect gain by doing design for free? Does it help the profession or destroy it?

Why are professional bodies of architecture and design, silent over such a move?

Is this the only way in which qualified designers can engage with Railways? If not, what should be the methodology?

When there’s a need for better facilities, new graphics, signage or furniture, will there be another call for ‘pro-bono’ designers?

Designers need to come together to discuss this threadbare. The government of India can be the biggest buyer of Indian design talent.

Young designers are often left with no option but to do free design work.

It starts with designing a wedding card for a friend. Then there’s the NGO that does good work and has no money to pay for design. Or a corporate bigwig whose project will look good in your portfolio, even if you do this for free. Then there’s a design competition you so badly want to win. Or a small business that needs to be educated on the benefits of design.

It grows into other areas too. A free lecture at a university. Or a pro-bono jury member. Advisory roles that don’t pay. Fancy titles for free consultation.

It’s time we decide what to do about free design work. It’s high time we get together to free the design profession from this menace.


  1. One can only speculate on Mr Contractor’s motives to offer free achitectural design services for a such a massive and prestegious project. Hundreds of designers are struggling to get acknowledgement and value from their clients for their work. This gesture only devalues the all the effort that is put in by professionals into their work. I would be delighted if Mr Contractor would charge a hefty fee and donate it to the cause of furthering design in india instead.


    1. I believe that the situation is not as simple as accusing a Design Agency of devaluing design work by offering to work for free. There is another cause which is a much debated-upon issue having ramifications on the entire state of development in the country. The Govt follows a policy of (L1) Tender System by which they are required to offer govt project tenders to the lowest bidder as long as the required services are provided. As one can guess, this more than often leads to a less than optimum quality of work. A reputed firm such as Hafiz Contractor’s decision to offer work free of charges provides an opportunity within this system to ensure that a high standard of services is provided in the national interest. It’s rather a case of humbling before the bureaucracy. Although the possibility of the situation of free design getting further exacerbated looms ominously, one can only hope that it opens up new avenues in legislation whereby the Govt will actually choose to invest in quality services instead of the cheapest option.

      The L1 tender policy has affected many sectors such as the one described in the following article:


  2. Ah! That post pretty much summarizes the issue. I should have referred to it. Nevertheless, I feel it’s too early to cry fowl on Hafiz Contractor’s part. But continue to question the government’s policies, we must.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s