Design is critical to every business, but, as it turns out, designers won’t work for just any business. Because according to the freelance design platform 99designs, nearly half of all freelance designers turned down work last year. Why? It wasn’t due to money or project scope. It was that the designers disagreed with a client’s stance on a social topic they cared about.

The finding comes from a massive annual poll run by 99designs, which gauges responses from over 10,000 freelance designers to create something of a State of the Union on the industry.

The report’s headline discovery was that 40% of freelance designers have turned down work in the last year for the aforementioned reasons. Because it’s the first time 99designs has asked the question, we don’t know if the number is on the rise. But that’s still a significant amount of work. (For some semblance of scale, know that 99designs freelancers billed clients $400 million to date.)

“We do know the causes and issues that designers called out as being the most important to them, particularly around public health, climate change, and racial injustice,” says Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99designs, “so we can draw some reasonable conclusions around the values and brands that they might align more closely with.” (Indeed, 76% of polled designers said they would like to do work for a social justice organization, while nearly a third currently do; 66% of that philanthropic work is done pro bono.)

But for-profit companies should take the moment to solidify their stances on all sorts of social issues, assuming they haven’t already. The poll highlighted eight social topics that designers care most about—none of which are particularly surprising

  1. Healthcare/public health
  2. Climate change
  3. Racial justice
  4. Income equality
  5. Child welfare
  6. Immigration
  7. Food security
  8. LGBTQA+ equality

These findings are particularly salient, because designers are part of the Great Resignation we’re seeing across industries since COVID-19 began. One in five designers on 99designs actually works for an agency, yet nearly half of them said they considered leaving their job last year. And among freelancers who reported working at agencies, a third actually quit their job last year.

“Quality freelancers are in high demand globally, so it’s not really that surprising to see them being selective about who they work for,” says Llewellyn. “They do that based on a whole load of criteria—one of them is clearly the social impact of the client or brand, but another is creative choice and personal preference.”


Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach. More

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