How to find, hire, and work with graphic design freelancers
In today’s digital world, graphic design is more important than ever. Organizations of all sizes, in all industries, need people to do web design, business card design, create digital marketing assets, infographics … the list goes on and on. This creates a constant stream of freelance graphic designer jobs.
Most organizations don’t have a senior graphic designer on staff to handle all of these needs. For anyone who lacks the resources or necessity to keep a full-time designer on staff, there’s a massive community of freelance designers looking for work at any given time. Even small businesses and tight-budget startups in need of visual design work can always find a freelancer who fits their needs.
The graphic design freelance landscape
In 2019, there were about 281,500 graphic designers in the United States alone. 21 percent of these designers were self-employed, or freelancing. That means there were at least 59,000 freelance graphic designers operating in the U.S. that year. There aren’t any strong statistics about the global population of graphic designers, but it’s safe to assume that they number in the millions.
Beyond just graphic designers, freelancers make up about 35 percent of the total global workforce — some 1.1 billion people. One 2019 study found that 75 percent of workers in the greater Arts & Design industry regularly take on freelance work. All of this to say: there is no shortage of freelance designers out there ready and willing to help you out on your next project, as long as you’re willing to pay their fees.
How to find graphic design freelancers
If you have no idea how to find a freelancer, turn to vetted recommendations. Here at Air, we often work with freelancers, and many of the brands who use our product work with freelancers themselves. To support our clients and partners, and make the process of finding a freelancer easier for people like you, we created the NYC Creative Council.
A few of the designers in the NYC Creative Council.
The Creative Council is a list of vetted freelancers (graphic designers, copywriters, photographers, etc.) recommended by founders and people working in creative operations at top companies like Sweetgreen, Curology, and The Infatuation. The list includes dozens of freelancers as well as their contact information and links to their previous work.
Other recommendation lists exist as well, but another way to get precise, vetted recommendations is simply to ask people! Ask your LinkedIn network. Is there a brand whose graphic design consistently impresses you? Ask who did it. Did you talk to one designer who wasn’t quite right for the job, but you enjoyed interviewing? Ask if they have anyone in their network who they think would fit your needs.
Still nothing? Freelancer marketplaces are an excellent place to start if you don’t have any good designers in your network. However, it can take a lot of time to sift through the many freelancers bidding on your project. Ideally, once you find a few people you like working with, you simply come to them every time you have a new project, saving time and ultimately producing better work.
It is not difficult to find freelance graphic designers. You don’t even need a special recruiter. What can be difficult is finding the right designer for your needs — each designer tends to have their own specialties and specific styles. Luckily, since there are so many designers out there, it’s not too hard to find that perfect person — it just might take some time and sifting. Freelancer marketplace platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are here to help.
Four of the current top graphic design freelancers on Upwork.
Upwork and Fiverr are websites where digital freelancers of all specialities, from graphic design to content writing to web development, offer their services. People with jobs to fill create postings detailing what they need and possible compensation bands. Freelancers can then search for jobs that fit what they do and send an application, but the job creators themselves can also send direct invites to freelancers they’re particularly interested in working with.
There’s a very wide range of skill level, pricing options, and design services available on freelance marketplaces. Some designers are happy to work for a small fee as they build out a portfolio, but those folks might not have the experience and skills you need for your project. For something highly important to your brand, like a logo design, you’ll probably want to find a more established designer, and shell out their fee. For smaller projects, especially those where the designer is mostly reusing assets you already have, you can work with lower-fee designers.
There are also platforms like Behance and Dribbble. These aren’t general freelancer marketplaces; they’re more like portfolio-meets-social-media platforms for designers and other creatives. Here you can find not only graphic designers, but web designers, UX designers, mobile app designers, typography designers, and so on.
How to hire freelance graphic designers
So now you know how to find freelance designers — what about following through and hiring them? It’s fairly standard for designers to have publicly available portfolios, either on their website, their freelancer marketplace profile, or on their social media pages. Deciding whether or not you like a designer's work should be the first step in the hiring process, before you even contact them. Once you have a list of prospects, it’s time for interviews. After interviews, it can be smart to have your top couple of prospects complete a test project.
If you haven’t had to hire freelancers before, here are some tips on what to ask in an interview. Though many questions are the same ones you would ask when interviewing someone for a full-time position, some are more specific to freelancers.
How many years of experience do you have?
Have you always been a freelancer, or do you also have full-time experience?
How do you prefer to communicate with your clients?
Do you prefer to charge a project fee or an hourly rate?
What are your specialties? (i.e., brand identity, motion graphics, website design, brochure design)
How would you describe your skillset?
What’s incredibly important to do in these interviews is set expectations. The only way you can ensure you’ll receive high-quality results is by making it abundantly clear to your freelancer exactly what you want, need, and expect. You should also work with your freelancer to figure out their expectations of you, their client. When do they need to be paid? How much do they need to be paid?
Just as you might be interviewing multiple freelancers, each freelancer you’re interviewing might be interviewing multiple potential clients. You need to show them that you’ll be a worthwhile collaborator — that you’re worth their commitment.
It’s sometimes necessary to run a quick test project when choosing a freelancer. For very brief projects with a small scope, it’s definitely not necessary. For major, long-term projects, it is necessary. Why? You want to be sure that you and your freelancer can communicate and collaborate effectively.
There’s no specific standard test project — it’s up to you to figure out something that makes sense for your specific project needs, something that will reveal any potential issues between you and the freelancer. Use this as an opportunity to see how well they ask questions, how they take feedback, and how their style of working fits in with your brand.
Maybe the test project is a one-page flyer for a fictional event your organization might put on, or maybe it’s a three-slide Instagram carousel post. Whatever it is, make sure it’s brief, and compensate the designer for their time. It’s very important to respect their time, since they might be interviewing with multiple potential clients at any given time, as well as working on existing projects.
How to work with graphic design freelancers
So you’ve successfully found, interviewed, and hired a designer. Awesome! Now you just have to make sure everything remains on track and both parties meet each other’s expectations.
Do you have a well-defined creative workflow? If you’re not sure, reference our handy guide on the steps and tools you need to create one. Follow those steps to stay organized and make sure you and your freelancers can create the best possible work together.
It’s possible that you already have a thorough idea of what you need by the time you actually hire a freelancer. At this point, you should put together a creative brief for the freelancer to use as a reference throughout the course of the project. Never made one before? There are many free templates available online.
A simple creative brief template.
Sometimes, a designer will provide you with their own project proposal before you give them a brief;. The primary difference between these two documents is that a project proposal comes from the creative side, and a creative brief comes from the client or manager side.
Regardless of which document you’re using to drive the project, it should contain a record of all due dates, deliverables, and other specifications. What is the scope of the project? What is the inspiration? Exactly what deliverables need to be turned in when? Will there be a live feedback session? When will it be?
Work with your freelancer to figure out every question surrounding the project, answer those questions, and compile them as part of your creative brief. It bears repeating: set clear expectations!
Managing the creative process in Air
Just as designers use tools like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign to do their side of the job, so should you use project and asset management tools like Notion and Air for your side of the job. Air provides a centralized home for the entire lifecycle of the visual assets your designers create.
How agency Fat Earth organizes their collaborative boards in Air.
For any given design project, create a board within Air that will hold all creative briefs, pre-made design assets, project drafts, and final deliverables. Make your freelancer’s job easy by creating file structures for them beforehand; one sub-board with any assets, fonts, and other existing brand material’s that they’ll need; one sub-board with inspirational materials; and one sub-board where the work they’ll be doing will live.
Have your freelancer upload any feedback-ready drafts to the designated sub-board. Use Air’s commenting features to give feedback. Once a new draft is ready, the freelancer can simply re-upload, without changing the name, and store the drafts together using Air’s automatic version-stacking feature.
Create custom fields like “In-progress,” “Awaiting feedback,” and “Approved,” to better organize and automate communication throughout the process. You’ll save both you and your freelancer many hours of back-and-forth Slack and email messages this way.
Words of wisdom
To sum up the above lessons on how to find, hire, and work with freelance graphic designers, we turned to Ivette Felix Uy. Ivette is a Product Designer here at Air who has previously worked as a freelance designer herself. Here’s what she had to say:
“It's important to not expect free labor from designers. Pay them fairly and don't underestimate their value. They're offering you their time and expertise — freelancers often have other projects lined up that they could be doing, so respect their time and clearly communicate what you need. Work together early on to figure out what your expected deliverables are, set timelines, and remember that all designers have different working styles. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.”
There you have it! Always, always remember to set clear expectations and fully utilize your communication skills. Don’t add a ton of new requests last-minute. Pay your freelancers fairly and pay them on time. Ideally, you only have to find a freelancer for any given specialty once — after that, you should try to sustain a relationship with them for future work. It’ll save both parties time and money, since you’ll already know how to work together. This goes for all freelancers, not just designers!
Still not sure where to start? Whether you’re looking for a designer or any other kind of freelancer, try the NYC Creative Council first. Worried you don’t have the right tools to manage your freelancer? Air is completely free up to 5 GB of storage.