Guide to hiring freelance designers

Elena Prokopets
Written by Elena Prokopets
on July 13, 2023 11 minute read

Great design matters. Not just for branding and aesthetical reasons, but also because it impacts other business metrics. 

Companies that deliver great user experiences reduce the cost to serve customers by as much as 33%.

Moreover, companies with a mature design thinking process generate between 71% and 107% ROI from their outputs. 

But to deliver memorable and high-performing designs, you need talented creatives — full-timers and freelancers. 

Learn why companies are choosing to go with freelance designers (among other options) and how to hire, onboard, and manage the best talents. 

Full-time designers vs freelancers vs agencies: Which option to select?

If you are wondering about the above, you already know that creative output is almost as important as the way design work is accomplished. Having full-time design employees gives you greater control over the creative direction and project progress, but hiring and retaining top design talent costs a lot. Freelance designers are a good option to save some money while still getting top-tier talent, but you may be worried about their reliability and oversight. Design agencies are a somewhat safer route, but pricing stings, and consistency can be an issue. 

To help you further weigh your options, we’ve put down the pros and cons of each talent-sourcing model. 

Pros of hiring full-time designers 

If you have a hefty backlog of design work to do — page tweaks, new marketing assets, corporate branding items — hiring a full-time designer makes perfect sense. You get to nurture an amazing team who fully understands your vision and aesthetic preferences. 

  • Branding consistency. Full-time employees (FTEs) know (and often conceptualize) company-wide design and branding guidelines. They understand the ethos of your company and know how to best convey it via various visual assets. 
  • Cross-functional collaboration. Design is a collaborative process. In-house people have better synergy with other departments — marketing, sales, product development, and customer support — and can produce more customer-centric, cohesive designs. 
  • Predictable project planning. A payrolled designer is always available when you need them. You can make dynamic changes to their scope of work, shift priorities to cover hot-key items, and otherwise ensure that all design work gets done on a pre-planned schedule. 

Cons of hiring full-time designers 

Having design talent on payroll means that you can tap into their creativity anytime. But “hotkey” access comes at a price. Top UX/UI design talent expects a six-figure salary in most developed markets. And there are several more downsides to account for:

  • Limited skill set: Whenever you need some extra design competency (e.g., with motion design or animations), you either have to invest in employee upskilling (which takes time and costs money) or hire a new person (which costs even more money and may take even more time). 
  • Employee retention. With FTEs, you have to invest more in talent engagement, nurturing, and retention or you risk high turnover rates. UX designers rate their career happiness 3.5 out of 5 stars. Some design professionals, however, do report frequent burnout due to demanding workloads, low work-life balance, and ineffective company processes. 
  • Administrative overheads. Apart from paying a good salary (and benefits!), you also have to cover a slow of employee overhead costs — office space, equipment, supplies, travel expenses, insurance, taxes, and other corporate perks and benefits. 

Pros of hiring freelance designers 

The US alone has over 100K freelance designers, with the global talent pool being 2X-4X bigger. The majority of freelancer designers (61%) have 2-9 years of industry experience and 40% have a college degree in a design-oriented field. This means you have ample (and experienced!) talent to choose from.

  • Plenty of flexibility. You can cherry-pick specific skill sets and competencies you need on a part-time basis. Need advisory on branding? A UX audit? Some help with product packaging? Freelance designers can jump in and expertly complete adjunct (and core!) tasks on your planner. 
  • Lower operating costs. Freelancer designers come in with their own tools of trade and software subscriptions, meaning fewer extra expenses on your side. Likewise, you’re only paying for the deliverables and billable hours, which translates to substantial savings on benefits and taxes. 
  • Scalability. When design work is plenty, you can rapidly get the extra “helping hands” to meet ambitious deadlines. Likewise, you can pursue different design projects in parallel by dividing them between internal and external workforce

Cons of hiring freelance designers 

Though freelance design talent can be a huge help, working with freelancers isn’t always easy. You have to account for their availability, lack of company knowledge, and slightly different preferences in collaboration. 

  • Information asymmetry. Freelancers lack institutional knowledge of corporate culture, company philosophy, and branding principles. You have to proactively brief and onboard them on your guidelines and aesthetic preferences to achieve creative alignment. 
  • Competition with other clients. Experienced designers have a solid roster of clients, interested in their services. Because of limited availability and high demand, many rank client projects in total payout (and satisfaction) relative to their other work. If your offer doesn’t sound as enticing, it would receive a lower priority and likely a longer timeline. 
  • Intellectual property issues. You’ll have to spell out your ownership and copyrights requirement upfront to avoid potential disputes with digital artists and other creatives. Not everyone may be open to granting exclusive rights to their work, while others may also expect royalty payouts for bigger commissions. 

Pros of hiring design agencies 

Design agencies are another popular option for securing extra creative talent. Unlike freelancers, agencies offer more service lines, plus can take on longer, more complex creative projects. 

  • Dedicated design resources. You can get full-time accessibility to an internal designer(s) or a cross-functional team, which is the equivalent of having a full-time employee. But you get the added flexibility of having design people on a month-to-month basis, with the ability to pause and then resume the engagement. 
  • Productized services. Many agencies now offer scoped, subscription-based, or one-off design services for a fixed rate. For example, you can get a turn-key restaurant website design done in 3 weeks or receive up to 30 custom social media assets per month for a fixed price. With productized design services, you get consistent output for predictable costs. 
  • Lean processes. The best design agencies have effective workflows for each stage of the design project — briefing, conceptualization, execution, and delivery. They guide you through each stage to ensure that all your requests are accounted for in the final product, plus help you formalize your creative vision and, oftentimes, consider overlooked aspects in your design strategy.  

Cons of hiring design agencies 

Top design agencies command high rates, which reflect the quality of creative and customer service levels they deliver. The average hourly rate of web design agencies, is around $100-$149 per hour. Though many quote project-based rates, which can vary from five to six figures, depending on the scope. Apart from costs, there are several more drawbacks to consider: 

  • Lack of creative alignment. Some design agencies tend to impose their creative vision upon clients either because it’s something they know they can deliver fast or because they believe they know better (the case with some high-profile firms). Without some pushback, you may end up with a design product you don’t quite like. 
  • Tedious vendor selection. Between branding consultancies, UX/UX firms, web design boutiques, and print design agencies, you have plenty of choices. Yet few firms share rates publicly, so you’ll have to do a lot of outreach to figure out if the agency is within your budget and can deliver the type of work you’re seeking. 
  • Restrained flexibility. In most cases, your agency follows a pre-approved brief and commits to the terms, spelled out in the Scope of Work agreement. If there’re changes down the line, you’ll have to re-negotiate the collaboration terms, which can cause delays in delivery. 

Freelance design roles your business needs

Thanks to the booming freelance economy, you can now commission all types of design services from independents. 

Most commonly companies hire freelance designers for the following roles: 

  • Website designers use a combination of creative and technical skills to create attractive, user-friendly, and intuitive visual page layouts. Many also help with overall visual identity development and conversion rate optimization (CRO). 
  • UX/UI designers figure out the optimal digital experiences for users. Based on extensive customer research, they design information architecture for digital products, create interactive experiences for various user flows, and add an extra element of delight for common types of user interactions (button clicks, page scrolls, etc). 
  • Graphic designers work with a variety of mediums — print, digital, advertising, etc. They help communicate ideas via visual assets and develop a unique, memorable way of connecting with your target audiences via distinctive graphic assets such as logos, typefaces, photos, packaging, and more. 
  • Animators breathe life into static visuals. Using storytelling techniques, animators create engaging videos for social media, video games, television, and other industries. If you need to present a complex product to audiences, animations are the way to go. 
  • Illustrators create custom still drawings and other intrinsic images, unique to your brand. They use a variety of media such as pencils, pens, and digital software like CAD to effectively convey various ideas through their work. 
  • Motion graphic designers create video artwork including 3D visualizations, animations, and visual effects. By combining cinematic techniques with video tech skills, motion designers create attention-grabbing content for businesses. 
  • Type designers specialize in fonts. They create the look and shape of glyphs and characters to produce a one-of-a-kind typeface for their clients. Such artists are skilled in calligraphy and hand-lettering, as well as digital font design.  
  • Industrial designers sketch concepts for new products such as toys, furniture, electronics, or even cars. They’re well-versed in CAD, blueprint design, and material selection, as well as overall product manufacturing requirements in their industry of choice. 

Where to find the best freelance designers?

Finding an amazing freelance designer can often feel like sifting through spilled sugar on the beach — pretty exhausting. 

Xolo makes hiring freelance designers easy-peezy, by ensuring your projects always receive the exact talent they need. Contacting the Xolo crew, and informing them of your project details and mission, means you’re just a few business days (or less) from hiring amazing freelance talent.

We’ll go over some alternatives to finding freelance designers today, and give you a chance to decide which fits your needs best.

Niche freelance platforms 

Popular freelance marketplaces like or Upwork and Fiverr promise access to thousands of freelance designers. The downside? Reviewing a gazillion of job applicants (qualified or not-so) is time-consuming. Moreover, such “mill” marketplaces often attract beginners, rather than established pros, who prefer to broker client deals directly. 

Niche marketplaces like WorkingNotWorking, Bou, and Corohort offer access to curated, pre-vetted design talent. Platforms like DesignCrowd, Awesomic, and 99designs combined productized design services (e.g., done-for-you logo design) with direct hiring. 

Design portfolio websites 

If you’d rather hire your freelance designer based on their aesthetics, head straight for platforms, where top talent showcases their creative work. Behance and Dribble are the two biggest online communities, where designers come to mingle and showcase their latest work. You can follow and exchange messages with all registered users. So once you’ve found a creator whose work you fancy, hit ‘em up with a freelance work inquiry.

Referrals & recommendations 

Similar to freelance developers and marketers, most designers get the bulk of new work from their professional network aka via referrals

A Dribble survey found that most US designers receive new job opportunities direct (43%), in-person (37%), or via a message on their portfolio website or networks like Dribbble, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter (20%). So don’t be afraid to reach out to people, whose creative work you fancy. If they’re currently not available, most will likely refer you to a fellow design pro. 😉

Need some extra pointers? Ask your personal network on LinkedIn or Twitter for some recs. You’ll surely get some good recs.

How much do you pay freelance designers? Rates by location & expertise 

Rates transparency as a persisting issue in the creative industry. On one hand, freelancer designers struggle to figure out good working rates. On the other — clients fail to offer competitive compensation and (inadvertently) submit low-ball offers.

The American Institute of Graphic Design (AIGA) decided to change that by launching a Graphic Design Salary Transparency spreadsheet in 2019. Now featuring over 3,000 replies from full-time and freelance design talent across geographies and industries, it gives some good ballparks and averages. 

The average annual salary of freelance designers 

Based on AIGA data, freelance designers — across roles — generate $65,327 in income on average (before tax). Though reported salaries vary quite a bit by location and title. 

For example, a Senior Freelance Designer with 7 years of experience in the Bay Area reported earning $180K per year on average, which is equivalent to a local full-time salary. Whereas, a freelance designer in Tennessee, the US with equivalent experience pulled only $25,000. 

European freelance graphic designers are reported to earn about €20K-€23K on average, though some do generate more revenue e.g., €40,000 before tax in Paris or £60,000 in London. 

Average hourly rates for freelance designers 

While many freelance designers charge per project or per deliverable, others use hourly rates. Hourly contracts are more common for one-off, consultancy-style engagements. Or on the contrary — ongoing design work. 

AIGA spreadsheet puts the average hourly rate at $53. Once again, there’s a lot of variation in rates. Senior designers in the US bill $100/hour on average, while junior talent accepts work at $20-$35/hour.

Though some newbies (those with under 3 years of work experience) also command and get much higher rates of $45-$65 per hour. 

Average daily rates for freelance designers 

Daily rates are another common billing model among freelance designers. It’s a great “middle ground” between hourly contracts, which don’t really cover non-billable work (such as business admin or taxes) that all independent contractors have to engage in — and fixed-price design jobs, which may end up taking more time due to scope creep.

According to a Malt study, freelance design specialists charge:

  • €560 per day in Germany 
  • €394 per day in France
  • €210 per day in Spain 


In the UK, the average freelance designer day rate is £359, according to YunoJuno, with the maximum average day rate hovering at £500. Freelance designers are typically booked for 14 days. 

A rates database by Beyond the Books also gives the following day rate recommendations for UK design talent:

  • Graphic designers: £280 per day
  • Senior creatives: £350 per day
  • UX designers: £500/600 per day


Ultimately, the best way to figure out a good rate for a freelance designer is to ask for quotes. Approach several candidates with your project proposal and ask for quotes. When reviewing the project proposals, pay attention to various “extras”. Some designers may bill separately for access to premium fonts or vector graphics, while others bundle these into the total price. 

Likewise, top-caliber design pros will establish a clear project scope with itemized deliverables and a fixed number of interactions included within the fixed price quote. 

How to pay freelance designers 

Freelance designers use either of the three billing models — fixed-price, hourly contracts, or day rates. For fixed-price projects, you’re typically expected to pay a project deposit (20%-50% of the total quote) or accommodate milestone payments (e.g., partial payouts during pre-defined stages). 

Hourly contracts assume weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly submission of timesheet-based invoices. Whereas day rates are either paid upfront or upon the engagement completion (i.e., you get billed for 5 days of design work). 

In each case, you have to account for the freelancer’s preferred payment turns. Unlike agencies who can afford Net 30 (or even 60) payout terms, independents favor payment-upon-delivery or Net 7/14 payment terms. Again, these differ a lot from one freelancer to another, as do the preferred payment methods. 

Though most freelance designers bill clients via bank transfers or with payment processing apps (PayPal, Stripe, etc.), there may be some geo incompatibility issues. For example, cross-border wire transfers are notoriously expensive with legacy banks. 

If you manage a big pool of freelancer designers, the payout process can get overwhelming (and result in delays). Xolo helps bring clarity and structure into your payment process. With our freelancer management system (FMS), you can schedule flexible payment runs for your external workforce. We provide freelance designers with a VAT-compliant invoicing app for billing. Then you can settle each invoice individually or roll them into a master invoice, which gets paid from your connected bank account. We’ll handle freelancer payment distribution onward, so there are fewer overheads for you! 

Must-know tips for working with freelance designers

To get the most value out of your freelance design partner, invest in building a loyal and trusting relationship. There’s another human being hiding behind the screen (and those endless Figma edit access requests). Explain your design system, standard workflows, and ongoing plans. 

By building a progressive rapport with your freelance designer, you’ll get higher-quality work each time, avoid accountability issues, and rise to the ranks of being their favorite client (which means higher priority, faster turnarounds, and occasional freebies on top of the scoped work). 

Cultivate a successful design partnership by applying these quick tips: 

  • Appoint decision-makers. Designers are used to constructive criticism, but few can tolerate several rounds of teardowns by different stakeholders (who also cannot agree among themselves). To avoid straining the relationship, limit the number of people who’d be reviewing the designs. Also, give them some pointers on how to give helpful design critiques
  • Value the designer's input. Sure you have your design systems and a laundry list of preferences when it comes to color palettes, fonts, layouts, and so on. These should be absolutely communicated to your freelance designer, but you should also stay open to their feedback. After all, you hire your freelance designer for their own creative flair and expertise, so give it room to shine through. 
  • Always set time aside for creative reviews and guidance. Freelancers are separated from all the internal discussions and idea exchanges happening among your teams. Because of that, they cannot always capture the optimal sense of direction. To avoid re-works, schedule feedback sessions mid-way into the delivery and stay open to bouncing off ideas throughout the entire collaboration. 

Need more guidance? Learn how to manage freelance teams to achieve great synergy and top performance

Steps to hiring high-quality freelance designers

  1. Evaluate your need for full-time or gig-based freelance designers.
  2. Identify the specific role you need: website designers, UX/UI designers, etc.
  3. Discover and hire an amazing freelance designer. Let Xolo help
  4. Calculate average freelance designer rates based on experience/location.
  5. Ensure you pay your freelance designer easily and consistently. Let Xolo help
  6. Cultivate a successful, lasting relationship with your freelance designers.

Hire an amazing freelance designer with Xolo 

Xolo is changing the way you think about hiring freelancers — less hassle, less time and better results. Send your next project to Xolo, and let a dedicated industry expert curate three freelancers perfect for your exact mission to you in under three business days, leaving you with an easy decision.

And if you’re looking to build a team, Xolo has you covered from discovery to payday. 

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About Elena

Elena Prokopets writes content for tech-led companies & software development businesses, marketing to them. Her empathy for the customer, expertise in SEO, and knack for storytelling help create content that ranks well and drives industry conversations.

Elena uses Xolo so she can focus on her solo B2B content writing business without stressing over the compliance and admin overhead.

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