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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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, listed on Clutch is $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:
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:
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.
Popular freelance marketplaces like 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.
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.
But there are also many niche options like Ello — a social network illustrators and digital artists prefer. Or The Dots — a popular hotspot for graphic and type designers. Also, you can always head to Awwwards, where the best design projects (from freelancers, full-timers, and agencies) compete across category nominations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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!
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:
Need more guidance? Learn how to manage freelance teams to achieve great synergy and top performance!
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.
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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