How To Hire A Freelance Graphic Designer

Do you need to hire a freelance designer on a budget? Fret not, here's everything you need to know to get the job done.
September 13, 2011

Until recently, I made my living as a freelance designer—now, I’m responsible for hiring them. Successful matches between designers, projects and rates can be tough. Here are five hard-won tips from both sides of the monitor.

Unfortunately, most designers are hired in a rush as part of an emergency project you needed yesterday. But I know you’re smarter than that. Especially today, your visual presence is incredibly important.

Your graphical presence is how you’re judged before anyone knows anything about you. A high level visual presence allows you to charge more money and engender more respect.

Choosing to hire a freelance designer over a design agency is usually a matter of budget and flexibility. Although agencies have the dual benefits of reliability and project management, they are certainly pricier. If your budget is a freelance budget, I have put together a few tips for you before you get started.

Respect the craft

The majority of designers aren’t trying to take advantage of you—they have the skills and passion to translate your goals into a representative visual design. Central to your relationship is a collaboration between you and the designer. You need to first have a point of view, then you (and your designer) need to be able to express that point of view. Finally, you need to be able to discuss the point of view. A good designer will both be able to defend their design as well as adapt to ideas that aren't expressly theirs. A good client respects that craft.

Set goals

What are you trying to accomplish? Not all design projects are the same and not all designers are skilled at all types of media. Does your project involve business cards, brochures, websites or general branding or logo creation? As simple as it seems, knowing why you are hiring a designer will save you time by finding a designer who can execute per your direction.

Learn your style

What do you like? What do you hate? Why? My three favorite galleries for finding representative styles are Flickr, the Creative Hotlist and the Behance Network.


Flickr is not only for image sharing, you can also use it to discover your design sense. Several people on Flickr post screenshots and examples of great design—follow a few and you can quickly find what exactly you are going for. Search strings like “graphic design inspiration” or following users like dklimke can bring you closer to a representative graphic identity.

Creative Hotlist

My favorite resource to find a freelance designer is Creative Hotlist. Besides the portfolio aspect, you can also use it as a resource to discover what kind of work you're looking for. Do you like more modern or traditional design? Is there a time period of design that appeals to you? What brands do you like their look? What matches with your business goals? What industry are you in?

Behance Network

Much like the Creative Hotlist, the Behance Network can help you list jobs and find designers as well as finding a visual language you’re comfortable with. Of course, while expertise in a style can be great, beware of the designers who use the same few designs over and over again.

Learn the basics

Do you want a designer or a developer? What file types will you need? What is your printing budget? By spending an hour or two learning some of the technical jargon behind your design project, you can save money and more importantly, preserve your peace of mind. Learning the difference between a jpg and an eps file, learning about pdf files, inDesign files and letterpress can help deliver you to a much more successful outcome.

Trust your gut

Do you get along? Can they communicate clearly? If, when talking to the designer, your gut is telling you “NO,” don’t hire the designer. If you have to work too hard to get the conversation off the ground, don’t hire the designer. The best designers accomodate client ideas that works with the project’s functionality.

Knowing how to respectfully talk to a client when the direction goes off course is an important skill for designers to have as well. Having a good rapport is vital to the relationship. Trust makes more successful designs. A good freelancer should have communication skills and should be able to extrapolate on your ideas, filling in with examples from their experiences.

By coming up with the most ideas, we come up with the best ideas. This idea also goes for hiring a designer. By reviewing the most designers, you’ll find the best designer for you. By spending the time up front finding a good match, someone whose style you respect, whose communicative skills are clear, whose experience matches up with your industry or needs, you can avoid problems down the line.

Although using a forum like can be good for some projects, the risk of misunderstanding is a lot higher than with more targeted, more professional forums. Besides Behance and, I’ve also used Guru and Elance. Of course, with my experience I believe that your visual presence is worth investing in. Use these tips to make sure that investment is a good one.

Do you have any additional tips for hiring a designer?