Don't Do It Yourself

How to Hire a Freelance Graphic Designer

Do you need a killer logo or a website design?  Want a fancy banner ad or new business cards? If you’re not an artist, you’re probably not even slightly tempted to do this type of work yourself.  But before you hire a designer off the street to do it for you, there are some considerations.

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freelance web and graphic designer Your brand creates a lasting impression on your customers, and it’s essential for that impression to be positive and reflect your vision.  The wrong design can result in less customers, fewer conversions, and actual lost dollars.  So finding the right freelance graphic designer to implement your vision is critical.

Here’s my step by step approach to help you hire the right freelance graphic designer.

1. Understand the differences between graphic designers, web designers, and web developers

You may have heard these terms used interchangeably, but there are some big differences and it’s important to distinguish between them when hiring.

A graphic designer (also known as a graphic artist) is a general term for an artist that has experience with any type of visual design.  They could work in print media (magazines, billboards, brochures, etc.) or web media (logos, photos, website designs, etc).

A web designer is a specific type of graphic designer that specializes in the visual design and usability of websites.  They’re focused on the “front-end” portion of a website and aesthetics like page layouts, colors, fonts, and images.

A web developer focuses on the “back-end” technical aspects of a website like “slicing” an image design for a website into HTML/CSS, coding, optimizing images, etc.  Typically, a developer will pick-up where a designer left-off and build the unseen “guts” of website.

While there is sometimes overlap between web designers and web developers, not all designers are good developers and vice versa.  If you are working on a web-based project and can find a single person proficient in both areas that’s fantastic.  If not, you may need to find one resource to do your artwork and another to turn that into a functioning website.

2. Ask Around for Referrals

Ask your associates, friends, and family if they know of any skilled graphic designers.  A good referral will save you time, energy, and reduce your risk.  Before I start a search for any freelancer, I try to think if there is anyone I know that has been in a similar situation and has a good recommendation.

3. Consider Crowdsourcing Your Design

Before you start looking for a single graphic designer, consider taking advantage of a new trend in the design world, crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is an innovative new idea that’s popping up all over the place.  Rather than hand your design off to a single designer, you bid a fixed dollar amount and hold a design contest.  Anyone can enter and you’ll get a wide variety of designs to choose from.  You can provide public feedback on designs as they are submitted so the group can start to focus in on your vision.  At the end of the contest you get to pick your favorite design and you can hire the winner for more work if needed.

99designs is the most popular crowdsourcing site.  They offer:

  • Name your own price for projects
  • A money back guarantee
  • These graphic design services and more:
    • Logo design
    • Web design
    • Banner ads
    • WordPress themes
    • Print & packaging

On top of that, 99designs has a $99 pre-made logo store.

The nice thing about crowdsourcing is there is virtually no risk.  You get a money back guarantee so if you’re not happy with the result you get your money back.  If you hire a single designer you won’t get a money back guarantee, and it’s possible you may never get a design you like.

But there are some reasons to choose a single person…

Single Designer: If crowdsourcing is a little intimidating or you want to keep your ideas private, then you may prefer to hire an individual.  Also, if you require specific skills or software qualifications it may be a better option.  Another reason to look for a single designer is if you want to browse through portfolios until you find a specific style that fits your vision.  If you’d prefer to go this route, here are the best freelance designer websites where you can search for graphic designers:

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  • Toptal

4. Create a Job Posting

Once you sign up at one of the freelancing sites above, create a posting for your job.  When you find designers in the next step, you’ll invite them to bid on your job.

Here is an example of a graphic design job post.

I am hiring a graphic designer to create an initial concept for my brand.  I will need a website layout, logo, and Facebook page designed.  My company sells specialty sports drinks online and the design needs to appeal to a young, athletic audience. Ability to code the website yourself is a plus, but not a requirement.

Required Skills: Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, HTML, CSS

Experience: Please provide a link to your portfolio or prior work samples.

Communication: Must be available to discuss design on the phone or over Skype.

5. Narrow Down Your Candidates

Unlike finding a freelance web programmer, I’d advise against submitting a job on a freelance site and waiting for people to apply.  Artwork is subjective, and you really need to find a graphic designer who has a style that fits your vision.  I much prefer to browse through profiles with the skills I need and then reach out to my favorites.

First you’ll want to pick a specific category of expertise (like “Logo Design” or “Animation”). On each of the freelancing sites above, choosing a category should be obvious for short term assignments.  However, it’s less obvious for long term work that may expand your brand across several types of media.  If this is the case, start your browsing in a general category like “Graphic Design” to find generalists.

To help narrow your search, utilize the filtering functions on these sites that allow you to refine your results based on reviews and feedback, specific skills and software, hourly rates, etc.

6. Review Freelance Designer Websites for Style and Quality

Once you’ve gotten a manageable list of freelancer profiles to review, click on each one to look for a portfolio or personal website.  Review each freelance designer's website until you find an artist’s style that matches your vision.  If the artist’s expertise is creating Japanese Anime, but you are looking for Art Frahm then you need to keep looking.

There are two main things I look for in a good graphic designer before talking with them.

  1. A great looking, professional portfolio that contains styles that appeal to me.  Always be sure to check out their personal websites as well. If they don’t have one, take a pass.  If it’s poorly put together, take a pass.  This sounds obvious, but it’s a really good indicator of quality and attention to detail.
  2. Positive feedback and testimonials.  Look for high feedback ratings across multiple projects, but also take the time to read comments from previous employers.  You want a designer that’s easy to work with and has WOW’d previous clients.

You can track each of your candidates in this freelancer comparison worksheet I created.  It makes it easy to keep track and compare candidates across freelancing sites.  I’ve also added a section for “last action” so it’s easy for you to remember where each candidate is in the hiring process.

7. Invite a freelancer to bid on your job

After finding a candidate you like, there should be a button on her portfolio to contact them or request a bid on your job posting.

Here is an example of an invitation to a graphic designer.  You can make this very similar to your job posting.

Hi [designer name],

I’ve reviewed your profile and portfolio and I am impressed with your designs.  I am hiring a graphic designer to build a website for me and I think you might be a good fit.

I will need a website layout, logo, and Facebook page designed.  My company sells specialty sports drinks online and the design needs to appeal to a young, athletic audience. Ability to code the website yourself is a plus, but not a requirement.

If you are interested, could you please let me know your rates and availability?


[your name]

8. Do a Reverse Interview

Once you have a few applicants, it’s a good idea to talk with them and see if they will make a good fit.  At this point, you’ve already seen their portfolio and read about their proficiencies.

Now you need to find out:

  1. Do they have the ability to interpret your vision?
  2. Will they provide you with multiple alternatives and have the flexibility to change course based on your input?

Oddly, my typical graphic design interview is the opposite of a traditional interview.

When you talk to a designer (over the phone or email), start out by taking a few minutes to explain your vision and requirements.  Then let the designer ask you the questions.  As they ask questions you should get a feel as to how they approach problems and if they understand your vision or not.

You will want to ask a few questions about their design process, pricing, and timeframe.  And don’t worry if they don’t have an answer on the spot, give them some time to think it over and get back to you.

When you find a designer that understands your vision, give them a shot to make your ideas a reality!

9. Don’t Treat Creative People the Same as Technical People, They’re Different!

Working with an artist is a lot different than a programmer.  In programming, you provide requirements and expect a very specific result.  In graphic design, you may get something creative and unexpected.  And that can often be a good thing.

Present your designer with a problem to solve, not your pre-conceived solution.  For example, rather than asking a designer for a bright red flashing logo, ask for an intense design that relays a sense of urgency.  Don't think of designers as Photoshop operators to carry out very specific tasks, think of them as creative problem solvers and give them a little freedom.

Trust is key when working with freelance web and graphic designers.  It helps to ask for multiple options at the start of a project.  Once you pick a high level idea, go through iterations of design tweaks and review until you are satisfied.

Actually hiring a freelance graphic designer should be easy, finding the right one is the tricky part.