It can be difficult these days to find truly helpful resources on where to hire high quality freelance product designers. The usual route for most people seems to be posting part-time or freelance job listings on various job boards. In my experience, this doesn’t work so well. Primarily because you’ll be receiving an influx of resumes and portfolios to look through and your time will be spent deducing who is a good fit versus actively pursuing the conversations with professionals who you already know are a good fit. I’m here to help give you some great places and techniques for finding freelance product designers.
Our goal will be to find a designer, who is seemingly a good fit for our project. So I’m going to go ahead and assume you are either prepared with the type of product you want to create or the category of company you’re in. For your project, a good place to start in terms of search criteria is either by device, project space or location for the designer. For example, iOS application, landing page, web application, these are all area’s you can search by in the sites I will show you next. Having that prepared ahead of time will help you save time in the future while having conversations with designers.
Places to find designers
OK, so here’s what you’ll want to be sure you do, go to destinations where designers are. This is a common mistake, not going to those places. If you are looking for engineers, you’ll want to go to GitHub. If you are looking for designers you’ll want to go to Dribbble or Behance. These are the two best places to find freelance product designers and freelance graphic designers for hire. And you don’t want to be the one posting the opportunity, but you want to be the one reaching out to each freelance designer and starting the conversation.
Dribbble is a fantastic resource because it allows you to search for the criteria we brought up earlier. Work of designers who had experience in iOS, web applications or anything else you might be looking for. Maybe it's making your landing page conversion rate optimized. Maybe it's developing an amazing onboarding flow. There’s an opportunity to search for these keywords and then see real product examples right in dribbble. From there you can see either if the designer has a full-time job or is taking on new work. The platform makes it easy to see this and then ultimately reach out that person via email. Generally speaking your UX designer, web designers, mobile designers are all inside dribbble.
Behance is also another fantastic place to start looking for freelance product designers. I would say that this community has more of a branding and graphic design background traditionally, but there’s some amazing work in there from multi-disciplinary designers. Similar to our technique with dribbble, you can search for designers by your optimal criteria and get to a point to where you want to reach out to them via email.
Once more, our biggest lesson here is going to destinations where designers have a community. And then be part of their community if you can. Avoid more widely known marketplaces, which I will not name names. Mostly because they will be filled with overseas options that suffice the need of some, but may not come with the highest quality work. If you are going this route for hiring a freelance product designer for any type of project, you could expect to compensate that person in the $10k - $50k range depending on the work. That’s what would be considered average freelance product design compensation depending on the need.
Saving you time
I’m going to jump ahead and give you some pointers on how you can save time in advance by clearly communicating a few points of interest right up front. You’ll quickly see, through the techniques above, that you’ll get a good response rate and probably many phone calls scheduled. But you’ll be spending a lot of time deciphering who is a good fit and making sure you are making a good decision for your existing or future business. Here are some techniques you can try out to save you time and headache later on.
Start the conversation with clear expectations. Don’t be afraid to share budget and project details in the initial email. Two things may come from this, the freelancer might say, “Hey this isn’t a good fit for me, but I might know someone who is.” Which is great! Or maybe they’ll say, “I’m glad you told me about this because I don’t have X, Y, Z piece of work in my portfolio, but let me go ahead and show you that.” Managing the expectations early on will help you save a lot of time trying to figure out fit on the initial phone call you have. Then you can focus the first phone call on the understanding of the product, project, business and goals.
Go through the process and hypothetical scenarios. The next thing you want to understand is someone’s experience level. Unfortunately, working with freelancers can be tough to gauge their actual experience. Some work in the portfolio may have never made it live, which is a good sign that someone wasn’t able to get the project out into the market. For me, this is one of the biggest key indicators of experience. I would prefer the work to be small and less intense, but have gotten to fruition and launched rather than see something big in the portfolio. Because that tells me the person has experience communicating their designs and strategy to all parties involved (product managers, other designers, head of product, engineers, CTO’s, etc.). If you can go through a working scenario of how that person is going to champion their work all the way to the end, from the get-go, it will save you a lot of headaches finding a perfect fit.
Avoid asking the boring questions. If you ask someone how you go from wireframe to prototype, that’s like asking someone how they put peanut butter on an apple. There are not too many ways to answer that which will give you a good understanding of their experience. Instead maybe talk about how they were able to get something launched and what the process for getting it launched was. Or maybe ask what they do when a project goes on longer than expected and how they calibrate that. Something deeper, scenario-driven, than retrospective driven.
Get a visual proposal. Getting a proposal should be pretty easy. In fact, you can even ask the designer to put together some pretty visual ideas of what they might do so that you can get a sense of their skill sets one more time. You don’t have to ask for spec work. That’s when you are basically asking them to do the job before you pay them. Don’t do that. But its okay to get a really visual proposal and strategy behind it. In fact, all great freelance product designers should know how to do that.
Ask for quotes vs. references. If the freelance product designer doesn’t have some quotes from clients (which is a great thing to have as a professional in general), ask for some. Maybe they’re lacking a few key case studies on the work at hand. If that’s the case, ask for some quotes from happy customers. I would avoid asking to speak with their clients and confirm they did good work, simply because of the time and respect factor of that other person.
On the use of freelancer marketplaces
Ultimately your budget will be the deciding factor in where you go for fulfilling your freelance design needs. If you are an individual looking to get a few assets created as an explorative process, there's plenty of cheaper places to go. Like 99designs or freelancer.com. I have no issues with these marketplaces when you are in that scenario. As for a more serious business using these marketplaces to get work done, I would highly recommend not doing so. Primarily because design can be subjective to who you are asking for design. And generally speaking, you should be looking for a specialist, who can understand your business needs in more detail to drive forward true results. This will have the most impact on your investment and make all stakeholders happier with the work at hand. Again, ultimately your budget will decide where you go. But I would say if you have a budget of more than $1,000 — consider working directly with more junior designers and giving them options of including it in their portfolio as part of the compensation. Or find ways to compensate the junior designer to make up for the cash compensation you can't provide at the moment.
Working with freelancers has many advantages. In fact, I often suggest many startups to work with freelancers versus trying to hire in-house. Firstly, it's more flexible, where you can scale up and down your budget/spend/burn. Secondly, they get more experienced professionals for less money. And lastly, they’re able to address a need much faster than trying to hire. Hiring a designer might take a considerable amount of time, given that persons personal life and current professional work. And usually, when the need arises, there’s a fast turn around time desired. If you decide you really like working with a freelancer, you can always offer them a full-time job as well. That opportunity becomes much easier to manage for both parties when they’ve had the chance to work together.