Feedback about Freelancing for Service Design Project

Hi! We’re currently working on a project for our service design class, and we were hoping to get some input from the Core77 community. I think it will be interesting to all of you as well!

We’ve identified a need for students with specific creative skills to learn how to manage clients and handle freelance work — a skill that is distinctly not taught in schools. We are proposing to offer a supportive service for students to match with on-campus and local projects.

What we’d love to know from you, expert freelancers & students alike, is the following:

  1. Did you freelance when you were in school? How did you find jobs? Did you want to freelance?
    What did you not know about freelancing, managing clients or handling projects when you were a student that you wish you had been prepared for?

  2. Imagine that you received this information about a project. What other information do you need? How would you decide the timeline, how much to charge and what the deliverables are? Who would you need to talk to?

_I want to do a project!
Your Name: Fred Smith
Phone: 555-555-5555
Location: Chicago Campus, Northwestern University
Project title: Illustrations for Law School Presentation
Project description: I need 10-12 illustrations for a presentation I’ll be giving in 3 weeks. The illustrations will depict scenes from the courtroom in a few specific cases. They could be black and white or color.
Skills required: Illustration
Ongoing or Event: Ongoing
Date & Time of event (or due date): Due 6/10/2012
Price range: $100 to $200
Examples of dream work: (links, description, pictures, etc):
3. If you are a student (or think back to when you were a student), what were the most important things for you to get out of working on a project (examples: money, experience, contacts, portfolio pieces) and why?

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I’ll be around asking more questions!


  1. I didn’t freelance while in school. 99% of my clients find me, which I am very fortunate and thankful for. 75% of them find me through my online portfolio, the other 25% through word of mouth recommendations or other strange circumstances. I never wanted to freelance necessarily, my main goal in college was to find a full-time position. Now I freelance full-time, running my own firm under my name. Freelancing is 25% designing, 75% business management (calendars, phone calls, meetings, travel, emails, emails, emails, taxes, blah blah blah). I did not know of those skills, but now I’d say I’m good at them.

  2. I would kindly turn down the offer.
    This is like going into a doctor’s office, walking past the receptionist, straight into the examination room and sitting down, “Look Doc, my kidney hurts, this area right here, I did research online, so I know what I’m talking about, so spare me the extra expenses… I need you to remove it, I don’t want you to do X-rays either, and I’m willing to pay you $300-$450 to do it within the next 2-10 days. I will judge you on the work.”
    The client, a non Industrial Designer, who likely has no design experience whatsoever, has determined the deliverables of the Industrial Design process required for their project, determined how long it takes you to complete them with no understanding of the process firsthand, and determined your rate without asking. My personal hourly rate would max out that budget in less than 2 hours, and I cannot complete 10-12 illustrations in that amount of time, for what its worth.
    Nope. (This is why I firmly oppose… the non-expert is declaring the expert’s process and rate for them = disaster)

  3. The process of Industrial Design is the most important thing to learn. That is why you are taught via projects, to apply the process, and to be graded on it and ultimately the outcome.

Best of luck

Thanks Taylor, this is very helpful feedback. I like your breakdown of 75% business management and 25% design — that sounds familiar from the students we’ve talked with.

Good luck!

  1. Not really, because like most student’s I wasn’t any good until I was a couple of years out of school. Like many students, I had enough on my plate just grasping what design was, to add learning how to navigate and operate professionally would have been a disaster. No one who is interested in doing world class work, or even just really good work, is going to hire a student to do a project totally solo. I did one freelance project for a start up… didn’t go well, or anywhere.

  2. Same comments as Taylor. What people say they want and think they need is often very different from what they actually do want and need. It takes a series of conversations and the development of a relationship to understand the real needs. So I think that bullet point list would be pretty much out the window after the first conversation.

Thanks! That’s interesting feedback. Did you ever do any informal work for friends while you were in school (before you got better)? Was that any different?

Thanks again for the response.

Since my friends were other design students who were also focused on getting better, no.

I think you really need to break things down into three areas:

  1. Design skills - art, technical problem solving, scientific inquiry, etc.
  2. Consulting skills - how to frame a problem, how to talk to someone and determine what is important, build a professional relationship etc.
  3. Basic business skills - how to set rates. Taxes, expenses, accounting, estimating, understanding that as a freelancer you’ll spend 30+% of your time rustling up work and not billing, etc. In your example, you mention 12 presentation-worthy illustrations for $200. That’s like 1 to 3 hours of work max. Don’t even get kids in the habit of thinking that kind of money is acceptable for a trained professional.