Thoughts on Freelancing

Hi all,

I’ve been thinking on and off about the freelancing world, and some frustrations I’ve had with it. Hopefully this is not a rant, but I am curious to hear what others think.

On the boards here and on many other design websites, blogs, and discussion groups there are plenty of discussions about how to make a living on freelancing and what to charge, but seemingly little discussion on the idea itself.

In my design experience, you can do your best design work when you are able to “sink your teeth” into a project (at least, that’s how I work). In this way, the lessons and experience that you have over a month or a year can help inform your design. I’ve had it where I was able to design generation 2 of a certain project after designing generation 1 a couple of years earlier, and it really helped to have the background and knowledge from before.

Maybe I just like the idea of stable employment :wink: But beyond the stable pay and benefits, it can be very nice to be able to come into an office and work with your other designers and engineers on a daily basis. I had a recent freelance project that was mostly done remotely and I could see entire project decisions happening by email. In other words, a lot was happening without ID input. Sadly, this made my realize how small of a role ID had within this certain company, and how it seemed more like a “service,” like a remote asset you go to when you need renderings for the presentation in 3 days. In this case, ID was definitely second-class to the fulltime team (business, engineering).

I shouldn’t even mention how some companies will give a designer a contract-to-hire offer and have them work indefinitely as a freelancer, only to have the fulltime job never materialize.

I can totally see why some small companies might rely on freelance IDers, as they might not have enough consistent work to hire someone full-time. However, I’ve also seen a lot of medium and large companies hire freelancers. In one of my internship cases, it even seemed like the role of the fulltime ID was to manage a swarm of freelancers, so it was rare that the fulltime designers could actually sketch on a project themselves.

Some positives:

  • Freelancing could be exciting if you can work on different projects or markets than you do normally.
  • Using a freelancer (or even consultancy) could yield more “out of the box” ideas that an in-house team might not have thought of.

How many of you C77 designers are freelance-minded, and what are your thoughts on freelancing in ID? If you are a design manager, have you noticed any difference in design work quality between fulltime and freelance IDers?

I have done quite a bit of freelancing, both full-time and as a side gig. Basically when I made the transition to full time freelancing I had a retainer contract in place for a 6 month term that allowed me tremendous amounts of freedom. In that scenario I was working entirely remotely and the existing relationship with the company and expectations made it easy to stay on track. They were a new company so they were really relying om my opinion on design to convey in their products. I chose not to continue this contract for a couple reasons, I was recruited for a job at a company that was in a space I hadn’t designed products in and I was kind of over the neediness of the client. However, walking away was tough because the pay (even after taxes) was really great and working on my own time allowed me to do the things I wanted when I wanted.

Side project work as freelance is tough, since I currently work full time, I am sacrificing my evenings to do these projects so its always a push and pull of extra money and free time. So I make sure that if I take these project on that it is worth my time.

You are correct that being remote you are used as a service, but a lot of the relationships I have, the clients truly respect my outlook on design even if it isn’t driving their main business decisions, but I feel listened to.

At the end of the day, I am not cut out for the hustle involved to keep recruiting clients which is why the retainer contract is the best of both worlds. I am also in the US and freelancing full time is a totally different animal since you now have to pay for health insurance (not married) as well as payroll taxes. Health insurance premiums for a crap plan is still outrageously expensive. If a company is keeping you as a permanent freelancer then your hourly rate should take into account all of your expenses and costs that the company would otherwise incur if you were full time since you now have to pay for these yourself.

Thanks for your thoughts Leggo!

I can definitely understand the time commitment if you are working full-time while freelancing. When the “stars align,” it can give you a nice boost of energy, if that makes sense. In other words, being able to design one project during the day, and then shifting to designing another project during the evening. I wish I could keep this energy up indefinitely though!

Am I correct in understanding that you went from working full-time with Company A to freelancing with Company A? That sounds like it would be a smooth transition, and you already understood much of how the company works. Even though they were needy (ha - that can be nice sometimes!), it is good to hear that they did value your opinion there.

I actually was doing freelance for Company B after getting home from working for Company A. Eventually the needs of Company B grew into something where it was going into longer term so I made the jump after I had secured a retainer for 6 months, as that gave me the security of leaving my full time position.