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The Rise Of The Freelance Designer

Discussion in 'General Business Forum:' started by smadamij, Jul 23, 2013.

  1. smadamij

    smadamij Member

    Hi Guys,
    Well it's that end of term time when every single design student contacts companies and freelancers looking for work placements.
    After I reply with the 'I'm a freelancer, I can't really offer you work at my house' they often come back with 'So how do you become a freelancer'. I normally explain that it's not often the first step in a career path, more of a choice at a certain time but what do you think? Should someone go freelance straight out of University? Is todays economic climate driving more and more people to freelance due to the lack of full-time jobs?
    Hope I popped this in the right forum mods, and also you don't mind that I link to a wee blog post I did on this the other day.
    Would be interested to hear how freelancers end up as such, as its so bloody insular you never know half the time how we all did it?
  2. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Well, I must admit that I'm pretty disappointed by this thread as I thought from the title that there was a new action film out about freelancers or something.
    Frown. :angry:
    While I'm here however I'll stick my two pence in.
    I think mainly (depending on what you do) it's either a personal choice or you're pushed that way.
    I know some designers who've worked towards being freelance for years, building up a client base before they can make the leap end then there are others that may have been made redundant and it's their only choice to earn and work in design.
    For me, I always wanted to become freelance and I was working toward it when a series of events pushed me as well.
    Working as an Illustrator though it does lend itself to the freelance path although I have worked doing it in house as I'm doing now which is prob's quite rare outside the big smoke but I'm also working freelance as well.
    Also, the internet has really shaken the jar when it comes to being a designer giving the option for people to work remotely that simply didn't exist a few years ago
    I guess I'm trying to say that there's:
    1, Lifestyle choice.
    2. No other choice.
    3. A mixture of the above.
    Having done both freelancing is my choice any day. :thumbup1:
    smadamij likes this.
  3. floriographic

    floriographic Member

    I think for more and more people now it's their only choice. There are so many design graduates looking for work and it seems like less and less jobs (in print anyway). Companies want you to have at least a years experience, many ask for more but no one is willing to give you the chance to gain that experience. Plus, if you are successful you can earn a lot more going freelance compared to the salary offered with a lot of junior positions.

    After 3 years in my first design job i was made redundant. I spent a year unemployed, applying for every design job i saw and attending some interviews. I eventually got a junior designer job for a clothing company but it ended up being so uncreative and for a poor wage... i felt my creativity dying inside me so i had to leave. I now work part time as the sole designer for a small company and am trying to build up a freelance career on the side. It's tough and i'm skint but i'd rather be doing that than work in a job i don't enjoy and is teaching me nothing.

    A big part of it for me is also the be your own boss aspect. I want to create and have something of my own and with the current levels of redundancy and unemployment i think this option has become a lot more appealing to people.
    smadamij and scotty like this.
  4. I worked in offices on 6 month and year long contracts for about 12 years then decided that I was just going to work from home, as it was easier, and cheaper in the long run LOL.
    Unfortunately Print Design is slowly dying, as much as I don't want it to (as I used to do only print work back when I first started out in the biz). Its just not as profitable to do print design. I do however believe that designers should have a sound knowledge of classical design practice (like laying up for print, crops and bleed, outputting to separations etc etc).
    Anyway i'm rambling a bit.. I also get emails probably every day asking me to take on design students, or asking if i'm looking to hire a Junior designer. I also have to state that i'm a Freelancer and have no requirement for them. Had one "applicant" be really abusive to me after I said that to him.. which was a bit disappointing.
    smadamij likes this.
  5. Russell

    Russell Member

    I've gone on a minor rant about this and the number of universities offering design courses before so won't again. However it simply comes down to supply and demand within the industry for junior positions. There are so many freelance graduates because they have little choice if they want to gain real life experience in the field. Unfortunately finding clients as a freelancer either just starting or seasoned is very hard work, and many turn to 99 designs and competitions which really devalue the industry.
    Design company's by their nature tend to be quite small operations with the vast majority of design firms employ less than 10 people. If you take the total UK designer roles within the top 100 ranking companies for 2013 (design week) the is a total of just under 1450 design roles. If you were being generous and said 15% of these roles were junior/ entry level positions, that is 215. The number higher education places in graphic design within a 30 mile radius of where I live (Birmingham) is over 350 each year, expand nationally and you have a major issue.
    The last thing I wan't to do is discourage talented people from trying to enter the design field but I really think the majority of students looking at university options have no idea how crowded the area is, and the universities hungry for their tuition fees certainly won't tell them.
    smadamij and scotty like this.
  6. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Any chance of an 'info-graphic' Russell? ;)
  7. Russell

    Russell Member

    Ha, it does warrant one, need more precise stats though. I'll get on to it :D
  8. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    We're all putting our trust in you Russell.
    God speed.
  9. That would certainly be interesting! Don't get me started on education!
    Chris, what exactly did this guy get abusive about..? I can't think of any grounds for him to behave like that...
    I've had a few students email me before, and with a couple I took the time to email them back, explaining the situation in such a way that there might be some kind of opportunity, but nothing like an apprenticeship or something similar. I have never heard back from any of them, and I just think to my self well, I'm never going to want to work with someone who can't be bothered to respond to a strangers interest in their career, looking to help them out if possible. I don't mean to tar them all with the same brush but there's only so many opinions one can make after repeated experiences...
  10. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    No, go on Sean. I'd be interested to hear them.
  11. Basically, he said that I should still hire him anyway because my work was, and I quote, a barrel of shit and that he was the future. LOL made me laugh really.
  12. Wow.. did you see any of his work? Was it shit hot or just (more likely) shit?
    Our education system just seems woefully inadequate when it comes to training people for their career choice. Even before that decision has been made, I found that there wasn't very much to really try. People say things like oh you could become a doctor, a this.. a that and a million other things, but really, there's no sense of trial and error. They just sort of force you into making a decision based on assumptions and usually very trivial things like average industry salaries, and over simplified descriptions of each job.. and then only a few years down that road do you discover that actually it's not for you, but it's too late now because you've got all the training for what you're currently doing. There's a lot I don't like about it but I won't go through it all...
    As many of you know, I didn't go to university, and I'm quite glad I didn't to be honest. I did take an IT Practitioners course at college, and I went on later to do public services and then on to A levels, (English Language, business and law for anyone interested - part time as I was also working) and so I do know what the system is like for the most part and I've done more than enough talking and reading about University to fill in a lot of the blanks. The consistencies I picked up on were that classes were not grouped appropriately, and the vast majority of students weren't really interested in what they were doing, which led to quite a negative learning environment, especially when it came to group work. Most of the teachers weren't overly interested in the subject, in any of the students, and often they would know very little on the subject that they taught. I'll never forget having to go around the classroom helping people to use Dreamweaver only to then be moaned at by the teacher that I wasn't doing my work!
    My main concern though, is that they don't actually teach you what you need to know in order to the job. This might be completely different for other industries, but it just feels that it's all trying a bit too hard to push people into the stereotypically unhappy working environment, where you have rubbish managers who don't know what they're doing and only got there because they knew the right person. It feels like people aren't given the right skills in order to do anything else other than that. There is no mention of going out doing stuff for yourself, it's either you get an apprenticeship, job or volunteer work or you've failed. This doesn't bode well for a country that prides itself on it's entrepreneurship..!
    The whole system seems to be so out of date too, I mean take what Russell was saying. We've got so many people with qualifications in things that are actually not very useful that they're struggling to find any work. They don't seem to take into account the shifting values of job supply and demand, which is of paramount important when it comes to anything regarding technology, as it moves so fast. I'm talking specifically now about the advancement of software and the simplification of processes leading to more people doing things themselves or entire processes simply disappearing, in the same way that camera phones have changed the photography industry. I wonder how many colleges and universities are teaching their students about responsive CMS templates or the real latest trends in design. I don't have to remind people here how many times we've had someone fresh out of uni or college post up some work for critique, usually to find that the quality of work itself is in fact very poor, which makes no sense really.
    Honestly, I don't know if I just had a particularly bad, isolated experience, whether a lot of people just accept it, remain ignorant to the situation and move on or what. But I do know that this system has some serious flaws which would probably be easily solved!
    Those are my opinions, but I'm quite happy for someone to change them.
  13. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sean.
    I guess everyone must have different thoughts on the subject depending on what and where they study but to be honest, I felt quite let down by the education system.
    I never went to Uni either as I did a foundation and then a couple of years doing Graphic Design at college.
    IMO, I wouldn't really recommend anyone to go to Uni for GD.
    I remember the course leaders telling me about the high employment rates from the course but they neglected to say how few were actually working in design.
    At the time Apple Mac's were coming onto the scene but we were being taught by people who didn't know how to use them so we were left to our own devices and we were actually marked down if we used them in our project work as the tutors considered them cheating and a bit of a gimmick. FFS!?!?
    Also, the tutors neglected to read the licensing on the software so we had a full room of new Mac's which only one person at a time could use because they only had one license for the software.
    I was at college in the late 80's (not 1880's) and we were actually spent a lot of time being taught to use flat bed Heidelberg presses. The kind where you set metal type by hand.
    This is a skilled job but they may as well have taught us to make cart wheels for all the good it did.
    As for the tutors.
    One of them was more bothered about telling us how good he was and trying to flog us his t-shirts and another used to turn up to lessons pissed up.
    He used to sneak off to the supply cupboard for a sneaky swig during lessons and would often fall asleep during the lessons.
    Sometimes when he was speaking to the class.
    Although I went to college for three years, in a lot of ways I consider myself self taught.
  14. Wow, sounds like you had it worse than me! I don't know, the whole system feels flawed. Personal development during childhood and the teen years is what makes most of us, us. We learn by observation so it doesn't make sense to me that schooling places children with such... uninspiring, and certainly in yours and a lot of other cases, irresponsible people.
    It confuses and annoys me when people moan about their job or life, because usually they're doing nothing about their situation to improve it either. But there's a vicious circle at play here because where a lot of children are growing up surrounded by teachers and parents and other community figures that really don't care about things, they learn that behaviour too. Obviously not everyone is like that, and again that leads on to a separate argument, if someone shows you inappropriate behaviour, you have the choice of whether to copy that or not - isn't that supposed to be one of the main things that separate us from other animals; conscience and free will should allow us to do this, but it seems a lot of people don't?
    I can't help but go off on a tangent here, because it all seems to be linked, so I do apologise for slightly derailing this thread. It does annoy me though, when people have this ridiculous notion that if you've been to university, then you're automatically regarded as an intellectual or someone who is automatically accepted as a valuable member of society, or is automatically considered as a competent person in their area of expertise when a lot of the time this couldn't be further from the truth. And then you have the opposite end of the spectrum where people who don't have the opportunity, or choose not to go into university, have to bend over backwards to prove their worth and competence. It's almost like there's an automatic assumption that if you haven't been to university to study something then you're just trying to blag your way, or that you're not quite as good as someone who went. And whilst I imagine it is the case that there are lots of people out there pretending to be professionals, it's slightly worrying that there is no process by which people can differentiate between then two!
    I personally believe that if you can teach yourself, properly, you're going to have a wider range of skills than someone who went through uni, as you literally have to find and complete everything yourself. There is no one to help you or give you the answers, or even to provide you with the learning materials themselves - everything has to be done on your own and I believe that affords people quite a high level of independent ability and competence. As well as that, there's no sense of default requirement to succeed as there is in education. People are expecting you to do things by a certain deadline and you get in trouble if you don't, there is none of that when you're on your own! Personally I see it as an alternative route, but it feels like too many people just dismiss it, or see it only as a fall back option. I think that actually it's a much more efficient way of learning, however being successful isn't just about knowing how to do your job well - or is it, in these traditional work places where everyone has their own little role to play and rarely step outside the boundaries of their job role - which is where I believe there aren't enough resources available for self taught people to utilise and make up in these areas. For example, uni is a fantastic place to meet and socialise with like minded people, you don't get that teaching yourself - so there are flaws.
    I believe I've been rambling a little too much, oh well.
  15. Gianluca Teti

    Gianluca Teti Member

    In New York the prospectives for graphic designers are a little more encouraging. There are several position openings on a daily basis, even though they are more for mid-level or senior employees than for juniors. Graduates may freelance for a while to built a decent portfolio which will help them to land a position in a company. The alternative is to go to graduate school for a Master's degree in a design related discipline; this is at times a good solution because courses simulate design studio/AD agency environments, with some real clients too. The experience is therefore fairly close to what happens in the business world. Many higher-profile freelancers work for design firms rather than for a direct client. It gives them flexiblity while still being involved in interesting projects.
    To reply to Sean and Scotty's posts: I don't know the reality of the UK education system, but maybe universities might have changed in more recent years. In any case, here in NY design colleges tend to favour a mix of theoretical/practical approach to the design profession, with a serious eye on what is going on in the industry. In my experience in both public and private institutions, the programs are built to create a well-rounded figure. You study history of graphic design, color theory, Gestalt principles, drawing, and then you have all the software classes. Some of them are just technical; some others are built to use the computer as a supporting tool for a project where the process begin with a pencil and a piece of paper. Branding classes are also offered. Colleges also try to stay up to date. I registered for a required course in Multimedia Design, whose program clearly indicated Flash as a main development software. However, during the first class the teacher told us that since Flash is dying, we were going to work on Javascript and jQuery. Overall, my academic experience has been very beneficial for my profession, and I would always suggest a formal training where the finances and the time allow it.
  16. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    It wasn't ALL bad Sean
    I did learn a lot and there was more of a focus on traditional techniques such as illustration which has stood me well.
    Much of the entry criteria was artistic based back then and it still surprises me that today that there is a HUGE amount of 'designers' that simply can't draw at all.
    I think drawing is fundamental as it's not just about making a nice picture. It's also about composition, layout, use of negative space and so on.
    I regard drawing/doodling as the "Wax on, wax off" bit of learning design.
    A lot of people seem to think "I have the tools, therefore I am a craftsman" which is just not the case.
    My entry into work was to get a job right out of college at a printers which was shit but I learned a lot (and got paid) and moved onwards and upwards from there.
    I had a break from design for about six years and did the same when I returned, albeit a bit quicker second time around.
    shaunalynn likes this.
  17. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    Got to be honest here, although I've done art and even marker rendering I absolutely hate doing proper drawing these days.
    I don't mind doing what I class as my scribble sketch which I use to help me work though my designs and jot down measures, important bits I need during the design stages but if you asked me to do a still life I'd be like... do I have to....
    When I was at college I did a btec in art and design foundation degree, purely because all my 'work' up to that point had been 'graphic design' which was a lot more orientated towards 'design'.
    The art part of course included still life etc but it might have been down to the subject matter or even the teachers but I just didn't gel with it. We had a scene which was basically a load of frames and boxes and that was pretty easy because that was just literally me working in perspective (which I find really easy) but when we had to do the human subject I just couldn't get the proportions right, I know the techniques etc but it never turned out very good (yes I do have a weakness lol),
    Didn't help with the teacher wanting us to use very soft pencils or graphite sticks, it just didn't work for me as I'd been taught to use harder lead pencils or even fine liner pens for 'clarity of line' etc so I was normally doing it with a 2h pencil which to me was soft lol. I really annoyed the teacher one time, he wanted us to have multiple sketches on one sheet of paper and to use a 'pencil' softer than usual so I used a mid b pencil and split the page into 4 sections... seemed logical to me based on what the teacher wanted us to do, you do need to see the work at the end of it... but no he wanted us to draw over the other drawings with charcoal, not that that was what he said for us to to love the clarity of a 'teacher' when it comes to a topic....he never said anything about needing the work to overlap. :rolleyes: And instead of explaining what was wrong he basically picked up some charcoal and went and drew over my work saying something like not like that like this.... and all I thought was, you just ruined my work.... not that it really mattered, there was no way to actually fail the course... seriously the only way to fail the course was to quit lol
    I still don't like drawing people to this day, doubt I ever will, even on my little sketches, mine are now more 'fashion design' style, ie elongated legs arms, more angular etc or stick men :)
  18. scotty

    scotty Well-Known Member

    I don't actually sit and draw a finished piece.
    Don't think I've done that since college.
    Mine are just working drawings that I work from into digital.
    I'm not talking about painstaking rendering or anything, just the actual putting images down onto paper.
    Irony for me is that I've never done a life drawing class considering so much of my work is character design.
    Self taught I guess. :D

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