Ultimate Guide to Graphic Design Freelancer Success

If you aspire to succeed as a graphic design freelancer, then this post is for you.

What is Graphic Design?

Renowned American graphic designer Saul Bass said that, “Design is thinking made visual.” An excellent way to sum up what graphic design does! As per Wikipedia, graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography and illustration. Let us deconstruct the definition to understand even better.

Firstly, it is a process – it should follow norms that have origins in creative arts, in many cases based on scientific studies. Next, it is about visual communication. We know the adage “a picture is worth 1000 words.” Good graphic designers will communicate the message easily through their work. An excellent example of this is the McDonald’s logo which is simple yet appealing and can be identified easily. Great designers listen, observe, understand, and dig into problems to get insights that enables them create visuals which were seemingly invisible to the rest of us. For example, if a product manual has simple illustrations of the product usage, there will be fewer calls to customer service. Last part is about their tools – viz typography (wrongly dismissed as use of fonts) , photos / images and illustration in the form of sketches, digital graphics etc.

Can I be a Graphic Design Freelancer?

If you think that graphic design is only for the born artist-types, then you are wrong. Graphic design can be learnt…even online. If you’ve a willingness to invest time and energy into learning, then you can be a successful graphic design freelancer. Besides that you need:

  • A good desktop or laptop computer. Designing on phones and tablets is still a long way…
  • Graphic design software like Adobe suite etc. If you cannot afford them, initially go for free (open source) alternatives like Gimp or Pixlr among many.
  • Internet connection – required to source creatives like stock photos, fonts etc
  • A creative mind!

What are the Different Types of Graphic Design Work?

Organizations hire graphic design freelancers or studios for work ranging from simple letterhead design to brand-identity or UI design. Let us look at the different types of projects a graphic design freelancer can work on.

Brand Identity Design

Businesses need to project a certain image of their entity – how it would like to be seen by their customers. That was a simplistic view of the word “Brand”. The famous American author Seth Godin defines brand as “a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Brand identity is the message communicated via the brand name, logo, typography, colors, packaging etc. Brand identity design uses the creative process to create a visual component of a brand that represents the personality and essence, as well as emotions and experiences.

Let’s take Apple Inc’s brand identity as an example. It’s distinctive ‘slightly bitten apple’ logo has changed only in colour – from the rainbow hues to the present grayscale one. You can see the consistency of design philosophy extend to Apple’s products, website and apps even brochures, posters etc. Hence, the mere mention of Apple conjures it’s distinctive products easily.

For graphic design freelancers, brand identity design includes designing logos, business cards and other corporate stationery. This is the bare minimum required. Top graphic designers will also develop style guides that give guidelines on typography, color palettes, images etc to ensure brand consistency.

Publication Graphic Design

Publications are used by organizations to communicate with their intended audience. For example, a bank may communicate with existing and potential customers using print / email newsletters, brochures and annual reports. These publications will be effective if they are well written and well designed. Now designing does not mean only aesthetics and pleasant looks. Layout is extremely important as it guides the reader to important sections of the publication. Moreover, well positioned call to action (CTA) graphics will nudge readers to take the intended action e.g. invest in a new mutual fund.

Publication design includes designing reports, books / ebooks, newsletters (print and digital), magazines, catalogs and many more. Most common tools used for this are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Indesign and QuarkXPress which will cost hundreds of dollars. Of course there are free / open source tools that you can use in the beginning.

Marketing Graphic Design

Businesses need marketing to engage with target customers and nudge them to make the intended decision to say, buy their product. Besides the copywriting (text), successful marketing uses typography, colour psychology, layouts and images to engage with target demographic. Designers need to have an understanding of the target audience’s aspirations, desires and other aspects to nail the design.

Designers usually get a design brief (marketing objectives and the design assets required) from company’s marketing experts / business owners. Graphic designers may work alone or as a complementing member of the company’s creative team.

Marketing graphic design includes creating assets for both print and digital or online media. They may be brochures, flyers, ads, posters, banners, billboards, infographics, signage, email marketing templates, PowerPoint presentations etc.

The tools remain similar to the ones mentioned before plus MS PowerPoint.

UI (User Interface) Graphic Design

UI (User Interface) is a software based or physical system that allows a user to interact with a given technology. For example, your smart phone has UI components like icons which on clicking will open the corresponding app. Therefore UI design is the design of user interfaces for devices and software, such as computers, mobile devices, and other electronic appliances etc with the aim of optimizing usability and the user experience. An ideal UI will be intuitive and “not make the user think” (from the book title “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug about human–computer interaction and web usability).

UI design includes design of icons, web site design, desktop or web application interfaces, app design and more. Advanced UI designers also create workflows, wireframes and other UX components. While graphic design tools remain the same, you will need to learn technologies like HTML5, CSS and maybe even Javascript and it’s newer avatars like React.js / React Native.

Miscellaneous Graphic Design

This may include design for product packages, t-shirt / mug, corporate gifts, wayfinding (directions, signages etc), invitation cards, CD/DVD artwork and even restaurant menus.

How can Graphic Design Freelancer Get Work?

Graphic designers can get work offline as well as online. In the offline mode, you can approach various design studios and consultants. If you have a website or online portfolio to showcase your work and skills, companies can approach you through that channel. You should also bid on the various online freelance marketplaces and digital goods marketplaces. These posts explain in detail on the working of online marketplaces.

Graphic design is an ever-growing field, and the demand for skilled graphic design freelancer will always remain. Being a creative field, graphic design is not likely to be automated anytime soon and so is an excellent career option. Here’s wishing you a happy, creative life!