How to Outsource Your Project’s Front-End Design

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You’ve spent the last few weeks, months or even years slaving away on your newest web app. You’re convinced that this project is the one: it’ll win the hearts and minds of everyone who gives it a shot, and stands a real chance of taking off.

But you know that in order to get people to stick around a take a serious look, your app needs to look good. A developer’s design skills won’t do the trick, and you know you need to outsource your project’s front-end designer. But you don’t know many designers, and the one you do know — who sits over the way at that startup you work for — you’ve alienated by making fun of the polka dot teapot he keeps at his desk. What do you do next?

Direct Hire

This is probably the most common approach: a developer, or anyone else needing a designer, uses Google, social media and other avenues to find designers on the web. They look through hundreds of portfolios, make a shortlist, and reach out to the select few for a quote. Particularly if you’re after a specific style of design, which some designers will be better at than others, this approach leaves the least to chance.

Job Boards

Job boards are a great way to get designers pitching to you. Instead of scouring the web, filtering what you find and creating a shortlist, you can sit back, watch the applications come in and stick to filtering and shortlisting. Scouring sure does take a lot of time, and if you’ve not fixated on a certain style for your site, you can be open to looking at the variety of portfolios and specialties that are pitched to you.

This is also a great way to find unknown designers, many of whom are vastly talented but much cheaper than those who’ve done their years and built a strong reputation. A few job boards where you can find designers include Authentic Jobs, 37signals Jobs, FreelanceSwitch Job Board and DesignCrowd Jobs.

Job Bidding Sites

Job bidding sites are essentially places where you post a job brief and freelancers belong to the site pitch you on price, ability, experience and their rating on that marketplace. The pitches are visible to other users, making the process highly competitive.

This drives the price down substantially, but this often means more established designers don’t use these services as they can’t compete on those prices — be careful to check out each applicant’s previous work to ensure that it looks good. If you’re not going to slice and dice the design into front-end code yourself, grab sneak a look at the source for one of their sites in your browser to make sure they’ve got solid enough skills.

Job bidding sites include Elance and Guru.

Crowdsource It

If you’ve got a limited budget, crowdsourcing is probably the best way to get some decent design work done. While with traditional designers, you’ll work one-on-one to develop one or two mockups from which you’ll make a selection to go ahead with, with crowdsourcing you have less one-on-one but pay a reasonable fee and get to select from a whole range of options. If you want to ensure that designers whose work you don’t select are appreciated for their pitch, go with DesignCrowd, which gives participation payments to unsuccessful entrants.


If you’re a serial developer, always coming up with new ideas for web apps and banging them out, you might want to think about finding a designer whose work you love, building a good relationship with them and partnering up on new ideas with some sort of equity or revenue split agreement. This can be time consuming as you need to find a designer who you’re willing to work closely with for the long-term, and you also need to build enough of a relationship and prove your development skills so that they’re willing to enter into this kind of arrangement.

As a budding entrepreneur, you need good design, and you need it within your limited budget. These methods will get that for you in a way that’s fair to everyone. Good luck!

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