Are You Sure You Should Be A Freelance Designer?

Are you getting sick of the daily grind of commercial creativity – having to be creative on command for a client with a specific idea in mind? I know, I know – it’s an odd question to pose on a blog that caters to designers. But sometimes, the process of working on someone else’s creative visions all the time can get a bit…monotonous.

And, truth be told, not everyone who works in the creative field should be a designer. The good news is, there are many other professions which may suit you better than actually designing. Perhaps you should consider working toward a different career: art directing, programming, illustrating, taking photos, running a business, etc. How do you know? Let’s figure it out!

Don’t Stop Learning

I got my first degree from a design school, then decided to take a sharp left turn and study culinary arts. After a few years of finding my feet, I was able to merge the two disciplines into a happy medium: designing for culinary clients. Now, I’m working on a personal project that combines my two loves: design and cooking. Had I stopped my education at design school, it probably never would have occurred to me to pursue that particular creative combination.

Perhaps your problem is that you haven’t finished your education. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been out of school for 10 months or 10 years – or even if you went to school at all. I have some choice opinions on the college and university systems and how broken their infrastructures are in many countries. Going to school is only one (faulty) option out of many amazing learning opportunities all around you. Keep learning and figuring out what exactly you should be doing.

Do You Want To Consult Or Create?

Being a creative professional means being a consultant on some level. If you find you don’t enjoy the idea of working with other people who don’t know as much about design as you do, and counseling them on the best design choices for their business, maybe it’s time to switch to a space where you do more creating and less talking.

Working in-house in the thick of a production pipeline can alleviate this somewhat, as it’s usually your boss who deals with the clients and not you. If you like having a clear set of goals for the day, and you crave a social work environment, then freelancing is definitely not for you. Working in-house will remove the pressure of managing the business/client side of things.

Craft Or Art?

I always get miffed when people outside the design industry talk about art and design as if they were interchangeable. The simple truth is, they are two separate things. Yes, they’re related, in the same way that cooking and waiting tables are related. They’re technically under the same umbrella, but are very separate disciplines.

Art is about being true to your creative self. You do your work for its own sake and there are no expectations from anyone about how you create. Design, or craft, is about making things to solve problems. If you’re not in love with the idea of helping people solve their problems, or even thinking about everyday problems that can be solved creatively, then you probably shouldn’t be a designer period, let alone a freelance one.

Go Against The Grain

If you like to draw, paint, or be creative somehow, but you just can’t see yourself freelancing or working with clients, it may be that you’re not a designer at all. Maybe you’re an artist – someone who just creates what they want and gets paid for it. This is a bit riskier than having a steady paying job, but for some people, the freedom is worth it.

Artists get commissioned all the time to create work for corporate brands, so it might pay off to be true to yourself rather than thinking you have to compromise. The designer, Marian Bantjes, famously straddles the line between art and design, creating bold, experimental pieces that completely overturn her clients’ expectations, but that they end up loving regardless.

I started out as an “artist” studying illustration, then realized that what I really loved was the process of solving problems. It’s been said that art creates questions while design answers them. I really agree with this idea, and I think it’s a great metric to use when trying to figure out whether you should be an artist or a designer. If you’re more interested in asking questions than you are in answering them, then your interests probably lie more toward the art end of the spectrum.

What Do You Think?

Are you a freelance designer or thinking about becoming one? What are your thoughts about the process of freelancing and doing structured client work versus going your own way?

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