A rising number of graphic designers are going freelance

In 2014, it was estimated that as many as one in five graphic designers were self-employed. Fast forward five years, and global business intelligence company IBISWorld reckon that number has risen to a whopping 90% of designers. There’s no doubt about it: we are in the age of freelance employment.

While some careers are impossible for remote working, graphic design is a field where the option may even work better than the traditional 9-5. Whether it’s the evolution of technology allowing this, the creative freedom required by workers, or that designers have a tendency to falter when they’re locked up in an office to tight deadlines (natch), the old school working week for graphic design is nearly extinct.

Employment opportunities for graphic designers are expected to grow by 4% over the 2016-2026 decade, and we could even be in a position where the number increases even further. But does this mean graphic design will succumb to gig economy-based work? Will the potential of more opportunities equal more competition? Or does the allure of a London salary and relative job safety at a big agency still appeal to a majority? 

Why are graphic designers going freelance?

Rewind twenty years and graphic design was still primarily a pen and paper business. The internet was still in infancy, Adobe Creative Cloud – and its predecessors – was yet to be born and the boom for crafted brand designs which could be viewed on electronic devices had just started taking shape. Bring this to the present day and the nature of graphic design is completely unrecognisable to its origins. 

The BLS notes that some industries have been seeing better growth for graphic designers than others due to technological advancements. For example, there will be a 22% decline in the newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishing industry by 2026, but a 20% growth is expected in the computer systems design industry. The prominence of digital imagery across a number of industries – including marketing, media, and business – means the demand for graphic designers in these areas has exploded.

But how is this impacting the designers choice to go freelance? Well, naturally increased demand equals more opportunities. Following the instability of the print industry, some designers have simply decided that “going it alone” is a safer bet than finding one job in an industry that is constantly changing. The birth of the ‘gig economy’ has meant designers can pick and choose the work they want to do. Many have taken the plunge to go solo because they can have their fingers in many pies, avoid lengthy commutes, office politics, and can focus solely on their art in a space that inspires them. Whether that’s in their PJ’s at home or at a coworking haven in Bali, for many literally anywhere else is more inspiring than four office walls.

The growth of freelance communities

Fortunately, with such a high number of designers already self-employed, there are plenty of already-established online communities ready to support newer freelancers – or those who haven’t yet taken the leap. It’s these communities which offer mutual support imperative in a potentially saturated market, providing options to connect with other designers and source work while also sharing information and inspiration.

There’s also a rising number of graphic design communities, including us at Artwork Bazaar, which pool quality design work in a marketplace for potential clients. On the one hand, this offers additional exposure for the graphic designer. On the other, it’s a great way of presenting a number of vetted and quality designs to the right people, who are often time-strapped and need options. Really, it’s a win-win for everyone, and those who like a certain style are likely to want to reach out to that designer a second (or a third) time to keep things consistent – particularly if they’re working on a big project.

Because self employment gives graphic designers the opportunity to express their own unique ideologies, show off creative talents and make a name for themselves, design objectives are becoming more personalised to the client. When you’re able to focus on your own website, social media, blogging and client relations, you’re able to identify your strengths, play to your interests and stamp that special seal – carve out that niche – which sells you to the right client, not the ideals of a larger agency.

But is there enough work to go around?

As more and more designers are enticed with the flexibility and creative freedom of the freelance lifestyle it begs the question, will there be enough work for everyone? The short answer is yes… the work is definitely out there. Organisations will always require graphic designers for professional branding and marketing. Production companies will always need graphic design for events, TV and film. However, refining your own brand proposition as a designer and being proactive and engaged in relevant communities is key. Content Marketing Associate for user review platform G2 Daniella Alscher explains:

“Being a freelance graphic designer isn’t just about being a graphic designer. As you start off on your own, you’re going to have to be a salesperson, a marketer, a bookkeeper, and so much more. It takes hard work, time management, and some serious networking.”

While it is difficult to know if there will be enough work for everyone, it is clear that those who engage in communities like this and continually showcase their work across relevant digital channels will stand out from the crowd. 

If you’re thinking “I don’t have time” then you might want to check out our time management tips.

Are you part of the freelance movement?

Graphic design is a prime skill for remote working so it makes sense that graphic designers are leading the charge with over 50% of the workforce predicted to go self-employed by 2020. Competition is fierce, but so are you. Find your niche, showcase your work and continually expand your network, if you get that right then the work will shortly follow. Not sure how to do that? Check out our self-branding tips for graphic designers.

Ready to get started and showcase your work for potential producers? Artwork Bazaar is a supportive, collaborative space that showcases graphic designers and their creative work for live events, film and TV. We are getting work requests in everyday, all you need to do is join the community and upload your work to get started. 

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