How Do You Hire a Designer?

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My friend Jeff just asked me this question. He was looking for a designer for a one-off graphic design job. He had the project all scoped out. He just didn’t know how to do it. He’s not a fool; he web searched around for stuff, but what you find doing that is a confusing mess with plenty of results that don’t feel right.

I figured I’d document that journey here, and contrast it hiring an electrician. A trite comparison, perhaps, but as the light switch in my bathroom doesn’t work right now and I’m actually in the process of hiring an electrician, it seems apt.

Craigslist listings for web designers

To set the stage more accurately, this is what Jeff asked me, verbatim:

I have a conference in a month that my boss wants some roll-up banners and data sheets for. I can write OK, but don’t know squat about design. I’ve tried a few things, but are I’m under a bit of a deadline.

The ol’ College Try

First, Jeff tried designing the banners himself. That way they could maybe be used directed, and if not, they would give a new designer very specific direction.

I’m impressed by this as work from a complete non-designer. I’ve certainly seen “professional” design work worse than this.

Jeff Finds Fiverr

With these in hand (he thinks of them as mockups), he finds Fiverr, which is a marketplace of sorts for design (and other services).

He says:

I took these mockups and sent them to some Fiverr designers and basically said, “Make something like this but good; you know, like how a designer would do it”.

The results?

That did not produce anything useable.

That’s just one person’s experience of course, but it seems to jive with what is often said about these types of sites. They turn design into a commodity. Nobody is getting incredible work, but incredible work isn’t what the people who use this site want. They want affordable work. “Five dollar work,” is the implication.

Unfortunately affordable, in this case, resulted in unusable.

Other Options

Upwork, Craigslist, word of mouth? I really have no idea how to hire somebody for a short term project.

I think Jeff was asking me, because I might have known some other resource for hiring designers that is like, “Oh, don’t mess around with those other sites, here’s the one you should be using that will be perfect for you.”

I couldn’t give him that because I just don’t have enough experience in hiring designers at this scope to know.

I know there is a site called Thumbtack for hiring professionals. In a web search of mine, I was able to land there and poke my way through a “wizard” about what I wanted for a design.

This was specific to web design, not trade show banner design, but they likely have stuff for all kinds of design services.

I hired a chef one time on Thumbtack, and it worked out OK. The way it works is that people get in touch with you after you post what you’re looking for, giving you an opportunity to vet them. Upwork looks pretty similar.

There is also 99designs, in which you select a package which apparently directly affects the quality of design you get back:

Something about getting 30-50 designs back feels awkward to me. That’s a ton of people doing work for nothing (they know what they are getting into, but still.) And that’s a lot of design for me to sift through when it’s done.

I’d rather see three designs and go through a couple of rounds of feedback. Apparently, you can ask for revisions (while the “contest” is “open”), but that’s all I know. I would think the designer is incentivized to do revisions because they would stand a higher chance of that design getting picked as the winner. Only the winning designer gets paid.

Seems like a slightly higher-brow Fiverr. The kind of site that designers turn up their noses to and write Medium articles about the death of design, but that also make a zillion dollars and have a bunch of satisfied customers.

My gut instinct is that Jeff would have had better luck slightly on 99designs that Fiverr, but that’s only based on the look of the site and the pricing.

It kind of makes sense there are sites filling the pricing tiers in the market. Fiverr is apparently holding down the low end with $5 pricing. 99designs lists their Bronze package for “Poster” at $199. Then there are clearly more high end market places like Sortfolio (specifically for web design) who’s lowest price tier is “$3,000 and under”.

Word of Mouth

It sounds like the thing that worked was:

I ended up going to our printing company and being like “Y’all know any designers?”

Even Silicon Valley, with all those busy minds trying to solve problems for the common citizen and make the world a better place can’t beat the ol’ “just ask someone who probably knows”.

Contrast This To Hiring An Electrician

The world has got hiring an electrician licked. Using the web, this is my go-to:

I know a lot of people have luck on Angie’s List, including me:

They still make the Yellow Pages, at least where I live, so even that’s a possibility. Hiring an electrician is downright easy.

My World

I struggled to find any answer at all for Jeff because my world is so weirdly different. I know a bunch of designers, so I can just reach out to them for either the work directly or referrals. I’ve hired designers by looking around Dribbble and reaching out to people who’s work I like. I can ask around on Twitter and probably find someone. My mom sells printing for a living and knows a ton of local designers. I can reach out to people I’ve worked with or hired before.

Aside from Dribbble, not much of that is useful for Jeff. It’s just my life and industry experience.


It’s no wonder companies are trying to commoditize design. They see opportunity in making it as easy to hire a designer as it is to hire an electrician. It’s no wonder people use those companies; they look amazing compared to the spammy garbage it’s so easy to find in web search results.

I bet there are a lot of people here reading this who are designs who want to be found. They don’t want to be a part of a commodity site and don’t think of their work as a commodity. Word of mouth works pretty well for them, but that feels like a risky foundation for business.

Jeff wants to find you, you want to be found, and I don’t really know how to tell him where to find you.