Around half a year ago I made a decision that proved to be a correct one. I decided to go freelance, to leave the hive, abandon the flock. I can’t say it was the easiest choice in the world and the only thing I was sure of at the time was that I was taking a risk. Turns out it was a risk worth taking. To make more than just a mental note of this historical event of biblical proportions, I thought I would do a quick write up on going freelance. If you are here to read an article about tricks on how to do triple indents in CSS3 or how to cascade your mom, wrong article. There are many who are far more talented at that than myself.
The answer to that is really very simple. I found myself growing tired of being directed by another creative director above me. There comes a point in every designer’s career when the question “why am I doing this” pops up in their head. When I was working for someone else, I was essentially in an environment where my designs were based on feedback I disagreed with, which had an annoying tendency to take all the fun out of it. If I am nothing but a mouse in a creative director’s hand, then what is the point of it all? Designers are creative people with a constant need to express their creativity. Though as designers we get to be creative, we are not free to inject our inspired creations onto a blank canvas, like an artist would do. Instead, we work within guidelines based on the client’s creative briefs and needs, but to top these off with a creative director’s (sometimes pointless) direction was just too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem taking direction and I love receiving feedback :). But when you are given, at the start of a project, a solid design direction and have no room to experiment within the project’s guidlines, it tends to suck the creativity right out of it, making the whole thing boring after a while.
That being said, I must say that working for an agency does have its benefits. I would go so far as to say that it is really hard to start your career as a freelancer, and I have great respect to those who managed to do it and stick with it. I for one started in an agency. It is the best place to learn from and gain the experience you need in order to go solo. Working in an agency provides a feeling of togetherness, comraderie and purpose, something that as a young fresh designer you may find yourself in need of. There is always someone around to talk to about the latest mock you have just created, or help you solve some usability issue you are stuck on. Working at Fantasy Interactive, there was always another amazing designer to learn from. I have worked with some of the greatest talents out there, learning from them was a priceless lesson that you cannot obtain anywhere else. That said, I was not a young fresh designer anymore, on the contrary, I was feeling pretty old and wrinkled. So, despite all the benefits of agency life, after 10 years of working for other people I finally woke up from my Matrix sleep and realized that the only way to become young again was to become my own boss. It was time.
For an experienced designer, freelance is so much more fulfilling. The style that I have built over the years can be expressed without any restrains, and the vision I have in my head is what comes out on paper (or the PSD file). I am free to take a client’s project brief and execute it in the best way I see fit, with room to play within the constrains of the project’s guidelines and needs. As a freelancer there is no one feeding me a style to apply, a color preference or grid layouts (unless there are specific branding guidelines of course, which is completely fine). No upper management that has to approve – you are the upper management, you approve yourself (and of course the client has to as well). This is something that I needed in order to enjoy design again.
Also, an obvious perk of freelancing (and one of my all time favorite parts of it) is that I can design when inspiration strikes, even if it isn’t btwn 9-5. When I feel stuck, I can abandon the computer for a while and take a stroll in the park, to get my gears rolling and recharge. Can I get a hellz yea!
Before going solo, I kind of assumed that it would be much more fun and exciting than agency life but that there was potential for it being a lonely experience, full of feirce competitors. Turns out that I was right on the first part but wrong on the second, it is not a lonely experience at all. I have learned that the web design community is extremely open and willing to help. If it’s with design feedback, help with code or even questions on accounting – we all seem willing to pitch in and help a fellow designer out. You won’t find this kind of relationships between big agencies. My comrades are my competitors. Sure, there is competition over getting the next client, but it doesn’t feel like we are competing against each other at all. The same feeling of togetherness, comraderie and purpose, that was found in an agency is now found in the community. Can I get another Hellz yea!
So to sum it up, I have been having the time of my life as a freelance designer. Safe to say – the most fun I have had in my entire career. I definitely don’t want it to end, and looking forward to celebrating the one year mark in a few months!
Written in New York. © 2012