Jake is an award-winning designer who uses storytelling, art, and technology to instigate positive social change and build stronger businesses. He's worked with a range of Fortune500 companies, major nonprofits, government agencies, and startups. Over the last ten years, Jake's work has helped these companies change their public image, reach broader audiences, and impact more lives. He'd love to collaborate with you on your next big challenge.
Mathieu is a passionate visual designer who meticulously crafts UX/UI designs, product designs, web designs, and motion animations. He keeps up to date with industry trends via his research on substantial apps. He and his partner run a Paris-based mobile agency where he also works as an art director while his partner handles the visuals and branding. Mathieu expresses himself well and has worked for large companies and startups.
Adrien is an award-winning designer and digital art director who specializes in strategy, user experience (UX), user interface (UI), brand identity, and interaction design. For the last 15 years, Adrien's been crafting and delivering unique digital experiences for global companies and startups. Adrien's clients hire him for his UX and UI expertise, user-centered approach, strategic mindset, collaborative leadership, creativity, and effectiveness.
Eric is an award-winning designer with more than ten years of industry experience and a focus on products. With expertise gained working with top companies like Forbes and Universal Music Group, he has created many B2B and B2C platforms and data visualizations. Eric's strategic way of working contributes to startup projects that need a holistic approach.
United StatesToptal Member Since September 2, 2016
Jay Oldaker is an experienced product designer and coach with a passion for helping others unlock their full potential. With more than 15 years of experience in the industry, Jay has developed a deep understanding of what it takes to create successful products that solve real-world problems. With a focus on collaboration, creativity, and innovation, Jay is committed to helping organizations achieve their full potential and create a meaningful impact in the world.
Mike is a highly experienced and successful product, UX, UI, visual, and branding designer with many years of experience creating large and small-scale designs. He has worked for global clients in many industries, including ExxonMobil, Reebok, Taco Bell, Nike, and many others. Mike has also provided his design and leadership experience to startups in healthcare, higher education, and SaaS companies.
A skilled and experienced freelance designer can add a fresh perspective and a definitive style to any project, but finding the right fit can often be tricky. This guide will introduce different design specializations and provide tips for what to look for when hiring a freelance designer.
... allows corporations to quickly assemble teams that have the right skills for specific projects.
Despite accelerating demand for coders, Toptal prides itself on almost Ivy League-level vetting.
Building a cross-platform app to be used worldwide
Creating an app for the game
Leading a digital transformation
Drilling into real-time data creates an industry game changer
Michael is an incredible designer, and has been a great fit for our project. He just gets it in a way that can’t be taught. My goal was to pay Toptal to find me a high quality designer for my project, and that is exactly what happened. It was easy. Being able to see the portfolio work on Toptal’s platform is what gave me the infomation I needed to choose Michael. I have nothing but good things to say about Toptal and am looking forward to using Toptal for other projects in the future.
Edward Daniel, Co-Founder
I've worked very closely with Martina for over a year and have to say she is one of the best people I have ever worked with. Instead of simply following instructions blindly, she thinks through the task at hand, becoming a thought partner to help with whatever the project may be. Besides being super talented at design, she possesses specific qualities that make her exceptional to work with given the fast paced nature of being a startup. I would definitely recommend her to anyone looking for a talented, professional designer who doesn't need much direction to hit the ground running.
Sahil Khanna, Sr. Manager, Marketing
Darko did a great job figuring out the user architecture for our concept, which led him to produce terrific wireframes. His knowledge of usability and design was a perfect match for the outside voice we needed to help jumpstart our project. We would certainly recommend him and work with him again in the future.
Rich Danker, Founder
Carlos has the unique talent of blending both quantitative and qualitative research to keenly identify UX challenges and opportunities. He thinks methodically, emphatically, and holistically to produce data-driven strategies and well-executed designs. Over the past 8 years of working with fully or partially distributed teams, Carlos manages working remotely far better than anyone I've encountered because of his strong communication and presentation skills. He is the first on my list the next time I need a UX designer.
Michelle Krogmeier, Project Manager
Rafael is an amazing designer. His aesthetic sense is spot on, and he seems to be able to anticipate our needs before we even know what they are. He's taken the time to understand both our company and our clientele, and his solutions are consistently in-line with our values, interests, and our customers' needs. He delivers on time (if not earlier), works quickly, is well organized, and very effective. He's a pleasure to work with, and we're very happy to have found him through Toptal.
Ethan Brooks, CTO
Langlotz Patent & Trademark Works, Inc.
Toptal gave us access to the best designers out there. They’re not easy to find. Those designers integrated very quickly with our existing teams. They very quickly understood our business case and the value of our solution. Toptal really allowed us to focus on building the best possible product and save a lot of time on the typical administrative pains that goes with it -- specifically, finding the best talent. Toptal designers were very responsive, always online -- and that made life very easy for us. We have ambitious goals on how to grow the application and already Toptal has been a key contributor to that success.
Thierry Jakircevic, General Manager, Digital Solutions, Bridgestone Head Office, Tokyo
We had an amazing experience working with our Toptal designer. In only two weeks, we accomplished what would've taken most companies 3 months to complete. We also enjoyed working with the Toptal team to make sure we were paired up with the right designer that would fit both our company culture and working style.
Ted Blosser, Head of Sales and Customer Success
Dean blew us away. He ranks right up there as one of the top five designers of the hundreds I have worked with in the past. He listened, was totally professional, and came up with a 3D rotating cube design completely on his own. We didn't even ask for it, and yet it has become the centerpiece of our app and how users engage with it right off the bat. What he produced inspired all of us at Votify, and put us on track for launch and investor funding.
Michael Lawrence, Founder & CEO
How to Hire Freelance Designers through Toptal
Talk to One of Our Industry Experts
A Toptal director of design will work with you to understand your goals, technical needs, and team dynamics.
Work With Hand-Selected Talent
Within days, we'll introduce you to the right freelance designer for your project. Average time to match is under 24 hours.
The Right Fit, Guaranteed
Work with your new freelance designer for a trial period (pay only if satisfied), ensuring they're the right fit before starting the engagement.
Find Experts With Related Skills
Access a vast pool of skilled designers in our talent network and hire the top 3% within just 48 hours.
At Toptal, we thoroughly screen our freelance designers to ensure we only match you with talent of the highest caliber. Of the more than 200,000 people who apply to join the Toptal network each year, fewer than 3% make the cut. You’ll work with design experts (never generalized recruiters or HR reps) to understand your goals, technical needs, and team dynamics. The end result: expert vetted talent from our network, custom matched to fit your business needs.
Can I hire freelance designers in less than 48 hours through Toptal?
Depending on availability and how fast you can progress, you could start working with a freelance designer within 48 hours of signing up.
What is the no-risk trial period for Toptal freelance designers?
We make sure that each engagement between you and your freelance designer begins with a trial period of up to two weeks. This means that you have time to confirm the engagement will be successful. If you’re completely satisfied with the results, we’ll bill you for the time and continue the engagement for as long as you’d like. If you’re not completely satisfied, you won’t be billed. From there, we can either part ways, or we can provide you with another expert who may be a better fit and with whom we will begin a second, no-risk trial.
How to Hire a Freelance Designer
Why Freelancer Specializations Matter
This guide is intended to introduce you to the world of freelance designers and explain the tools and skills that make them unique.
Designers have their own vernacular, and how they describe themselves matters, but it is often a confusing language to decode. Graphic, UI, UX, web, app, product, service, communication, and interaction designers can all look quite similar at a glance, but in fact, their disciplines are quite different.
UX, or user experience, designers are responsible for the human-computer interactions of a product—not only how they look but how they “feel” as well as how they work for users. Their goal is to create systems that are intuitive and delightful to use. UX designers are typically skilled in tasks ranging from user research to wireframes, user flows, user journeys, experience maps, prototypes, and user testing.
User experience designers take care of all aspects of a system (website, app, product, service, community, etc.) as experienced by users. They strive to create positive, consistent, predictable, and desirable outcomes for users, which may include the user interface, physical interactions, and more.
User experience design is the discipline of what UX designers do, and user-centered design (UCD) is the UX process. Design thinking is another term that’s widely used.
A UX designer is closer to a product designer than an interaction designer. They focus more on high-level design decisions and typically aren’t very concerned with pixel-level detail.
UI designers are masters of visual language when it comes to human-computer interaction. Their ability to stylize digital products in a manner that is mindful of current best practices, branding, UI patterns, and visual design principles is key. More often than not, they design the aesthetics of the UI elements but not necessarily how the elements behave after an interaction.
UI design is a rapidly evolving practice focused on developing the look and feel of mobile and web applications and can be described as the visual design of any software system.
Interaction designers make digital products come to life. Their focus is on human behavior, interaction patterns and standards, and how people interact with digital systems. Interaction designers, or “IxD practitioners,” are masters of goal-oriented design and often focus on interactive prototyping and usability testing.
The advantage of working with an interaction designer is their focus on usability and behavioral psychology that help drive strategic design decisions culminating in applications that are intuitive and a joy to use.
iOS designers are UX/UI designers that have a focus designing for Apple’s mobile devices using their human interface guidelines. Working with an iOS designer is recommended if the outcome of a project will be a native iOS app for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
Android designers are UX/UI designers with a focus on designing applications that utilize Google’s material design guidelines. Android designers will be skilled in creating responsive applications designed to adapt to the plethora of Android devices on the market.
Other Design Specializations
Typically focused on the design of websites, web designers often design and build websites using a variety of platforms like WordPress and Shopify. Good web designers are comfortable designing and building websites from scratch and may have a strong background in UX and UI design.
Digital Product Designer
Very close to an interaction designer, digital product designers design how a user interacts with a product.
Product designers have a focus on creating the digital components of a product’s experience that involve any human-computer interaction, and they are experts at using design thinking to accomplish business objectives. It is the mix of practical business acumen, coupled with strong skills in UX and UI, that makes product designers unique.
Brand designers are specialists at creating compelling identities for companies. Great brand designers are mindful that brands take many forms. Because of this, they will develop visual systems to carry the company’s aesthetic.
Using elements of typography, illustration, color, and hierarchies, brand designers create visual systems that can grow with a brand, keeping its style consistent. Brand designers will develop style and implementation guidelines for other designers and developers to use when creating products and systems, including eCommerce, packaging design, banner ads, infographics, UI designs, and more.
Choosing the Right Freelancer for Your Design Project
Choosing a freelance designer who meshes well with an existing team will help a project get off to a good start. Ensuring that they are confident and capable of producing the deliverables you require is necessary for a project’s success.
Questions to consider are:
Are they curious about the project?
Can they clearly articulate their ideas?
Are they confident that they can perform all the required tasks?
Do they have experience with the deliverables you require?
Would they work for a fixed price per project or provide hourly services?
Properly scoping a project will help to ensure its success. Outlining a detailed scope keeps everyone on the same page about deliverables and what is expected, and it is a good place to jump to for questions during the interview process. More than anything, scope provides the framework for a project plan when hiring a freelancer.
Some things to remember when scoping a project are:
What stage is the project at?
Will your project follow a lean, agile, or waterfall process?
How complex is the project and its features?
What is your budget?
Do you need a mix of multiple design specialties?
How many hours do you expect each deliverable to take?
Who is your technical lead?
These are useful items to include in a job description, and doing so will help freelancers understand the complexity of a project.
When discussing deliverables with a freelancer, decide what is necessary to move the project forward, but know when enough is enough. It can be easy to over-design smaller projects, and common to under-design more complex systems. Make sure to be honest about how much work is needed and what is expected from a successful engagement.
Branding experts will develop style guidelines that will include examples of color, typography, art direction of photography, and illustration style as well as a visual system for implementation across web and mobile applications.
Performing a competitor analysis helps to determine where a company can develop a unique value proposition using user-centered design thinking.
Ethnographic user research is essential to understand an application or website’s target market. It is an essential step in developing an application’s user experience.
User stories are explanations of user journeys that are broken into each step a user takes while moving through an application.
Personas are examples of target users of an application and they typically include information about age, devices used, income, and personal goals.
User journeys map a user’s experience on a timeline to help display how a product or service fits into a user’s life.
Information architecture is the practice of creating a sitemap for a website by developing a hierarchy for how information will be organized and displayed.
Wireframing is the process of creating a blueprint for an application’s layout. This low-fidelity mockup helps to visualize the structure of an application.
Prototypes are a great way to bring user journeys to life and will give an understanding of how an application will feel to use.
UI Design/Visual Design
Creating UI design guidelines will take a project to its highest fidelity and illustrate what your application will look like when complete.
For more information on design deliverables, visit this article on the Toptal blog.
How It Works – What’s Next?
Once clear on scope and deliverables, decide if engaging with two or more specialized designers for different parts of a project is necessary based on your timeline. The advantage to this is it will broaden the array of tools and ideas influencing the creative development of your project. For example, having a UX/UI designer on a team can help to define and understand target users as well as come up with wireframes and user journeys. A brand specialist can be working simultaneously on branding and identity.
When talking to candidates, first take the time to introduce the scope of the project, then ask the candidate to provide examples of similar projects. Ask the designer to explain their portfolio and ask questions about their process.
Evaluate freelance candidates based on the following criteria:
As discussed earlier, make sure to look for specialized designers wherever possible, as this specialization is often the mark of education, skill, and experience in the field.
A designer’s portfolio is a great way to see the depth and history of a designer’s work. Look at the variety of styles and applications of their work—are they a critical problem solver with great visual style?
Consider the skill level of the freelancer you need. Are you looking for the all-star who can do it all, or is your project more suited to a developing talent looking for a break?
Tools and Deliverables
What tools will be used in the design process, and do they match your expectations for deliverables? Are you open to using new methods for the right freelancer?
At the end of the day, a designer’s ability to articulate their ideas is their most important skill when delivering work to clients or communicating their work to engineers. If you don’t want things to get lost in translation, ensure that your freelancer is an excellent communicator.
Tips for Working with a Freelance Designer
Once you have found the right fit, managing the project can be an unfamiliar process to those not used to working with designers.
A few things to remember when working with your freelancer are:
Establish Communication Lines Early
It is important to choose a channel for communication and establish an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders of the project. This becomes especially challenging when working with remote freelancers. Applications like InVision and Slack are great for keeping communication in one place.
Develop Milestone Deadlines
To keep the project on track, make sure to agree upon milestones that can be used for project management. Agree on these dates early and be realistic about the timelines.
Try to meet regularly to discuss the project and address any concerns as they come up. Ensuring that the entire team is up to date with goals and developments keeps everyone in the loop.
Give Clear Feedback
Ensure that designers are getting clear and concise feedback that will help them rearticulate their ideas. Constructive feedback helps to hone in designs and will produce more developed outcomes. Here is a great article on the topic.
Avoid Scope Creep
Be sure you are not losing sight of the original goal of the project when iterating. As things progress, it is all too easy to pivot away from the original plan. Make sure someone drives the project and owns its success.
In the end, finding talent is as easy as understanding your project, looking for the right person, and maintaining a relationship. And there are many places to look for freelancers, but only one that links you to the top 3% of freelance talent in the world. If the task of finding talent for your project is turning into an arduous one, let one of the Toptal Talent Agents help you with your search.