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June 13, 2016

How Much Should You Pay to Hire a Professional Designer?

Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles)/

It’s a very good time to be a digital designer because, these days, everything is happening online. Fewer people are willing to walk into a physical store to check things out, so more and more, businesses’ first interactions with potential customers are happening online. In fact, millions of businesses exist only as online stores.

As a result, many traditional businesses are changing their customer experience strategy. If people aren’t going to a business in person, then the bulk of customer experience happens during the customer’s first impression of a business online. To optimize that presence, businesses turn to digital designers, the professionals capable of optimizing the online customer experience. In short, there is good money in design today.

Because of the major worldwide shift toward online interaction, digital designers of all specialties and focuses are in very high demand, and the world of design is growing bigger and more complex every day. In one sense, this is good for businesses that are looking for a designer to help optimize their online presence, because there are lots of options out there. In another sense, though, looking for a professional designer can be actually quite tricky precisely because there are so many options.

So how does a business go about finding the professional designer that will be a perfect match for its business, and how much should a business expect to pay for top quality design work? There are several methods of hiring a designer for your project, and each offers different benefits as well as pricing. It’s important to be aware of the different costs for each hiring platform in order to hire the right designer for your needs.

In-House Designers

The traditional hiring strategy would be to bring in a permanent in-house designer. This is a time-tested strategy that allows you to spend as much time as you need to hand pick someone that will meet your design needs with top quality work and will fit in well with your workplace culture. In-house designers are, of course, permanent employees, so they will always be readily available for your projects; you don’t have to fight for their time. The in-house route, though, can eat up a big chunk of your operating costs due to the employee benefits and tools you will need to provide your designer.

Design Agencies

However, if you’re looking for a more temporary, project-based design solution, there are a few different options. Perhaps the most established route for short-term hires would be through a professional design agency. Such agencies often work with high-profile clients and are guaranteed to have vetted, talented designers on staff. You can almost always expect quality work from these agencies, but it comes at a premium. In addition to paying top-dollar for the work, you’re often paying extra simply because of the agency’s name. The more prestigious the agency, the higher the premium you pay. Design agencies can offer great quality assurances and are also adept at tackling big projects involving many designers, but this work can come at a great cost and may not even be an option for some companies working on tight budgets.


The option on the other end of the spectrum is working with freelancers. They can offer very competitive rates because they’re not attached to big brand name agencies, so freelancers are less of a hit on the bank account. The affordable rates in this realm of design and openness of the community mean that, if you do your homework properly, you can find a great designer for a very reasonable price.

One issue with freelance designers, though, can be the quality of the work itself. Famous sites like Upwork don’t offer much, if anything, in the way of vetting freelancers, and oftentimes the really good designers on these sites are pushed out of the market anyway because they’ve been underbid by lesser designers. The other issue here is the sheer quantity of designers. If you choose to go freelance, you will likely have to wade through a whole lot of applications or portfolios on sites like Dribbble to find the right designer for your project.

Custom-Matching Freelance Platforms 

If none of these choices appeal to you, there is a final option that is a compromise between them all. Custom-matching freelance platforms that offer properly vetted freelance designers at competitive rates are filling this gap between affordability and quality work that many companies need, providing quality assurance at more affordable rates. Take a company like Toptal, for instance. Known for establishing an elite network of freelance developers, this white glove service has also entered the design market with Toptal Designers, a network of professional freelance designers who have been vetted by expert designers for a top three percent quality guarantee. These types of services offer the best of both worlds: a top quality designer and flexible, competitive pricing for premium work.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that there’s probably not one true answer to the question, “how much should you pay to hire a professional designer?” The good news, though, is that there are plenty of options to fit your project’s specific needs. Make sure you do your research, find the exact type of designer you need, and don’t skimp on quality. There are competitive options out there for you, and settling for bad design can lead to losing customers and revenue and falling behind in your industry.


Ellie Martin is co-founder of Startup Change group. Her works have been featured on Yahoo! , Wisebread, AOL, among others. She currently splits her time between her home office in New York and Israel. You may connect with her on Twitter.