Top 3 Tips To Level Up Your Freelance Design Life in 2021

Can you hear that? Yes, the decorations are going up, and carols are starting to be sung, which means Christmas is just around the corner and not far beyond that, a whole new decade! 

So while you look back on the year that’s been and start planning for another year full of creative projects and design work, it’s time to take stock of how far you’ve come and what you can do to make 2021 your most successful year of design freelancing yet. 

We recently spoke with some of the most successful freelance graphic and web designers on Envato Studio to get their top tips for doing just that, so you can be ready to put your best foot forward as the clock strikes midnight on December 31. 

Stay on-trend

Illustration Design Trends

Your clients expect that the work you provide will be eye-catching, finely crafted and, perhaps most importantly, on-trend. 

It can be a frustrating experience keeping track of the many blogs and companies that have creative insights and determining what these trends are and how you should implement them. So perhaps the best place to go for trend advice is other designers. 

“I specifically like to check DribbbleBehance and Awwward, but I also want to do some research from time to time on Pinterest.

Also doing weekly reviews of the work that the users have uploaded to Envato’s sites like ThemeForest and GraphicRiver,” says Oscar Polanco, otherwise known as MadridNYC. “It helps to give me a sense of what’s selling, and what the most demanding styles or trends are at any given moment.”

Indonesian-based brand designer Sukianto Tan (aka Sukiafat) agrees that connecting with people often provides the best ideas. “Usually I start by observing the design style in my surroundings. But sometimes having discussions with fellow designers or my clients also gives me a valuable perspective to the newest design trends.”

For Moskva Yigit aka KI-Themes, this is only part of the answer, suggesting designers should use the IRL examples they find to unlock new ways and means of delivering on-trend work. 

“I’d advocate looking for inspiration everywhere you can. Most of the techniques have already been discovered, so it’s more important how you use these techniques to create unique works.”

So what’s hot in the world of graphic and visual design

“As an ‘old school’ artist, I’m hoping that more personal work, including illustration, will be trending in the future,” observes Moskva Yigit. “Even though every designer has their own style when you look at them, generally, you could see the similarity between the works. 

I hope, sooner or later, most designers will be able to create more unique works so we could recognise who created them by just looking at them.” 

Boris Borisogljepski, founder and Creative Director of Brandbusters, echoes these thoughts, saying that he believes illustrations are on the rise, especially for web design, while clean and minimal-styled logos are going to continue to be the trend to follow in the next 12 months.

When it comes to website design, page-speed as always remains king. “It’s important to find the right balance between user experience and website performance,” notes Damir Barbaric, a web developer for WordPress development house Xstream Themes

“We prefer a simplified design and clean look, as Google is pretty strict with website speed scoring.” Conversely, Barbaric is hopeful that the days of wild typography are on over, as it’s “harder to push the boundaries of typography on the web than it is in print.”

That doesn’t mean your website designs can’t look good at the same time. Aslam Hasib, who founded HasTech, expects that in 2020 we’ll see sites with micro animation, bold colours, asymmetrical layouts and isometric designs start to dominate our internet browsing experiences. 

But he notes, it also pays to be aware of the visual trends that are potentially on their way out. “The design trends I see a lot of that I wish would go away include those with loads of colours, too much CSS3 animation or even retro designs.”

Invest in yourself

Skilledup Design Courses

When was the last time you watched a tutorial video on YouTube to learn a new skill? Chances are you, or someone you know has done just that in the last week. 

According to some sites, as many as 86% of YouTube viewers regularly use the platform to learn new things, while frequently YouTube watchers are three times more likely to watch a tutorial video than read a manual or guidebook.

Freelance designers are no different, with many of those we spoke to for this article advocating video guides and online courses as their preferred way to skill up. 

“I usually love to watch tutorials on YouTube or Skillshare to learn new things,” says Sukianto Tan. It’s easy right now to learn new things because there are so many online courses out there and most of them are free!” 

It’s not all about video; Erwin Kaddy suggests online tutorials like Tuts+ are an excellent place to start, while Aslam Hasib is a vocal supporter of podcasts and audiobooks (you can find some useful suggestions in the Inkbot Design store right here!).

While Mirza said subscriptions to numerous tech-related blog sites that update regularly is another easy way to learn something new and stay across the needs of each individual job. 

There is still something to be said about a learning-by-doing, agrees Damir Barbabric. 

“The best way to learn a new design skill which can then be used in subsequent projects is to make experiments and side projects. It’s important to set aside some time which can be dedicated to improving your skills by mastering the tools you already use and practice your design skills daily.”

Ultimately, whatever you choose as your go-to process for upskilling your abilities, it has to be a solution that is unique to you, as comfortable as sitting in your favourite chair or listening to your favourite album. 

Moskva Yigit said: “Music and tea. I’m quite sure I need both of them to do my job!” 

Coach your clients

Understand The Client

When I first started art class in early primary school in regional Australia, my teacher told me, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” 

Now obviously, that is not a sustainable model for the freelancer-client relationship

But that doesn’t mean you should hold back on your feedback and help guide or coach your client to a clearer path for communicating the objectives and outcomes of a particular project. 

“You should always encourage your clients to ask the designer for their opinion on any project you have. Don’t just demand something, because sometimes designers can direct you to understand better the whole process and the final result will be much better in cooperation between the two sides,” explains Damir Barbaric.  

Oscar Polanco encourages would-be clients to dig a bit deeper when assessing potential freelance solutions “What’s your style? 

Is your style matching with the kind of design you’re looking for and the audience you’re trying to reach?”

Likewise, Sukianto Tan encourages clients to be clear about the scale and impact of any change in scope for the project. 

“If clients ask for more work outside the initial brief, I think it’s important to ask the designer if there are any additional costs for this additional work. It’s a good – and simple – way to maintain a good relationship with your designer.”

For Aslam Hasib, having excellent communication skills – and an iron-clad pitch template! – is the best tool you can have in your freelancer arsenal. 

“Whenever a client sends me an inquiry for a job, and if I’m not clear about the requirements, I always ask for a detailed list of the client’s requirements to make sure I can fulfil all the needs. It helps me to deliver the job successfully, which results in complete client satisfaction. So yeah, this is the one thing I couldn’t do my job without!”

Finally: “Please don’t ask “can you do it for tomorrow”, if it’s already 4 pm,” requests Barbaric. “Design is a creative process and rushing it will not produce good results.”

Do you have any other tips and ideas for refining your freelance work approach in 2020? 

Author Bio: David Scott is currently the PR & Communications Manager for Envato, the company behind one of the worlds largest communities for digital creatives.