When I decided to make an app, I had to get clear on who will be doing the designing.
Option #1 – Me
I have past experience with web design, and (I’d like to think) that I have a good eye for design. I did a course on Sketch, learned about design pattern trends. With Flutter, it’s very useful to get familiar with the Material design system.
After some play, I remembered why I wasn’t a designer. This form of creativity needs to be cultivated. Although I could develop something functional, I knew I couldn’t design something beautiful right away.
Option #2 – Someone else
I have some mixed experiences hiring remote workers. The last time I used a designer it was for my real estate website, where I had a great experience with a young, talented web designer from the Philippines.
Upwork can be a great place to find affordable talent. But, you need to be able to find the diamonds in the rough.
Understand Your Range
Do a search for the talent you are looking for. In this case: mobile design. You’ll start to see a pattern for pricing.
$10-$15. At this lower end, you will find people with little experience or incomplete portfolios. You may stumble upon a gem, who is likely to be a student or early in their career.
$15-$35. You will start to see some more complete portfolios. Working apps in the app store, solid reviews. Usually in a far away timezone.
$35-$100. A large range indeed. This is where you can start to see experienced talent. Locations vary as widely as the rates.
Looking at the talent, you’ll start to understand how much you need to pay based on your quality threshold. Browse through as many portfolios as possible. Try to get an understanding of their design style. Do you like how their past apps look and function? Do you like colors and interactions?
It’s easier, quicker and cheaper, in the long run, to work with an experienced designer who shares your taste and vision than it is to hire a cheap designer and expect them to perform above their talent level.
Prepare a Design Brief
Explain what you want your app to do, and your reasoning behind it. Why does it exist in the world? Who’s your competition? What are some apps you like? And why?
Get real about what you need to launch. Only keep the stuff that makes it lovable.
The better you communicate about your app, the less time the designer needs to spend on gathering requirements. For some projects, gathering requirements can actually take more time than designing itself.
Worse, the designer doesn’t gather requirements and starts designing in the wrong direction. This is a total waste of time and money. The designer isn’t happy about getting it wrong, and the product owner isn’t happy as they’re already behind.
This also requires creating wireframes, which I discussed here.
Hourly vs Project
At Upwork, you have the option to post a project as hourly, or as a total bounty.
From a total bounty perspective, the designer is paid when the project is completed. From a designer, this can sometimes take multiple iterations which can become time-consuming. You never know how picky or perfectionist the client will be. A $500 logo can quickly turn into a multi-week nightmare.
I was coming with a hefty amount of research, requirements, and wireframes. This made me feel comfortable to post as hourly, as I knew that I had already done a lot of heavy lifting already, which would speed up design time. It would also allow me to attract designers that only work hourly.
BE Quick to Fire
I would like to pretend that after hiring a designer, it’s all easy sailing. It is not. By the time the design was finished, I was on my third designer. The good news is that I moved quickly to find the right designer.
Designer #1 – $18 / hour. 1.5 hours = $33 mistake
A nice (and creepy) feature of Upwork, is that they can take screenshots of the freelancer’s work. While it feels strange to look over someone’s shoulder while working, it also gives a good insight into a designer’s process.
Looking at the screenshots, I could see that the style was off. I would be able to produce a better result myself, even with a lack of experience. I wanted a design that would elevate way beyond my capabilities.
Designer $2 – $28 / hour. 7 hours = $196 mistake
For my second act, I wanted a designer that was uber-talented. I decided to up my range to find one with a great portfolio.
I communicated to the new designer to spend one day on design concepts, and then we can chat about the direction. After one day, the designer came up with great concepts. Instead of stopping and communicating, the designer spent another day on design. It was a miscommunication, but it was a big enough warning sign to drop the designer.
Talent alone isn’t enough for a designer. Communication is key to working with an effective designer.
Designer #3 – $35 / hour. Just right
I ended up working with a designer that was both a solid designer and communicator. He asked many thoughtful questions and always thought with the end-user in mind.
It wasn’t without some friction, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s good for a designer to question assumptions that I may have made. A good designer that will work on the edge of your comfort zone, nudging the borders of experimentation and novelty. But they are respectful enough to pull back when key product decisions are made.
Based on my initial requirements and wireframes, the designer took less than 40 hours to develop the finished mockups. Mobile app mockups can take multiple weeks and months, so getting this completed under a working week feels fantastic.
Areas that we covered include:
There are lots of decisions to make when it comes to app design. Be prepared and pick a designer that you trust and can exceed expectations.
Note: If you’d like to hire this designer, he is available on Upwork here.