With everyone working remotely these days, many of you reading this are probably wondering the same thing—could I go freelance? Could I become a freelance designer? Freelance designers are currently in-demand and the ball is in their court when it comes to deciding who to work for. We sat down (virtually) with a designer on our team to get the details on how he has made a career for himself while sticking to his values.
Artisan Talent: Hi! Tell us who you are and what you’re currently doing for a living?
My name is Craig Hansen and I’m a designer and mentor. I run a small freelance practice called Studio Principle and I split my time fairly evenly between traditional graphic design (Printed Matter), animation, UI design, and mentoring students at CareerFoundry.
Artisan: Give us some context on how you ended up at this place in your career.
Craig Hansen: Haha, dumb luck? JK. I graduated with a BFA from Colorado State University in 2002. Initially I moved to London, gained some experience freelancing and worked a short stint at a web design studio focused on the fashion and skateboarding industries. I moved back to the states to freelance in Chicago and then took a full-time job in the interactive department at Leo Burnett. This is where I learned animation, which was a turning point for my skills and confidence.
After 6 years at Leo Burnett I took a job that (on paper) sounded perfect—managing a small team of very talented designers and working on important ad projects. The reality was an overwhelming workload, tons of stress, and a sense that I’d made a grave mistake. At the age of 40 I reluctantly found myself back in the freelance pool. I’d given up my 401k, paid vacations and at least the semblance of stability. I was miserable. Thankfully, I stuck with it and the doors started to open. But I realized that I rarely saw my clients in person anymore. Why, then, was I suffering through 6 months of gray, cold Chicago weather? My wife and I rented our condo and headed for warmer climates (Costa Rica, to be exact).
In 2019 I started the mentoring gig and I absolutely love it! I’ve always thought I’d enjoy teaching design at the university level, but that path hasn’t opened up to me just yet. While mentoring I get to guide students and challenge them to be the very best designers that they can be. It is one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had.
Artisan: How do you start your day off to facilitate creativity and productivity?
CH: I drink coffee and look at Instagram for about 10 minutes (I only follow artists and designers, so this offers a little jolt of inspiration). Then I take my dog for a walk and, on most days, I paddle out for a surf.
Artisan: What are the elements of your day that bring you joy? What about career satisfaction?
CH: Um, did you see that part above where I surf nearly everyday? That kind of tops the joyful elements list ;) From a work standpoint, it is the breadth of projects I work on. I’m super fortunate to design for an amazing record label, animate all kinds of fun scenes, concept and design websites, formulate brand identities for new companies, and work with passionate students.
Artisan: What’s the biggest challenge you encounter as a freelance designer?
CH: Brass tacks, I make considerably less than I did when working full-time living in Chicago. 100% remote is tough! It’s isolating. I have to be the designer, accountant, new lead generator and my own cheerleader. I spend a lot of my time looking for new work and reading up on ways to work smarter and not harder. For example, a $5k branding gig isn’t life-changing—it’s sustenance money. So it’s maybe not where I ought to focus my time and energy. Add that consideration to a power grid that flickers daily with at least one all-day internet outage per month (sorry influencers, your glitzy faux version of a digital nomad is busted) and I have to be REAL flexible with my work.
Artisan: What are your long-term goals?
CH: Stay relevant as AI takes away sizable portions of the design process. Teach, consult, and mentor more.
Artisan: What advice would you give to people who are pondering this career path?
CH: Do it because you love it—because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Design is a language. Use that language for good whenever possible. Keep learning and embrace all of the twists and turns that come your way. Because, for real, AI is coming. But this doesn’t need to mean the end of designers. Strive to be the best and seek out progressive, cutting-edge continuing education programs. Be open-minded and use the same problem-solving skills you use for your clients to solve how and where you fit into a more technology-driven future design industry.
Ready for a job in design? Have you decided that maybe another path is right for you? Check out our open jobs to find your next project or full-time role.
Psst—want to share your experience and have your portfolio featured? We want to feature talented creatives, designers, and digital gurus just like you. Reach out to our marketing team at firstname.lastname@example.org and use the subject line “A Day in the Life…”