Should I Hire a Freelance, Agency, or a Full-Time Product Designer?

Should I Hire a Freelance, Agency, or a Full-Time Product Designer?

Should I Hire a Freelance, Agency, or a Full-Time Product Designer?

In this article, we compare all of the possible designer hiring options and propose an alternative.

by Vytas Butkevicius

Jun 24, 2023

At different junctures of their journey, tech companies and startups face an important decision: should they hire a freelancer, work with an agency, or onboard a designer full-time? Each choice carries its unique set of pros and cons, but is there an alternative that combines the benefits of all three while mitigating the downsides? In this article, we'll delve deep into these options and propose an unconventional yet compelling route: working with a long-term product design partner.

The Freelance Route

Freelancers are often seen as a cost-effective solution. Many companies opt for this route to maintain lean operations and keep their overheads low. Here's what you need to know about working with freelance designers:

The Good:

  • Cost-Effective: Hiring a freelancer is usually more economical compared to other options. You pay them only for the work they do, and you can avoid the financial burden of employee benefits and other fixed costs associated with full-time employees.

The Bad:

  • Finding the Right Fit: Hiring freelancers can be risky. More often than not, it takes several trials and errors before you find the right designer that aligns with your vision and ethos.

  • Availability Issues: Freelancers are free agents and are likely to chase the best-paid gigs. There's a chance they might disappear mid-project, or decide to take a full-time job, leaving you in the lurch.

  • Misaligned Goals: As freelancers are usually hired for short-term projects, they may lack the long-term perspective and commitment that some projects demand.

The Agency Route

Agencies bring a dedicated team to the table, boasting a depth and breadth of experience across different product types. However, their services come at a premium. Here's a breakdown:

The Good:

  • Dedicated Management: Agencies have dedicated project managers who ensure that your project runs smoothly and deadlines are met.

  • Experience: With a portfolio of complex products, agencies bring a wealth of experience to the table that can prove beneficial for your project.

The Bad:

  • Costly: Agencies can be a hefty investment. The costs are often high because you're paying not just for the designers' time, but also for project managers and the agency's overheads.

  • Outsourcing: Many agencies outsource their design work to junior or mid-level designers, which might affect the quality and integrity of your project.

The Full-Time Route

Hiring a full-time designer can give you better control and consistency over your projects, but it's a significant commitment that comes with its own set of challenges.

The Good:

  • Consistency: Having a full-time designer can ensure consistency and dedication to your project, leading to a deep understanding of your product and your brand.

The Bad:

  • Hiring Costs: Onboarding a full-time designer can cost anywhere between $15,000 to $20,000. If the hire doesn't work out, the financial implications are even greater.

  • Expensive: Besides salary, full-time employees need benefits, vacation, sick days, mentoring, and growth opportunities, all of which add up significantly.

  • Job Changes: Research shows that full-time employees, especially in the tech industry, tend to change jobs every 1.5 years on average, which can disrupt the flow of your projects.

  • Acquiring Talent: Unless your product is well-known or highly appealing, attracting talented senior designers can be challenging.

The Alternative - A Long-Term Design Partner

Enter the hybrid model - establishing a long-term relationship with a design partner. This route combines the flexibility of freelancers, the professionalism of agencies, and the commitment of full-time employees, all while avoiding their drawbacks.

The Good:

  • Cost-Effective: It's at least 50% cheaper than a full-time employee and 2-3x cheaper than an agency.

  • Saves Time and Money: You save $15,000 a year and avoid the headaches related to hiring, firing, rehiring, vacation, and time off.

  • Quality Work: Design partners don't outsource to junior designers or charge for product managers. The work is done by senior designers with a vested interest in your success.

  • Specialized in SaaS / B2B: Long-term design partners are focused on SaaS interface design, making them the best in the field.

The Bad:

  • Designers can be picky: Long-term design partners can be picky with whom they work with since it's potentially a long-term relationship

  • Minimum contract length: If you have a project that's a few weeks of work, freelancers would be a better option.


The decision to hire a freelancer, an agency, or a full-time designer can make or break your product's success. However, as the business landscape evolves, new models like long-term design partnerships offer innovative ways to access quality design services. Ultimately, it's all about understanding your needs, evaluating your options, and choosing a path that aligns with your business objectives. The design landscape is no longer black and white but filled with shades of exciting alternatives. Explore them, and you might just find the perfect fit for your company.


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