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How to Find a Design Freelancer for Your Customized Products

design freelancer

In the age of Amazon brands, Aliexpress and Wish, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to succeed with generic private label products. Creating unique, custom designed, products is the only way forward for smaller E-commerce businesses that can’t compete on price alone.

Yet, while many E-commerce businesses have great ideas for custom designed products they want to bring to market, they lack the in-house design expertise, or budget, to turn their visions into practical 3D design files and technical drawings.

But, as I explain in this article, the creation of a custom-designed product is not nearly as complex or difficult as you might think.

Keep reading, and learn how our customers have used Upwork.com to find amazing freelancers, turning their concepts into technical drawings and CAD files for as little as $100.

1. Prepare a ‘Design Concept’ PDF

Product designers are not psychics with mind reading abilities. They need clear instructions in order to turn your product and design ideas into drawings that make sense to a manufacturer.

As such, the first step of the process is to define those ideas the form of text and basic drawings.

If I want to create a wristwatch design, for example, I should prepare the following material in a PDF file:

  • Watch case sketch (various angles)
  • Indexing sketch
  • Crown sketch
  • Hands sketch
  • Strap sketch

In addition, I’d also specify the following:

  • Colors
  • Logos / Engravings

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to communicating your ‘design vision’ to a freelancer, as long as it’s done in a way that they can easily understand. Use photos of similar brands edited in photoshop, or a rough napkin drawing – what matters is that you don’t leave the designer guessing what you want.

Finally, you must also set a clear deliverable for your future freelancer. If we stick to the wristwatch example, I’d request the following:

  • Watch case design (AutoCAD)
  • Strap design
  • Logo file
  • Backplate engraving file

The more specific you are, the faster your designer can turn the project around.

2. Post a Job Offer on Upwork.com

Upwork.com is the go-to platform for freelancers of all kinds. Creating an Upwork account can be done in a few minutes, and you’ll need to link your credit card or PayPal account. Once you’re set up, it’s time to post a job.

a. Budget

You can select to create a job on a project basis, and request a fixed price quote, or hire a freelancer on an hourly basis. I recommend that you start with a fixed price quote, but that requires that you clearly defined your design guidelines as I explained in the first step.

Below follows some budget guidelines:

b. Location

Upwork.com is an international platform. As such, you can receive bids from freelancers worldwide, or only allow applicants from certain countries or regions to apply.

c. Job Category / Qualification Requirements

Upwork.com matches candidates based on the job category and qualification requirements you set. When looking for product designers, I recommend that you use one of the following job categories:

  • Engineering & Architecture > Product Design
  • Engineering & Architecture > 3D Modeling & CAD
  • Design & Creative > Physical Design
  • Design & Creative > Art & Illustration

You can set more detailed qualification requirements, to further narrow the scope of applicants.

d. Project Headline

The headline shall be as clear and specific as possible. If we stick to the watch example, I’d use this headline:

Product designer needed for a new wristwatch

e. Project Description

The product description should mainly focus on the deliverable, and the support material you’ll provide.


We are looking for a product designer that can turn our ideas into technical drawings and logo files. We will provide the following:

  • Product/component sketches
  • Pantone color overview
  • Logo sketch

Based on this material, we expect you to deliver the following:

  • Watch Design (AutoCAD)
  • Strap Design (ISO Technical Drawing)
  • Logo File (Adobe Illustrator)
  • Back Case Engraving File (Adobe Illustrator)

Notice that this project only concerns one model, in one color scheme.


As you can see in the sample text above, It’s easy for the applicant to understand the scope of the project, and therefore offer a reasonable quotation.

3. Select a Design Freelancer

It will only take a few hours before you have anything from 10 to 40 applicants. I recommend that you review each applicant and make a shortlist of at least 5 candidates.

Every freelancer on Upwork.com has a profile, with testimonials and ratings from previous clients, a cover letter and their portfolio. The portfolio is arguably the most important factor when selecting a freelancer, as it gives you a clear idea of their level of expertise.

When it comes to ratings and logged hours I’d be more flexible. There are plenty of great designers that are new to Upwork.com and therefore lack a rating. Many of clients have found amazingly talented and hard working designers that way

Once you’ve selected a candidate, it’s time to start the project and deposit the project funds.

Notice that the funds will only be released once you approve the files.

4. Approve or reject the delivered design files

The time frame for the freelancer to complete the task should be clearly specified when you start the project. Most design freelancers can deliver within a week.

Note that you should review all files before you close the project, as doing so will automatically result in the release of the funds.

Further, you should not need to pay anything extra, should the designer fail to provide design files in accordance with the deliverable requirements. Likewise, you cannot add are change the requirements once the budget and project scope is agreed on.

FAQ

Do I need to find a designer located in the same country as my manufacturer?

No, it doesn’t matter where your designer is located. Most of our clients use designers located in Europe, the United States and South East Asia.

Can the design freelancer also select materials and components?

While a designer can turn your vision into CAD files or technical drawings, you should not assume that they are qualified to select materials or create other product documentation.

Their work ends once they’ve created the drawings or CAD files you requested.

Can I expect my designer to work directly with my supplier?

Product designers are not sourcing assistants. As such, you should expect them to engage in any communication with your suppliers, or other companies involved in the manufacturing process.

How much should I pay a design freelancer?

Below follows some budget guidelines:

  • Textile pattern / size chart: US$100
  • Leather bag techpack: $120
  • Watch CAD file: $170
  • Electronic Product Casing CAD: $300

How long does the design process take?

While it depends on the complexity of the product and the design files, most designers can turn around a project in a week or less.

What else do I need to bring to the factory, apart from design drawings?

Design drawings are only part of what you need to prepare. In addition, you generally need to prepare the following files:

  • 2 thoughts on “How to Find a Design Freelancer for Your Customized Products

    1. Nice tutorial. It is always good for an ‘inventor’ to have someone prepare 2D & 3D CAD files. It makes the discussion with potential suppliers more productive.

      And you rightly point out the limitations of this approach. A product designer found on Upwork will generally not be very familiar with materials or with production processes. It means there is still some work (and, for a complex product, a LOT of work) in doing DFM (Design For Manufacturing) — in other words, to review the design and ‘fill the gap’ to make it manufacturable in good conditions. It often involves prototyping.

      Here are some of the questions our engineers usually try to answer:

      – Can this product be assembled? We have seen buyers who haven’t found a way to assemble their new product and who expect their supplier to find a way.

      – Is it easy to assemble? If your team has spent hours to assemble an early prototype, don’t assume the manufacturer will find a better way. Many projects meet this issue. If you are far away from an easy assembly process, it is usually better to keep working on your design before showing it to any manufacturer. Several companies used our facilities and help from our engineers to find a better approach, and it saved them much time.

      – Can the parts to be assembled together be made with standard processes? If you need a bleeding edge piece of equipment to make certain parts, making them in China or any other low-cost country might be impossible… or extremely expensive.

      – Was the design of the parts optimized for their production process? For example, injected parts should have draft angles to ensure they can be ejected from their mold easily and without scratches.

      – Can the parts be manufactured with a high yield (i.e. a high percentage of pieces with acceptable quality, with no need for rework)? Some companies decide to go into production even though some parts still suffer from a very high defect rate (sometimes up to 70%). This might be fine for a small pre-production batch, but no production run will be sustainable in these conditions. You should not go into production if 5% or more have to be reworked – otherwise, your supplier will force you to accept a higher price and a longer lead time.

      1. Hi Renaud,

        Yes, I agree with you on all points.

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