The best places to do freelance design work

The best places to do freelance design work

Home studio, shared space, Starbucks or somewhere else? We weigh up the pros and cons of the different places to do your freelance design work.

When you’re a freelance designer, your working environment is vitally important to your creative success. And everyone is different in what they want from a space.

Some prefer the convenience of walking into a home studio straight from the bedroom without a comb in sight. Others prefer to be in a creatively-inspiring place: perhaps a studio that rents out desks or a dedicated shared space. Some will even happily sit in coffee shops all day, although those people will probably end up a little caffeine charged.

Here we look at the most common places to do freelance work and discuss the pros and cons of each.

01. The home studio

Web designer Shane Mielke’s workspace sits in the corner of his 800sq ft ‘Mancave’

Working at home can be great. There’s no need to worry about getting into work, you’re familiar with your surroundings and you can look exactly how you want without a) offending anyone, or b) worrying about wearing trousers.

You can also tailor your environment to your exact needs – if you have a small studio you can fill it with vinyl toys, posters, tees or whatever takes your fancy. It’s your own personal space and no one can come over and tell you to tidy it up (well, except maybe your partner).

Leaving the house

What you’ll probably miss, though, is the stimulation of getting outside and see somewhere other than the same four walls – so it’s important to build this into your routine.

Sam Gibley creates his amazing portraits in the comfort of his own home

“When I am working from home, an important part of my daily ritual is leaving the house, going for a walk and getting some coffee before I ‘commute’ back to the office,” says Sam Gilbey, an artist and illustrator best known for his incredible digital portraits. “This gives me some thinking and planning time, plus chance to catch up with a few emails and admin tasks, knowing that when I’m home, I can be fully focused on the creative work that needs to be done.”

02. The shared studio

Design strategy and user experience guru Josh Clark does much of his work at the shared office Studio Mates in Brooklyn

At home you can get as much peace and quiet as you like, which can help improve your productivity. But some designers can’t work that way: they crave the social interaction and creative stimulation that  a shared studio can provide.

“I couldn’t work without a studio,” says freelance graphic designer, illustrator and artist Tom Sewell. “I’ve worked from home and found motivation next to impossible. It’s vital for me to have a space to go to that’d devoted entirely to my work, where I can put stuff on the wall and keep my books and all my stuff/treasure/extensive postcard collection. It’s good to share your space and endeavours with other people, you can motivate and encourage each other all week and then drink beer on a Friday.”

Tom Sewell prefers to produce his beautiful illustrations in a shared space

Working in such an environment enables you to bounce ideas off other creatives. Sewell currently works in a shared studio space with three other artists – Bobby from Telegramme and Nic and Will of Nous Vous and prefers this small number of people to a larger one.

“I’ve worked in a space with 25 different people all with a desk space and found it quite distracting,” he explains. “Too many comings and goings. Four people feels right for me – enough to share thoughts with without too many distractions.”

03. A bit of both

Sometimes you can’t nail it down to one place. And if you can afford it, being able to use both can be extremely beneficial. “I personally like to work between a combination of studio desk and home studio,”  says all-round creative guru Anna Mullins aka Sneaky Raccoon.

Anna Mullins does her design work both at home and in a shared workspace

“In the shared studio space there are always people around you who you can pose questions to about your potential projects, you can have a chat and think differently away from the confines of other distractions of the home studio such as household chores. But sometimes the opposite happens – interactions become distractions. So I like getting a bit of time away from studio buddies in the home studio.

“I can be messier at home too,” she adds, “especially if I am doing a creative hands on project with paint or fabrics.”

04. The coffee shop

Coffee chains like Starbucks are usually laptop-friendly

We’ve all seen creatives beavering away on their freelance design work in Starbucks (other coffee shops are available). The cost of the coffee is a small price to pay for a change of scene and a burst of caffeinated energy, there are usually plenty of available power outlets and free WiFi, and we’ve yet to hear of anyone being turned away for setting up shop in the middle of a chain cafe (if you’ve had that experience we’d love to hear from you).

Illustrator Andrew Groves finds coffee shops a good place to come up with ideas

However, it’s also unusual to hear of designers spending their entire time in a coffee shop: it’s more of a temporary escape from cabin fever. While it can be a good place to do admin tasks or idea generation, plus any design work (coding, for example) that can be done on a laptop or notebook, anything beyond that is a bit of a stretch. We have seen people setting their printers up in coffee shops – but it’s rare.

“For me it’s a case of variety,” says freelance illustrator Andrew Groves. “When coming up with ideas I tend to work best away from my computer. [But] when it comes to creating final work I prefer to work at my desk at home as anywhere else has too many distractions.”

05. Spare desk at an agency

Free desks are going spare at top agencies right now!

Every considered asking a design agency whether they have a spare desk they can rent? It’s not something that would occur to most people, so London-based designer Nick Crouch has launched, a Open Studio Club is an online service that aims to help creative people find and rent space in existing agencies offices. Check out what’s available in your area on their website.

Short of cash? Then you’re in luck. The same site is currently running a campaign asking creative agencies to offer a free desk in their studio to new talent. (That’s completely free and not in exchange for work, by the way). Several big-name design agencies, including Poke, Base and HORT are signed up – you’ll find full details here.


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