How Online Freelance Design is Changing the Traditional Design Agency Model

The design and creative agency model is suffering: simply said – clients want more work, faster, delivered to a higher standard than ever before and they don’t want to pay anywhere as much for it as they did twenty years ago.

Design agencies have been scrambling to deal with this in different ways, some have grown the agency to spread the costs over a larger number of clients, some have innovated new products or services. There has also been a noticeable growth in the number of niche and deeply specialized agencies while others have done what was once the unthinkable and become open to free pitching – one of the industry’s biggest bugbears. To compound the problem and force agencies into a vicious circle, they have been forced to downsize and reduce salaries to bolster profit margins. The result is fewer resources and de-motivated employees with the talent creatives increasingly turning to in-house roles that offer more attractive pay or freelance work that allows for a flexible home.

Agencies, to some extent, are being left holding the baby. They face the same creative challenges and are being asked to solve the same client problems while facing a problematic new workforce dynamic and tighter margins.

For marketers and freelancers, however, the new talent marketplaces are a boon. The internet and the rise of crowdsourcing has given clients direct access to talented freelancers from all over the world who are often significantly cheaper and faster while offering the same quality. This has coincided with the rise of the professional nomad – creative freelancers who travel the world while maintaining their career.

There is a problem with this direct approach – quality control. When you have a team of designers working on the project with a carefully created brief and formal project management processes the outcome is likely to be better. But does this justify the agency price-hike? Or is the client just paying for the historical overhead of the agency?

Perhaps the answer lies in a crowdsourcing and competition site like The new model sees talented freelance designers register their portfolios, which are vetted for quality- just like they would be at an agency, before they can compete for work. It’s a win-win where clients get access to a host of talented freelance designers in a professionally managed environment without the agency costs. In exchange, the number of designers that can pitch for a single project are limited to keep the chances of winning high for the designers, who rely on this to have earnings.

This new model is challenging an already pressured agency model, ultimately only time will tell if this causes reform and if the huge and thriving freelance market will reinvent the industry.

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