Today, you’d think finding a talented freelance web designer would be relatively simple. Just log on to oDesk, Elance, Behance, or one of the many freelance contracting sites and -- violà! -- you have a list of high-quality designers ready to bid on your next project. Right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. First you will spend hours weeding through low-quality offshore firms; next you must separate the true freelancers from ad agencies masquerading as freelancers and web developers faking it as designers. Once you’ve finally isolated the qualified individual designers, you need to do a deep dive into each designer’s portfolio.
When you arrive at the portfolio stage, the fun begins. Some designers are completely “dialed in” to how to display and market their portfolio. Their portfolios are clean, well organized, and are a great showcase of their work. This is the minority. The majority are like the cobbler’s kids with no shoes. Many can produce great work but don’t have a clue as to how to showcase it well. For example, few designers accurately label and categorize the thumbnail images of their work. This forces potential clients to click on every single image to get an accurate sense of the designer’s capabilities. The most disappointing thing you’ll discover when you go through the tedious portfolio review process is that there is a very small pool of qualified talent to choose from out there. And when we say qualified, we mean talented designers who could design an aesthetically pleasing website for a Fortune 2000 firm, a consumer products company or a venture-funded start-up.
Finding a talented freelance web designer in 2012 shouldn’t be this hard.
To help online marketers find the best freelance web designers, we’ve taken the time to build a curated list of who we think are the best web designers in the world for 2012. What criteria do we consider important for designers to make the cut? First, they must be true designers and earn most of their living from freelance design work. Second, they must be freelancers whom you could actually hire -- not full-time employees of a large ad agency or interactive design firm. Third, their work must be contemporary and reflect some of the best-in-class design principles of 2012.
Keep in mind, this list of talented web designers is just a starting point. We’re sure there are other very talent designers that we don’t know about. Over time we hope to add to this list; we strongly encourage freelance web designers with high quality portfolios to contact us so we can add their names.
So without further adieu, here’s our list of the top 10 freelance designers for 2012:
Doug Hughmanick is a San Jose-based freelance art director and web designer whose client list includes Facebook, Tesla Motors, Motorola, RIM, Cisco, Yahoo!, Namco Bandai, Black & Decker, ESPN, Monster Energy, Quicksilver, Easton Bell Sports, eBay, Epson, Micron, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, Qualcomm, Saba, Salesforce, Trend Micro, and Autodesk. Doug’s art direction and design stands on its own. If you’re looking for a first-rate designer, Doug should definitely be at the top of your list.
John Godfrey is a Toronto-based art director and designer specializing in the entertainment sector. His web design portfolio includes work for Jamie Foxx, 2PAC, Debora Cox, and more. We like John’s work because it’s clean, simple, and has very strong visuals. If you’re in the entertainment sector or looking for a site that is incredibly aesthetically pleasing to the eye, you’ll want to give John a call.
Nelleke van der Maas
Nelleke van der Maas is an Amsterdam-based freelance web designer whose work includes Canon, Gucci, General Motors, L’Oreal, McCain, Nedbank, Nivea, Pampers, Philips, Schiphol Airport, Sony Europe, Sony Ericsson, Tommy Hilfiger, Unilever, Vodafone, Volkswagen, Volvo, and Yamaha. Nelleke’s work is in a class by itself. If you’re looking for a big design concept for a consumer product, Nelleke should be on your short list.
John Finnell is a Seattle-based web designer whose portfolio of work includes clients such as Victoria's Secret, Acura, ABC, and Scion. We like his work because it’s visually engaging and draws the viewer into the site. You’ll just want to click.
Edwin Tofslie is a San Francisco-based designer whose major clients include Nike, Old Spice, Pepsi, Craigslist, Reddit, and more. According to Edwin, he has no real set “style” when it comes to web design. However, we beg to differ. Edwin’s style is clean, practical, and well organized; frankly, it rocks. If you only look at a few designers' portfolios in this list, make sure you check out Edwin’s.
Shelly Cooper runs a boutique design studio in Nashville, Tennessee. Her portfolio of work includes GMAC Insurance, Raven SEO tools, and The Washington Post. Shelly’s design aesthetic follows the core Web 2.0 design principles and style approach, and would take most websites to the next level.
Laura Wills is an award-winning Toronto-based designer whose clients include Honda Canada, The Royal Conservatory, Bescover, Travel Impresarios, and more. Laura’s designs are stunning and her aesthetic is highly refined; no detail goes unnoticed. Having worked closely with Lara on the Bescover.com site we can strongly recommend the quality of her design work.
Jessica Greenwalt is an award winning designer based in San Francisco. Her clients include Linkedin, University of California Berkeley, California Polytechnic State University, and Yale University. Jessica has a strong design and illustration background and her work beautifully showcases it.
Andrew Couldwell is a UK-based freelance web designer whose clients include Nike, MTV, NASA, Samsung, LIVESTRONG, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, foursquare, Vodafone, Google, Discovery Channel, the USGA, Intel, Microsoft, Surfers Against Sewage, POKE, Smesh and JESS3. Andrew’s work stands on its own and it is inspiring to see such great talent from across the pond.
Kelli Kreighbaum is a Tampa-based freelance web designer whose engaging work includes a varity of small- and mid-sized firms in Florida. It’s clean, fun, and great to look at. The caliber of Kelly's design work is that of designers who are doing work for the Fortune 1,000. If you’re looking for fresh, undiscovered talent, you should check out Kelly’s portfolio.
We strongly encourage you to review these designer’s websites and provide feedback. And again, if you’re a freelance web designer with a first-rate portfolio, please contact us and if it’s up to snuff we’ll add you to the list.
Disclaimer: We are not responsible if any of the designers listed above are misrepresenting their work, work status, or capabilities listed on their individual websites. If you are looking to hire a designer, this is just the starting point of your due diligence process.