Outsourced Designers vs. Vetted Design Talent: What’s the Difference?

It’s 2016, and you need to hire a designer. You’re not alone. Every business these days is looking for design talent, whether it’s to create a beautiful website or app, to build the perfect conversion funnel, or to refine a product and connect with your target audience.

While the benefits of having a great designer on your team are easy to recognize, the reality of hiring a designer is much more complicated. Designers are one of the rare professions that demand both research and creativity, technical expertise and artistry. This makes the hiring process more difficult because hiring managers need to identify two seemingly opposite skillsets.

Yet there are an increasing number of designers out there looking for work. Today, demand for designers is at an all-time high, and to compensate for businesses’ needs for great design, the freelance marketplace for design has expanded rapidly to make hiring talent easier. Currently, there are 53 million freelancers in the US alone – that’s 34% of the entire workforce – and there are even more freelancers around the world. With the creation of new technologies and tactics for remote teams, long distance collaboration in the workplace has never been easier.

To meet the growing need for international designer talent, two freelance hiring platforms have emerged: those that connect employer and employee a la a traditional “outsourcing” firm, and those that step in more directly, assessing both talent and clients in order to determine what exactly needs to be done and which freelancer is most fit to do it.

If you’re looking to hire a freelance designer, it’s important to understand the differences between these two types of hiring platforms, and what kinds of designers use each platform to find work.

Outsourced Designers:

Hiring an outsourced designer follows the model of popular professional social networking site LinkedIn. You can post new job listings on websites’ job boards, and freelancers interested in the position can then apply through the website. Simultaneously, you can browse freelance portfolios and profiles on that same site and then contact promising candidates directly, asking if they’re interested in new work opportunities.

There are numerous platforms that utilize this hiring structure, such as Upwork, Behance, and Dribbble. These sites connect you with cheap designers because there’s often a bidding component, in which freelancers post their rates publicly and often lower their cost to win more projects. These websites are also incredibly easy to navigate and use. Freelance portfolios listed on these sites use an identical format and provide enough information to identify candidates worth approaching about your project.

The downside to using an outsourcing company is that it takes time to find the right freelancer for your project: you either have to wait for someone to find your job posting or review a pile of portfolios to find eligible candidates. Once you find those candidates, you then have to vet them yourself. As with any hiring process, you never take a resume at face value. You always dig deeper. Are they telling the truth? What skills did the learn from their past experience? This screening process is crucial to identify the candidates who are actually qualified for the position.

Finding and vetting designers yourself takes time, so while hiring an outsourced designer is a cheap option, it isn’t a fast one, and you risk the chance that the designer isn’t capable of doing what they say they can. Outsourced design talent is typically less experienced than other hiring platforms because talented designers aren’t interested in bidding wars and low rates. If your project is long term or particularly complex then you may want to consider other options.

Vetted Design Talent:

Vetted designers fall into a similar category as outsourced designers: they are both freelancers that will integrate with your existing team (or work independently) remotely, and you’ll likely never meet them in person. However, the differences between the two create a profoundly distinct working experience.

Vetted design talent refers to remote freelancers that have been screened by professionals and have proven their skills through a variety of tests and interviews. They typically are senior designers with years of experience working remotely. This type of talent rarely joins looser freelance networks of outsourced talent because they dislike competing with unqualified cheap designers for a job or dealing with businesses that don’t know what they want with their design. To have invigorating jobs and earn a steady salary, talented designers instead joins more selective networks like Toptal.

Toptal is a freelance platform of developers and designers that have all gone through intensive screening for communication skills and technical expertise. Only 3% of applicants are accepted to the network after the four-part screening process, and Toptal then connects this network of elite freelance talent with clients around the world.

To ensure a successful working relationship, Toptal has a team of senior engineers and designers meet with you to determine the specifications of your project, and the team then custom matches you with freelancers in the network that can satisfy your project’s needs. This process happens much faster than if you attempted to hire a designer on your own because you have an entire team combing their own network to find the designers best fit for your project.

More experienced designers choose companies like Toptal because it provides job security and connects them with interesting projects with a reliable salary in ways that other outsourcing firms can’t. This means that using a platform like Toptal to connect with vetted design talent isn’t cheap, but it does allow you to hire a designer more quickly than outsourcing would, and it also guarantees that you will work with a talented designer that can handle the problems and tasks you give them.

The Difference:

The difference between outsourced designers and vetted design talent is ultimately one of seniority. Vetted design talent has the years of experience that outsourced designers don’t. This doesn’t mean that outsourced designers aren’t capable of completing a design project, only that they will require more oversight to successfully do so and, for high-level projects, will likely need some level of technical assistance. If you have a complicated design idea and need designers to work semi-autonomously, then your best bet is to hire someone through a vetted design talent network.

Once you understand your project and timeline, you can decide on whether outsourced or vetted talent is the best for your business. Then join a relevant platform, and start the search for your designer!

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