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Design Without Borders: A 2020 Survey of Freelance Creatives

Nov 25, 2020
(updated: Dec 5, 2022)
Max 5 min read

99 Designs, a freelancer platform that connects remote designers and clients, published their second annual report Design Without Borders 2020. The report surveyed 11,000 creative remote workers across 147 countries to assess the state of the freelance design community in 2020 and make predictions about the future.

In a year that has turned so many industries upside down the Design Without Borders survey indicates that freelance designers are thriving. Amongst all the uncertainty 2020 has brought, upcoming years are looking bright. 99designs CEO Patrick Llewellyn explains how a big transition to working more remotely this year has opened doors for freelancers:

As international and domestic borders slammed shut thanks to the pandemic, opportunities for freelancers opened up online. The way the world thinks about “work” has fundamentally shifted; there is greater empathy stemming from shared experiences, and an openness to new ways of doing things. The time for freelance creators is now–the world is waiting.

So let’s dive into survey details a bit more and look at how the world of freelance design has changed since 2019, what challenges have been brought on by COVID-19, and what things may look like for designers in years to come.

What have been the negative effects of COVID-19?

So many industries have been hit hard this year, by the pandemic, and remote workers were not immune. Many creative professionals reported losses in work and economic hardship.

- 27% said their clients have cut budgets

- 26% reported that at least one project has been canceled or put on hold

- 22% had been ghosted by at least one client 

- 36% had difficulty finding steady work

- 48% reported a change in employment

- 26% lost a salaried job

- 32% had considered taking on additional work, as a result of COVID-19 challenges

Along with some of these economic struggles, changes in satisfaction were also noted as compared to 2019. 28% reported being unsatisfied with their industry vs. only 17% from 2019. A majority of 51% still reported satisfaction, but this was not as much as 65% in 2019. On a positive note, 16% reported they were very satisfied which is an increase from 13% in 2019.

What have been some positive outcomes of COVID-19?

Though COVID-19 has had negative financial impacts on freelance designers. There were surprisingly more positive results from this year. 

1 in 5 freelancers reported getting more work than usual as more businesses switched to working remotely out of necessity. This fundamental shift in business operation has lead designers to report improvements in client collaboration and communication as compared to last year. 

While many reported economic struggles, even more designers reported economic gains. 49% said they expect to earn more in 2020 than they did in 2019. A significant portion of this group (24%) said they expect their income to increase significantly.

Along with economic growth for freelancers, this year has created opportunities for personal and professional growth as 81% reported learning a new professional skill. This is a significant increase from 60% in 2019.

While many designers (48%) had to balance childcare, homeschool, and distance learning on top of their normal workload. A high number of this group (48%) said it had a positive impact on their work-life balance and many noted that having family around helped their creative process.

What does the future look like?

Though freelancing isn’t limited to one age group, millennials have been leading the way. 82% of freelancers surveyed were under the age of 39.

We’ve already touched on some advantages of remote work. Another factor to consider is that it can democratize design and open opportunities for increasing diversity. 41% said they would consider moving to smaller less populated areas if businesses accept remote work permanently. 85% of designers reported working with clients outside of their own time zones.

Out of the majority of designers (55%) working with agencies, 75% expected agencies to be more open to working with remote contractors as a result of COVID-19. So within the next decade, we could see a world of remote creative agencies developed and shaped by freelancers.

Reporting also touched on some challenges facing the design community. The biggest difficulties identified are diversity, inclusion, the environment, and the ethical role of design. 

31% who identified as part of a minority group said they experienced discrimination at some point during their freelance careers. While 34% said accessible design, usability, and inclusion is an important future challenge. 33% reported environmental impacts of design as a major concern and 38% said the ethical role of design was a significant challenge facing the design community.

Despite some of these challenges, almost all those surveyed believe the future is looking positive. 98% said they were optimistic about what the industry will bring in the next 10 years, while 63% of this group said they were extremely confident about their personal success moving forward.

For more detail, read the full report here.

Feeling inspired and want to ramp up your design business? Check out The Best Places to Find Creative Freelance Work

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