How to decide between in-house and freelance life

Is it better to start your design career in-house at a studio or agency, or to forge ahead as a freelancer from the outset? With clear pros and cons for each path, it’s a tough decision being faced by hundreds of new designers this summer.

Do you want freedom and flexibility in working hours, wages and clients? (Is that even possible?) Or do stability, studio stimulation and set hours provide a better base from which to build your craft?

Natasha Roberts, a designer at Ayr-based Big Blue Dog Design

Natasha Roberts, a designer at Ayr-based Big Blue Dog Design

For Natasha Roberts, a designer at Big Blue Dog Design, the choice was a simple one: “Working in-house allows me to learn from my colleagues and broaden my knowledge,” she says. “I get inspiration from them, and teamwork is always a good skill to have.”

Learning on the job

“Being in-house offers less flexibility on hours, clientele and the projects I'm working on,” she admits. “I communicate less with clients than I would if I were freelancing – and I rarely work on a project from start to finish, as most projects are worked on by a team of designers. Jumping into and out of jobs constantly is something you become familiar with.”

“But working within an agency allows for the expansion of knowledge through observing colleagues,” she continues, adding that the creative, exciting energy of daily life at Big Blue Dog Design is contagious.

“Working with other like-minded individuals in an artistic setting was always what I had planned to do," she reflects. "I truly enjoy my work environment and I believe I've thrived as a young designer because of the interaction and creativity this type of situation allows.”


If you want to prosper in a studio environment, you have to be able to work as part of a team. “Adaptability is also essential – you need to be able to retain creativity whilst hopping between completely different jobs,” says Roberts.

So what advice would Roberts give to anyone looking to get ahead in an in-house setting? “Make sure you put your all into every project you’re involved in. It’s virtually impossible to have a satisfying, successful design career if you're doing it without heart,” she says.

To check out more of Big Blue Dog Design’s work – including the luxury travel brochure, pictured, which Roberts worked on as part of BDD's design team – head over to the Scottish agency’s website.

For a more detailed look at how to take your design career to the next level – whether you’re working in-house or freelance – pick up a copy of The Design Career Handbook. You’ll find the print version here, and the digital version on Apple Newsstand (UK edition or US edition).

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