I am the tech lead on a new consumer product for the Asian market (mainland china, HK, et al). We are looking for a graphic designer to take responsibility for both the product design and overall look of the brand. Before we commit to anyone, we'd like to take a look at some rough ideas they might have for the product.

This is not an immediately paid position; once funding is secured, in addition to a share of the profits the graphic designer would assume a leadership position within the project and take responsibility for final results of all manufacturing processes not related to functionality (packaging materials etc). The right person is

  • Experienced in designing both products for the consumer market and merchandising/product displays

  • Available to work on projects that are not immediately remunerative

Since this is not an immediately paid position, I assume freelancer or odesk is not a good fit. I could post to craigslist but I've had... unpleasant experiences there.

4 Answers 4


You're asking how best to find people to do work for free. This is called spec work and is frowned upon by the industry:


On top of that, it's a bad idea. Do you think you will get talented, experienced people that like working for free?

In general, my advice for finding a graphic designer: pick a portfolio of good work and then talk to them to see if you like them.

  • Um, no. I'm looking for an experienced business partner. I'm asking him/her to demonstrate their experience by offering useful suggestions.
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:19
  • You can word it any way you want, but the challenge is that those with plenty of experience are the ones you want...but also the ones most likely to read through the jargon and realize it's spec work. If you're looking for a true partnership, then I'd suggest looking into venture capital firms which can help set you up with key partnerships...but that's really a question outside of the world of just Graphic Design.
    – DA01
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:37
  • Re vc firms, your idea is good. I may pursue this.
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:41

If you are seeking a partner and not simply someone to do free work, you need to pitch to the designer the same way you'd pitch to any financial partner. After all, you are you are asking for an investment on the part of the designer. You need to explain and/or convince the designer that the service or product is something they would like to invest in. Make no mistake, you ARE asking for spec' work. And it is exceptionally frowned upon in the industry.

So many treat the designer as a throw away position and don't credit them with being directly responsible for the success or failure of at least part of a venture.

If you propose the work to designers the same way you would to any other investor you will find you'll get better responses.

Write up the business plan, the numbers, the needs, etc. And shop that around to agencies or studios. It will be an uphill battle, but it's not impossible. And, honestly, your best bet is freelancers. They will be far more willing to take the risk than any established firm will be.

In any event, it's doubtful you'll secure any "rough ideas" up front. This is why designers show portfolios - so you can see their work, their aesthetic, and their solutions. If you can't gage how well they fit your needs based on past work, then you may need to reevaluate. I don't know a single designer that would do up front (free) work for anyone just so they can "get a sense" of how your problems would be solved. You may get a conversation about directions which could be taken, but you won't get any actual work up front in most cases.

  • This is highly informative. What do you think would be the best venue for such a business plan, that will best reach the audience we want? Again, the best fit will have experience not only with design but with manufacturing. If you think we will just have to start going through freelancers, where should we start? again, I'm guessing not freelancer or odesk. Also - the tech end of the project is not super complicated. How can we protect the IP and keep ppl from blowing us off and taking the tech for themselves? No $ for patent yet either, alas.
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:46
  • 2
    I know nothing about your product or service. I could not begin to guess where you should shop it. These are really questions you need to evaluate yourself and do your own due diligence to find firms, studios, or freelancers which have a history dealing with similar products/services. As for not being ripped off. Well, you just blew your entire pitch there. If you can't even afford to protect the investment, I'd be damned if I put time and effort into it. I think you REALLY need to reevaluate your priorities.
    – Scott
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:50
  • @jamesson Have you tried answers.onstartups.com?
    – Farray
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:52
  • how lovely... will get to work on that tonight
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:55

I think there is some confusion. Looking for a designer who is willing to do work on the promise of future profit-sharing and other compensation is not spec work. That's just the nature of many startups. However, asking a designer to someone to come up with "rough ideas they might have for the product" while not guaranteeing any sort of compensation or future business is spec work. This a great deal of difference between deferred compensation, and speculated compensation.

You say you're looking for an "experienced business partner". Anyone with such experience will be able to provide you with 2 things:

  1. A portfolio of prior work
  2. Background context for each prior work

Based on those 2 things, you should be able to get a good feel for their general competency. Does their portfolio "wow" you on its own? Further to that, they should be able to explain the various business needs and their process for each project. Seeing their output and their ability to communicate with you should be enough information to determine whether or not you want to hire them.


I wish I could take the accepted checkmark off my answer and put it on Scott's comment. "If you can't even afford to protect the investment, I'd be damned if I put time and effort into it. I think you REALLY need to reevaluate your priorities."

It really does sound like you have things out of order. You want an "experienced business partner" yet you admit to having no budget, no way to protect the IP, and there will be a low barrier for copycats. Instead of searching for a graphic designer, you should be searching for somebody with deeper pockets who believes the idea as much as you do and sees an eventual ROI. Once you find this person/group/fund the rest will come together more easily.

Once you have a good enough business plan and pitch that you can convince somebody to give you money for your idea, you'll have a good enough plan and pitch that you can find a worthy designer.

  • Ah, now we progress. How would I go about looking for somebody like this?
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:54
  • @jamesson The same way you are hiring other people for your project - which is hopefully the way Scott detailed in his excellent answer & follow-up comments - and with the understanding that you will probably find designers with skills commensurate to your offer. Young freelancers are much more likely to take risks than established/experienced people will be.
    – Farray
    Jan 27, 2012 at 21:04
  • Not really hiring atm - I'm pretty much set techwise, all I need to do is source materials. Re freelancers, I hear you wnd was definitely expecting this - question is, where to go for the "right" freelancers. Is there, maybe, a usergroup/usenet group/ irc thing limited to people who do display/kiosk design?
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 21:11
  • My strtategic goal at this point is efficiency. Yes, I could post to craigslist, but I'd end up with would be 80% useless and 19% spam.
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 21:18

Farray and DA01 both make excellent points that you should take to heart.

Whether you intend it or not, your question boils down to, "How can I get people to give me free design ideas for my new product?", so there is something fundamentally wrong with both the thought process and the business plan.

  • If your project is worthwhile and the business plan makes sense, you can attract capital and will have a budget. You can then bring a creative director/design director on board with the necessary skills and appropriate compensation.

  • If you have a great idea, but are unable to get things off the ground without designs, then you need to a) bring in a partner on a binding legal basis who will be well compensated as a part owner of the company when it does go into operation, or b) you must hire a designer to create the "show and tell" with which you can approach potential sources of funding.

Asking for something of value ("design ideas" represent tremendous value in terms of financial return, since the success of a product depends heavily on design) with no offered exchange raises all kinds of red flags for me or any other experienced designer. You leave your integrity open to question, because, bluntly, "something for nothing" is the ethos of con men and thieves. Anyone who would take up such an offer is most likely to be incompetent, naive, dishonest, or all three. Perhaps that is why your experiences with craigslist have been unpleasant.

  • I have no problem signing paperwork. I was prepared to do so when I asked this question. I'm sorry I was unclear about that.
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 23:11
  • The question was, how do I find the right person to sign paperwork with in the most expeditious manner.
    – jamesson
    Jan 27, 2012 at 23:39

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