Experience Working as a Remote Design Contractor

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screenshot of Book Riot store with Halloween ad (this was before their store redesign)

For the past year, I was a design contractor at Book Riot, an independent book review company. I was fortunate enough to be referred to by a friend, and I gained a new perspective being a remote designer.

My primary responsibility was to create marketing creatives to boost audience outreach, which was mostly creating graphics for various social media platforms. I also had the opportunity to design t-shirts, which allowed me to flex my illustration skills.

Positives

  • Owning your work & creative expression

    This may be unique to the company, but I was fortunate enough to have ownership over my work. Although my projects didn’t go through rigorous design reviews, I occasionally received helpful feedback from the art director.

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some sketches and notes for a t-shirt design

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  • Check-ins

    If you plan to be working remotely with a team, check-ins are absolutely important to understand what’s happening, your performance, and establishing better relationships with coworkers. In my experience, the check-ins I had with the art director made me feel like I was a part of the team. It gave me an opportunity to provide suggestions on how to make our process smoother. For example, I suggested uploading our assets to the cloud, so we don’t have to individually make edits to something that’s already been edited by another designer. I’d like to think this was beneficial for everyone, and not just me.

    I also gained more visibility into some of the decisions made. For example, I designed marketing assets for a 4th of July sale, but when the week leading up to July 4th came, I saw the graphics only on store website. I began to wonder what happened to the other graphics I made for the other social media platforms. The team later told me there were unmet requirement we didn’t know about. Lesson learned.

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July 4th illustration for instagram

Drawbacks

  • Being remote feels isolated 

    Despite the check-ins, I sometimes felt isolated because communication took some time. I have respect for designers who can work remotely from their team. While I enjoy working solo, I still crave collaboration and bouncing ideas off one another. As the saying goes “the best ideas come from minds of many.”

  • Goodbye weekends

    Since I worked a full-time job, I usually come home exhausted on the weekdays, which leaves the weekends the only time I can really focus on the tasks. I’m fortunate that I had enough time to complete projects, but there were moments where it was difficult to go into “work mode” because all I wanted to do was rest or work on my own projects. For anyone who plans on freelancing or working remotely, you must remember that you are your own timekeeper and you need to know when to work, and most importantly, when to rest. Your health should always be your main priority.

  • Form 1099

    My advice to any contract remote designer is accurately calculate your salary expectation. Going in I thought I requested reasonable wage, but when tax season rolled around this year, I was smacked with those lovely 1099 taxes. I use a service called TurboTax, which I highly recommend to anyone who has struggles filing their tax returns. However, be aware of additional fees if you have more than a simple W-2 form. I never knew beforehand that TurboTax would charge extra fees if you were filing self-employment, so I paid an additional $159.98.

    tl;dr I basically made little to no income with the wage I set after taxes came into the picture. Set a realistic wage by calculating and researching what you think you deserve and how many hours you’ll be logging.

Reflection

I think with any job you take, you should ask yourself

  • Will this help me grow as a designer (or whatever role you’re seeking)?
  • Do my personal goals align with the company’s goals?
  • What can I bring that will positively change and impact the culture?

Overall, I think I grew a little bit as a designer. This experience has taught me the dynamics of working remotely, and made me realize that I prefer to work in a setting where I can talk with people face-to-face and get immediate feedback. One thing I wish I had done was take initiative in building out the brand guidelines because if there was a rough one laid out, it could help future designers know what style and voice they need to reflect in their work… it certainly would have helped me. I briefly discussed it with the art director, but it never came to fruition, so I wish I had pushed and advocated for it more.

As always, I highly recommend asking for a performance evaluation. I emailed the art director about a performance evaluation, and I’m really grateful for the feedback I got because it helped me become aware of where I need to improve on.

 

Have you ever worked remotely? If so, what was your experience like? Please share your story and any advice you have in the comments section 🙂

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