Can’t Find the Perfect Design Job? Other Ways Designers Can Make Money

posted by Manda 5 Comments

We all have a dream job. Maybe you want to work on large advertising campaigns or design album covers for rock bands. Don’t give up on your dream. You’ll get there. In the meantime, though, the bills have to be paid. Here are some job ideas to bring in some cash while you work on making your dreams come true:


I hate to mention this one because it seems like a given. But, doing a couple freelance projects can definitely help pay the bills, and build your portfolio. You can find project-by-project jobs in quite a few places on the internet. Be sure that they are paying projects though, and work out a payment schedule so that you are getting paid as you go. You don’t want to spend a lot of time on a project just to find out that the person you have been working with has stolen your designs and disappeared. Every job should have a contract — no matter how small.

Design Temp

There are contract companies that hire designers (and pay them quite well) to be on-call temps. As long as you have the skill-set to work in different environments, and learn quickly, you can sign up with one of these agencies. They will call you when a company needs a designer for the day, week, month, etc. The beauty of this set-up is that you’ll have the opportunity to work in lots of different companies, and you’ll gain knowledge and experience from each. In addition, you will continue to build your portfolio. And, if a company likes you, they can buy out your contract and hire you full-time. Two that I know of are Artisan and Creative Circle, but there are many more. I suggest that you make appointments and meet with representatives from a few different agencies, then make your decision based on which feels best to you.


There is nothing more rewarding than sharing your skills and knowledge with others. For those of you with a bachelor degree or higher, you may be able to find a job teaching art history, graphic design, design programs, or web coding at a college or design school. If you don’t feel like you have the education or experience to qualify for a job at that level, you can teach a class at a community center or even substitute teach art classes for the public school systems. For those of you who do have an impressive work history and education, you may want to consider teaching at an adult training center where designers and professionals pay to update or upgrade their skills. One of the major perks of teaching is that you have control over your own schedule. You can always teach at night or on weekends if you already have a day job.

Create Stock Photography/Illustration

Almost every designer also has a passion for photography or illustration. You can take your hobby and make some extra cash by selling your photos or drawings to stock photography sites. Sites like iStockPhoto pay artists a percentage of their sales. The more photos or illustrations you sell, the more money you can make. Click here for instructions on how to sell your photos, illustrations, animations, or videos on iStock.

Other ideas

PowerPoint Presentations: As designers, we tend to blow off PowerPoint as a business tool. But, PowerPoint presentations are becoming more and more design-heavy, with animations and interaction between the presenter and the presentation. Most presentation designers make salaries similar to design salaries, and it may be more fun than you thought (just make sure that you learn PowerPoint before you go in for the interview!)

Murals: Restaurants, schools, and even regular people will pay decent money for a mural. Earn extra cash painting a team logo on a basement wall, clouds on a baby’s room ceiling, or a storybook scene in a classroom.

Visual Merchandising: There is an art to window design, but most good designers will have a natural talent for visual merchandising. Setting up store displays can be fun and challenging — and it doesn’t pay bad either.

It’s not always easy to find that perfect design job. But, the beauty of having creative skills is that there is always someplace to use them — even if it’s not exactly what we want. If you other job suggestions for our design friends looking for work, we’d love to hear about them!

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Joseph Rade February 26, 2009 at 10:58 am

Now that I am not in design full-time it is nice to pick up projects here and there and at my leisure…two current projects include a digital watercolor painting for a wedding anniversary gift and a tattoo design. Believe it or not, even though tattoo artists do the majority of designs since they are the ones doing the actual tattoo work, there is something that I have noticed people feel extra comfortable with working on a piece prior to stepping into a shop full of needles. More than paying bills, it is a nice change of pace, keeps skills sharp and as you mentioned nice variety for your personal and ever growing portfolio.

Manda February 27, 2009 at 8:46 am

Fantastic advice, Joe! Another great thing about tatoo design (or painting murals, drawing portraits, etc.) is that it allows us a little more freedom and creativity than most of us get in our day-to-day design jobs. I know that anytime I can whip out my paints and charcoals AND I’m getting paid, it’s a good day!!

Chris February 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Great hints! is a great resource for work or leads and can build into lasting relationships.

If you can, try to avoid the “work for free, credit, experience, etc.” jobs. #1 They don’t pay your bills. #2 You may gain “experience”, but at the same time you are also telling people that design isn’t worth payment.

*off the soapbox.*

Manda February 27, 2009 at 8:53 am

I totally agree, Chris. I think that as a student, you sometimes have to work for free to build your portfolio. But, after you graduate, you should only work for free if it’s 1- for someone that you love (friends or family), 2- if it’s for charity (just another way to give back), or 3- if it’s a project you really love and feel strongly about. Sometimes it’s worth the fun of doing something awesome — even if you’re not getting paid (although in this case I would still recommend working out a deal where you are receiving a portion of the future profits, or where you’re making some kind of trade. New futon anyone?) 🙂

Chris February 27, 2009 at 9:30 am



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