How to work with a freelance shoe designer


Working with a freelance shoe designer to bring your shoe brand concept to life should be fun! Shoe designers are some of the most creative, humorous and eccentric people I know. If you feel intimidated about approaching a freelance shoe designer, or simply want to enter the process with your eyes open, read on.

This article will help you understand:

  • How to find a freelance shoe designer
  • How to decide which designer to work with
  • The process of working with a shoe designer

I will also let you know how you can attend my ‘How to work with a freelance shoe designer’ masterclass, and quiz a real life shoe designer for yourself.

How to find a freelance shoe designer

You might be tempted to head straight to Fiverr or PeoplePerHour to find your designer. Some of my clients have found good designers on those sites. However, I know plenty of highly experienced shoe designers who wouldn’t dream of signing up to a freelance marketplace.

Freelance shoe designer at work

Here are a couple of other ways to find your perfect freelance shoe designer:

How to choose your freelance shoe designer

Clients of mine have found the shortlisting and selection process tricky. “These shoe designers all have excellent experience and were pleasant during our video calls. So how can I possibly choose?”

Woman with a notebook and pen wearing a pink top choosing a freelance shoe designer

These are the three main criteria I recommend you focus on:

1. Relevant experience

Demonstrating their ability to design creatively for your product category is essential. Ask to see the designers’ portfolios and concentrate on content rather than presentation style.

If the designer has had the chance to work on a fairly similar project to yours, that bodes well for their ability to convert your concept into commercial designs.

2. Strong communication

Does your preferred designer reply to your messages promptly? Do they seem keen to work on your project, and have they already been generating and sharing ideas based on your concept?

Conversely, does your designer misunderstand or misinterpret what you say or write?

We have all had the opportunity to work with people who we really gel with, and those who we have to overexplain everything to. Only engage designers who feel like the former.

3. Affordable fees

It can be tricky to compare designers’ fees because they charge quite differently. One may charge an hourly or day rate, whereas another may bill for each section of the project.

Getting quotes from 3-5 designers gives you the context to know if your chosen designer is charging a relatively high or low amount for their services.

Now weigh the designers’ rates against their experience and how much you would enjoy working with them.

The design process

Knowing how a freelance shoe designer is used to working is important, so that your expectations of the process match theirs. Starting on the same page is a good way to begin a healthy working relationship with your designer.

Here’s how the process usually works:

1. Briefing

This is the time when you communicate your design ideas and preferences, customer profile, competitor analysis and pricing to your designer. If you’re uncertain about any of these elements, my How to Start a Shoe Brand online course will help you fill in the gaps.

Freelance shoe designers usually have standard briefing templates for you to complete. If they don’t, bear in mind that designers are visual people, so make your communications image-heavy.

2. Research

Your designer needs to see the shoes that already exist in your market in order to avoid duplicating them. They will build on and add to the research you have provided them with, to create a clear picture for themselves.

Your freelance shoe designer will also collate visual inspiration for their design work at this stage. Then they will be ready to innovate!

3. Sketching ideation

This is where the design magic starts. Your shoe designer will sketch out some ideas in pencil or using software. They will share them with you, and you’ll provide feedback: Which aspects of those sketches did you like? Which design ideas would you like to see some different versions of?

The sketching ideation stage is iterative. The designer sketches, you feed back, the designer sketches, you feed back and so on until you are happy for line drawings to be created.

Freelance shoe designer sketching shoes

4. Finalise line drawings

Line drawings are more precise than sketches. They can be created on Adobe Illustrator or Procreate or some designers use pen and ink.

At this stage, changes to the designs can still be made.

5. Colour-ups/CADs/renders

To help you decide which colours you would like in your shoe range, your designer will provide you with coloured up designs. These may look wonderfully three-dimensional or be a little more flat looking.

If you are using these renders as part of a presentation or in marketing, you may want to request a 3D look. This is likely to take your designer a while, and therefore cost you more.

6. Tech pack/technical specification

The tech pack/tech spec is the blueprint your manufacturer needs to create your first prototype/s. It includes:

  • Line drawings of the design at various angles – including details of measurements of certain pattern pieces and components
  • Details of materials used for each part of the shoe
  • Any special instructions or details for the factory’s reference
  • A copyright line – attributed to you/your brand, not your designer

How can you join the ‘How to work with a freelance shoe designer’ masterclass?

How to work with a freelance shoe designer sunburst graphic with text

To receive advice from a real life shoe designer before you start looking for your own, join The Shoe Community. It’s a supportive community of shoe brand founders just like you. Included in the membership fee are:

  • Live masterclasses with shoe professionals
  • Recordings of previous masterclasses
  • Live Q&A sessions with me
  • Helpful articles and discussions in the Facebook group
  • Live meetups

One final tip

The more you change your mind, the more it will cost you in design fees. Doing your research and planning first, and being decisive will save you money at the design stage and beyond. I recommend enrolling on my How to Start a Shoe Brand online course, which will guide you through each planning and implementation stage all the way to launch. Along with essential templates and worksheets, the course is packed with video content including guidance from me and many other industry experts and shoe brand founders.

Any questions, please drop me a line.



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