Why you should be using forums as a freelance designer

There are many, many forums out there offering a place for designers of all ages, abilities and experience to meet like-minded people and learn from one another. So why should you use them?

I’ve been an active member of Estetica Design Forum for many years and it has been a huge help to me during my time not only as a freelance logo designer, but also during my student years and even before that.

Forums have many uses and you should be taking advantage of them whenever you can. Here are a few reasons why you should be active on at least one forum.

Advice & Guidance

As with a lot of people first thinking of design as a career I found it difficult to talk to anyone about it as there was no one in my family, or friends, who had any experience in the matter. I dare say this will be the same for the large majority of people out there as well.

Forums offer a place full of knowledge and experience from people who have more than likely been where you are now, and many of them are willing to share that information and help guide people who would otherwise be lost as to what the entire world of design is all about.

When I first joined Estetica I’d taken to design as a hobby and helping out my Aunts business doing little things here and there and without the guidance of people over on Estetica I doubt I would have gone beyond this.

Hearing from people who had worked in the industry for many years, and been very successful, showed me that it was something I could do if I applied myself properly and surrounded myself with likeminded people…and I did, and it worked.

Even now it’s still a place I go to for advice from peers, but I now see it as somewhere I can pass on what I’ve learnt to less experienced designers to try and help them as well. Forums are as much a place to give to, as they are a place to take away from. And it’s a nice feeling to know that you’re helping people who are in the same position as I once was.

Obviously there are other benefits to forums, the most common of which is getting critique and feedback on work from other professionals.

Critique & Feedback

This has to be one of the main reasons people sign up to forums. It’s all well and good asking friends and family to critique work, but their knowledge is always limited and they will not pick up on things that professionals will.

This is especially true if you work as an individual, or in a very small group. As I’m a freelancer I spend all of my time engrossed in a project and often I cannot be objective at times when critiquing my own work. Once you’ve been staring at something for long enough you cannot really see anything. Having numerous different people look it over with fresh eyes can be a huge advantage and they will pick up on things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

It is however important to understand what is being said and to take it on board fully. There is no point to simply ignoring negative feedback because it hurts your feelings. Remember that, for the most part anyway, the people who have taken the time to critique your work have done so because they truly want to help you.

I recently completed a logo design for a personal trainer. As with most of my projects I put it up for critique on the forum to try and produce the best possible end product.

Oxfos Logo Design Thread

Looking back through this thread the help I received really made the project a lot smoother for me. I could have spent hours and hours staring at the logo in the early stages and not thought of doing some of the type adjustments that took place by the end. I doubt very much it would have turned out anywhere near as nice had I tried to do it unassisted.

I think that thread is a great example of how a forum can be utilised to aid in your work. Feedback was given, taken on board and changes made improving the overall design.

Just remember that forums are a give and take. Don’t just use them to get feedback on your own work, give feedback on the work of others too. It’s a community and everyone is there to help each other.

Contacts & Networking

Forums are FULL of talented people from a variety of disciplines. It’s important to get to know as many people and understand their strengths, not only is this a great way to make new friends but they are also invaluable contacts to have.

When it comes to a time when you have a project you require outsourcing who are you going to turn to? Random agencies or freelancers on Twitter or Gumtree? Or people you know and speak to regularly, whose abilities you are sure of? It goes without saying really. I would much rather outsource work to people I know from the forum who I trust and know are capable of the work.

This is very much a 2-way street. If you prove yourself to be a nice, trustworthy guy (or gal) and your work is of a good standard then there is a good chance your fellow forum members will be considering you to send work too as well. Before you know it a nice symbiotic work relationship may have formed.

Speaking of gaining work…

Tenders & Employment

Most forums will have a specific area where people can post up jobs knowing that they’re doing so in a place full of creative people. These are great areas to find new projects without having to venture beyond a website you would be frequenting daily anyway.

I’m not saying that you’re going to earn millions from jobs via a forum. But every so often a nice one comes along that might be fun to work on, or might top up the holiday fund, so it’s very much worthwhile scanning it every so often.

Getting your name out there

Everyone knows of the benefits of using social networking to get their name recognised. Many also use galleries to try and get their work published, anything you can do get your name out there on the internet is worth doing.

Forums are no exception. Many people scour forums looking for examples of work to display in blog articles or galleries. Having your work uploaded to forums increases your chance of getting exposure within the industry.

Now I’m not saying go on them and just spam forums with countless threads showcasing your work, but if you’re really proud of something then why not show it off? If you’re an active member of a forum then no one is going to mind that you’re doing a bit of self-promotion.

SEO & Links

Anyone who’s ever signed up to a forum will know that many people, and robots, will sign up just to post links back to their own websites and it’s a royal pain in the arse.

If you use a forum regularly and have a link in your signature back to your portfolio then this will help, albeit a very small amount. Don’t think about it as something you’re actively doing. Just go about your day to day life on the forum, it just so happens you’re dropping a link each time.

There is also no shame in linking to your own blog articles within threads if you think it could help someone, or likewise, linking to a piece of work from your portfolio to show someone how you went about a similar project. I’ve no doubt that being active on forums and from time to time linking back to my site has helped my website ranking.

Please don’t just go around spamming every forum under the sun now with links. It’s really annoying for admins to have to keep on top of and clean up.

Don’t seek out ways you can link back to yourself, just take the opportunity if it arises.

Making Friends

For a lot of people this is the main reason they join a forum. I know first hand how hard it can be to meet people and make new friends when you work from home, the constant isolation makes it difficult to get to know new people.

Fortunately forums are a great place to just socialise with people. Forget about work and critiquing projects, they’re a fun place to be and have discussions with people about anything and everything under the sun.

Hopefully you will find yourself in a pretty tight-knit online community that does meetups ad get-togethers every so often(have a look here at us all having a great time). We try to have one each year over at Estetica and they’re always a great couple of days. It’s amazing how well you find you get on with people who you might never have met in person before just by chatting on the forums.

I’ve met some fantastic people from forums, some good friends, some brilliant work contacts, some both! It’s a place I know I can go for help and support, to share my ideas, or if I just need a good laugh.

If you’ve tried forums in the past and didn’t really like them, give it another go and really try to get involved. It’s a whole different place when you do.

About the author

Mark is a freelance logo designer with over a decade of experience designing memorable logos for clients across the UK.

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