10 tips for creating the ideal freelance design workspace

Each week at Millo, Dan Sweet provides priceless tips and helpful secrets to make your freelance design venture a success. You can connect with Dan on twitter or at dansweetdesign.com.

One of the main draws of the freelance-designer lifestyle these days is the ability to work wherever and whenever you want.

I remember sitting in my cramped, shared workspace at my old job imagining what it would be like to leave the musty, busy office behind and get my work done in vibrant coffee shops, on my couch in front of the TV, sitting at the beach, wherever.

Actually setting up my freelance business has left me with these guidelines for the ideal workspace.


This is huge. If the room you use as an office is cramped, has low ceilings, is too cold, too hot, too dark, too light, etc., you’re going to have a tough time getting motivated to go in there. Find a space that gives you some elbow room, enough room for all your equipment, and you generally feel good about spending a lot of time in.


The problem with kitchen table, coffee shop, or other high-traffic “offices” is the amount of distraction around you, keeping you from work and being generally noisy. If you’re on the phone a lot with clients, this can be a problem. Also if you have any trouble concentrating, attempting to work in a high-distraction environment can be very frustrating. When I’m in procrastination mode (usually right before the start of a project), the tiniest things will grab my attention, delaying me from what I need to be doing.

Natural Light

Sitting in a dimly lit room for 8-9 hours a day can get pretty darn depressing (like Seasonal Affective Disorder except year-round). Looking out the window every once in awhile can go a long way. This can provide a good kind of distraction, in case you need to get your mind away from a tough project for a few minutes.


This could be an entire article by itself, but to sum it up, having a disorderly workspace can only hurt productivity. Make sure the space you use allows for good organization (like enough room for shelves or a filing cabinet or whatever), and you’ll spend more time getting things done, and less time throwing things on the floor because you can’t find a pencil.

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Separation from living space

Keeping your work and personal lives separate is very important for both productivity and your mental health. If your office is physically separate from your living space (of course, this is not always possible depending on your situation), that in itself can go a long way in helping your work-life balance. For me, going into my physically defined workspace helps put me in a work mindset.

Access to equipment

If you use a scanner or printer a lot in your daily routine, maybe running to Kinkos every 20 minutes wouldn’t be the best use of your time, and your local coffee house might not appreciate you setting up your all-in-one in the corner. If all you need is a laptop, then working at the local coffee joint may not be a bad idea, as long as they have free internet access.


You’re not helping yourself if working for more than an hour hurts your back. Get an adjustable chair that you can sit comfortably in for long hours, since that’s probably what you’ll be doing. If it hurts your neck to stare at a laptop, consider getting a desktop computer, or a second monitor that you can put at a reasonable height.


Do you plan to meet with clients at your office? If so, make sure you have a clean, private, professional, comfortable space to meet. Lots of kids and pets running around the house? Try finding a local coffee shop that’s quiet and has a consistent availability of tables that you can meet at. Check out the place beforehand to make sure it’s a good place to meet.


Ideally you’ll want to avoid working all hours, but sometimes it’s necessary to stay late to get a project done on time. Make sure (especially if you rent an office in a large building), that you can get to your files and equipment at any hour you might need it. If you’re using a coffee shop for internet, maybe find a backup place open 24 hours with that life-giving wireless.


Obviously you need a workspace that you can pay for and still have some money left over to pay yourself. If you don’t have the space in your house to work comfortably, can’t handle the daily dose of caffeine at your local coffee shop, or just want a “real” office, there can be low-cost options for shared office spaces. For instance, there’s a shared office community in Portland, OR called CubeSpace, that you can use by the hour, day, week or month. Look for alternative options in your neighborhood. You’re a freelance designer–be creative!

Calling all Freelance Designers!

Do you have an ideal workspace? What are some features that are important to you? Share a comment and fill in anything I might have missed.

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About Dan Sweet


  1. CubeSpace has shut down! 🙁 They are looking to get it going again, though.

  2. Though coffee shops can be frustrating at times, I find working in public spaces is great for networking. Whether its a nosy neighbor or a friendly patron, I always seem to meet someone new.

    • @Gregg,
      Great point! Networking is a great feature of the public space as long as chatting it up doesn’t take too much of your work time. For me, if I get interrupted too many times, all hope of finishing my task goes out the window. Depends on your individual patterns, though.

  3. Techpad (www.techpad.org) in Blacksburg, Virginia, will be re-opening at the end of May.

    If I run across any others I’ll be happy to share.

  4. This probably falls under Organisation, but when I was working freelance, I painted one wall with blackboard paint and used it as a large monthly agenda. It helps to find things at a glance and there’s no flipping of pages desperately with one hand while on the phone. I didn’t work outdoors, so it was okay to have a static agenda.

  5. Your workspace has a serious impact on your productivity. Sometimes even small changes can make a big difference… something I’ve learned recently on my own example. Long story short, here’s what I’ve done with my desk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karol-k/5600867136/sizes/l/ Now it’s simply nice to spend some time there, so more work gets done.


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