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Dribbble Interview: Designer Ryan Putnam on the strategic value of illustration and the pros of freelancing

In a new Timeout video, independent designer Ryan Putnam describes his latest work as Design Illustration—a new discipline that focuses the strategic value of illustration. He also shares his pros and cons (mostly pros) of working freelance.

Dribbble has had a pretty big impact on my career as a designer. It opened me up to a bunch of different designers that I would have never gotten from my peer group within the smaller town that I was working from. A bunch of great people there but Dribbble really opened up that network.

How would you describe your work?

The work I’ve been enjoying doing lately for the past three or four years is Design Illustration. It’s not quite design, it’s not quite illustration. It’s this interesting intersection of design and illustration where we are illustrating for products and companies and brands, but we’re concerned with the strategic value of illustration. So it’s very goal orientated, process orientated—looking at illustration as a system itself. It almost feels like this new discipline that has a lot of potential to be very fulfilling to creative people, design-focused people. I think I will be continuing to do this work for a while.

  1. Volunteering
  2. Illustration Identitiy Article Artwork
  3. Character Studies

What does freelance mean to you?

It means being free. I like being able to make my own choices, make my own decisions, work on the stuff I want to. Freelancing really gives a level of freedom that I didn’t have when I was working with a company. You know some of the perks and everything are super great working with a company, but, I like to have a little bit more control.

I like being able to make my own choices, make my own decisions, work on the stuff I want to. Freelancing really gives a level of freedom that I didn't have when I was working with a company.

Freelance vs. full-time work…

Full time—I would say 70% of my time spent was spent in meetings, talking about meetings. Of course, you need to do your discipline good. But you also have to carry a bunch of different hats. Like, being a good bookkeeper. Being good at talking to people. Being able to explain what you’re doing from a design side, but also from the business side. I think it’s fun. If you want to get into a freelance just do your craft 24/7. That’s probably not going to happen. You have a lot of extra stuff to do.

What’s the most difficult part about freelancing?

When I first started freelancing the most difficult thing was getting a support group or peer group that you can kind of rely on, talk to, ask questions. Trying to figure all that stuff out on your own can be super hard but if you have a network of freelancers that you can rely on you’ll save a lot of time and a lot of heartache. Another difficult thing about freelancing is the slumps. If you’ve been doing it for a while you’ll have times where no one’s paying you and times where everyone’s paying you. Sometimes they both kind of suck. Being able to have a consistent steady stream of work, and being able to reliably schedule that stuff too, is super beneficial and super hard.

Follow Ryan on Dribbble, Instagram, and at

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