What did I learn from my first freelance UX role?

What did I learn from my first freelance UX role?


5 min read

As an 11-year experienced designer, I was involved in 100+ projects as a designer...when I was in China. But it is a different chapter to become a designer in New Zealand, a country speaks a different language, for different clients and customers. Last Friday, I just completed my first freelance UX designer's contract in 2019. It was the new beginning for my design adventure, which I've learned a lot from this job. Here are the things I've learned from this role:

Learn the workflow first

I was lucky to be hired by a local agency which provides digital and print design service for some of the most well-known kiwi companies as a UX designer. Before the actual job started, my manager and I had a meeting as an interview. I asked some detailed questions during the conversation about the job I might do, such as:

  • What the deliverables he needs?
  • What the tools we use for the job?
  • Who am I going to report?
  • Who's the client?
  • What are the client's demands?
  • Who can I ask for help in the team?
  • On average when do people come and leave?
  • ...

By asking these questions, I already had a general idea of how my role might like before I start.

I’m happy to work in an all Mac office 🙂

Do your research on the style guide or the previous work files.

Everyone would like to perform well on his first day of working, me too. Instead of going directly on the job on my first morning, I spent some time on the style guide of the client at first. Then I went through the previous work files left by the other designer who worked for the project. It made the first 1-2 hours of my job was not productive with something we can see, but that saved much more time in the future.

Go through the style guide, JD or previous work files should always be included in the early stage of your job. Let your manager know that you would like a few hours to digest the information, so he/she will understand your design process.

Tip for a productive afternoon: lots of greens in your lunch

Empathise with your employer

What are the first thing and the most important thing for a UX designer to do in a project? Empathise. When we talk about empathy, we are talking about empathising with your customers. As a freelancer, you also need to empathise with your employer.

The rate of a freelancer usually is higher than a permanent role, which is always charged by an hourly rate. That's why your employer would like to get the most use of your time during your working hours. Of course, you need to be focused and productive during the time. What I mean empathy with the employer is you can try to think from their perspective.

When I worked as a freelance designer during my contract, I usually got in the office at 10 am, which allowed my boss enough time to decide what job he needed me to do that day.

And also, there was a long weekend (Easter) during my contract. On the first weekday after the long weekend, I called my boss to check if there's enough job for me to do that day. The reason I called was I knew many clients don't give feedback to agencies immediately after the holiday, which means if my boss doesn't get feedback from the client on that day, I might not have enough job to do, and it would be just a waste his money, for I charge by hourly rate. He checked and told me perhaps I can come the next day for a full day, and thanked me for considering. I might lose a few hours' rates that day, but from a long-term perspective, it was totally worth.

My employer has a super cool printing machine

Reflect and follow up to improve

My employer agency has an efficient way of managing job, which requires a job number for each job, and the executioner needs to provide how long he spent on the job. For me as the freelance designer, I wrote an email to my boss at the end of the day specify the job I did, and how long I spent on the job(s). I took it as a good opportunity to reflect and review my job. I added a few of my personal insights of the job on the email and copied it to my personal email for improvement.

For example, there was a working day that the team found it was frustrating to find the correct version from many 'final' Sketch files (so many files named 'Final'). I wrote it down in the daily review email and suggested to check some Sketch version management solution, such as Abstract.

Also, I asked my employer after the contract for his comments about my job, which would be a valuable guide for me to improve in future jobs.

Take away

The freelance role is excellent for us designers to explore new opportunities, to sharpen our design skills and to improve. Do your research on the workflow of your employer at the beginning of your job, Empathise with your employer and reflect the job you've done each day. If you can do these three things in your contract, you not only earn some money as a freelancer, but also earn respect and gratification from your employer. And more than those, you will be improved to be a better designer!

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