Hello, my name is Charles Letterman, I work as a design expert in “Crealeon”, and before that I worked as a marketing specialist for many years in digital marketing agencies. In this post I will tell you how I have discovered the field of UX and why I have found it more convenient to work for hire than to work as a freelancer.
Marketer – Multiple Handbook without Inspiration and Perspective
Another working day in the office as an Internet marketer. Officially I was the head of the marketing department, but in reality I worked alone for two companies and did everything myself. I was constantly monitoring the results of targeting on Facebook, burying myself in spreadsheets to adjust the direct. Let’s be honest – I didn’t like it.
I was used to working for myself, but I was already burnt out by marketing, for me it had become a chore. Even the creation of creatives did not develop creativity. And when the function “automatic selection of keywords” appeared in directing, I realized that soon these specialists would be replaced by artificial intelligence: you choose a topic, specify an acceptable budget, and the system does everything for you.
I wanted to move into a field that would use both intellectual and creative abilities.
I did a little research on my own desires and realized that I love innovation, IT, and understanding various businesses: how they are set up, how they work, and how they make money.
A lucky break told me where to go
An acquaintance of mine had a web studio called Boww, and he told me about the following problem. Among his clients, there were two types of customers:
- A customer who comes in with the task of making service for, say, car reservations. And gave no further details other than an employee to contact for help on the project. He had to be briefed, the information had to be gathered from him, documentation had to be drawn up, the architecture of the project;
- a client who had a very detailed term of reference of 1,000 pages. It was not less difficult to understand it than to create the project from the scratch: you need to systematize the information, to select the most important functionality from the whole array. In most cases, no one read that document after the second week.
He needed a UX specialist who would gather and structure data from customers and do the preparatory work for the designers. He suggested that I try my hand at it.
It seemed to me that working on interfaces perfectly combines creativity and intelligence, innovation and IT. After all, to make a prototype of the interface, which is convenient for users and profitable for entrepreneurs, you need to research the business, the target audience and competitors. In general, a perfect match with my wishes.
The problem was that I did not have the right skills, only a little superficial knowledge that I had acquired in marketing. I needed to get trained quickly. I did not have much time to look for a school, so I went on a recommendation to Netgur, and out of several courses on design, I chose interface design. To tell the truth, I spent half of my working day studying various articles – learning a new sphere takes time and effort anyway, so it is impossible to do without a little effort.
After the course I wanted to implement all the tools that are available – the most difficult thing was to limit myself in time and make a choice. During the training, a huge number of tools can be selected for any task: at the same time User Story Map and User Story can be selected, as well as Information Architecture, Competitor Analysis and Empathy Map. In real work with the client, when the project deadline is limited, you have to choose – it’s difficult.
Working as a UX designer
I came to work for an acquaintance of mine in a web studio and took most of the tasks off his hands: I started developing prototypes and user experience, and he continued to do what he liked – the visual part.
Working in the studio helped me quickly grow professionally. The flow of orders was great, I quickly learned how to apply new skills in practice. It is banal that I had no time to put off anything: I had deadlines straight away.
Gradually I gained experience and began to earn three times more than when I was hired. Freelancing gave me the opportunity to work remotely, and for a long time I went on a trip to Thailand. I would come back to hiring a little later, though.
When I started working in design we had clients who didn’t understand why we needed a UX stage, and suggested that we skip straight to design. This was quite a big problem, and before we started working on our workflow, we had a long time to communicate the value to the client. Then I watched an interview with a UX designer from Google, who said that the main problem with the profession is that no one understands what that person does. So I realized that such difficulties exist not only in our company, but in the industry as a whole.
Now the market is starting to mature: clients are starting to ask for prototypes and research first, and then for design. If we talk about large companies, the UX and UI functions are usually divided between different specialists, while in small firms it is combined in one person.
I like user experience because there is a lot of research and working out the logic of the project: you need to understand the audience, what services they use, what their habits are. The results of the research part help make the interface user-friendly. If the service has competitors who have already formed certain design patterns with their audience, they are also worth studying. Maybe they will find more innovative solutions based on ready-made ones, or see flaws in other players’ product design that can be worked out for themselves. After that, the requirements of all stakeholders and interested parties are collected in order to take into account their wishes in the future functionality.
Next, the functionality is broken down into a sequence of customer steps that helps understand the capabilities of the future product. For example, if a hotel reservation service is created, it is necessary to spell out that the user can select a room, make a reservation or cancel a reservation, make a prepayment, and so on. At the final stage of the project architecture is drawn up with flowcharts, which establish a hierarchy of priorities for the implementation of functionality.
Then begins the development of an interactive prototype. It can be compared to the drawing of a house, where they draw a rough model and prescribe the necessary details. Here there is often a problem of a blank sheet of paper, where you just don’t know where to start. But gradually it becomes possible to draw up a terms of reference with solutions, justified by the results of UX-research. It is handed over to the interface design (UI) team.
During the UI-design the project is visualized: the selection of color schemes, detailed study of the location of elements. Suppose, for example, the UX-designer placed a slider in a certain place within the prototype. The task of UI-designer is to show how exactly it will look like: as three dots or check marks on the sides, or some other pattern will be used. At the same stage, the mobile version and design system, a set of design components, are being prepared.
All of this may sound boring to some people, but for me this is an ideal area of work, where I can use both my analytical and creative skills. I like consistency and orderliness, I like doing research, I’m happy with the results I see in the finished interface. It’s a thrill.
Hiring or freelancing – so far hiring is winning
Pandemia has made its adjustments.
Freelancing has many advantages, they are shouted about on every corner, so I will not repeat them. The main disadvantage for me personally is that freelancing implies unstable financial flows. Therefore, with the onset of the pandemic, I began to save reserves and prepare for the worst.
At first, on the contrary, large customers came – they left the offices and decided to develop in a digital environment, where they needed an experienced designer. In November, however, that flow ended. People realized that the pandemic would not end quickly, and began to be more careful with money. Mostly the clients of freelancers were small businesses, which became multiply smaller all over the world.
I became uncomfortable with such uncertainty, so I decided to reassure myself and get a new experience: I posted a resume on JustJoinIt. It was noticed at Crealeon and I was invited to talk to him. I was hooked on the opportunity to work for a large federal company – I had not yet had such experience. The interviews took place in a case study format with my direct supervisor. For example, they asked me to think about what I would do if I needed to change the basket in the mobile app. We also looked at portfolios of previous work and checked soft skills.
Despite the fact that I am now on the customer side, my work is similar to project work. “last company is a group of companies, with other countries, so I work on tasks for different platforms and markets, and there are also some related projects.
Right now I’m working on an internal system in Crealeon, which allows me to interact with customers’ cards, references, orders, and other things. This involved a lot of research, interviews with users, reviewing screen recordings, listening to recordings of conversations with customers, compiling a User Story Map together with customers, and direct UX design. I’m pleased that my work will help solve any customer issues promptly and make the employees’ work easier.
Freelancing is very good because you can shape the schedule yourself – that’s something that’s lacking in hiring. However, independence is a disadvantage, because you can either completely relax or work very hard and burn out. For example, to avoid burnout, I made a rule myself not to work on weekends. When you’re hired, the weekends are already planned for you 🙂
I personally find freelancing more interesting, because the projects are more varied. Often guys come in with ideas that you haven’t thought of before. For example, a service for horse racing organizers that will monitor the health of horses. Usually when I work on one thing, I get bored after six months or a year, and I want to go back to a series of projects where there will constantly be new information and people.
After switching back to hiring, I realized that my financial level hasn’t changed. I just had higher earnings on freelance one month and lower earnings the next. In hiring, earnings are constant and distributed evenly, so it is more convenient to plan financial flows. And large companies are actively investing in the education of their specialists. In hiring is often clear and clearly defined area of work.
So far, hiring on the totality of factors for me wins. Moreover, I have already planned another very interesting for me area – product management. So now I focus on developing the skills necessary for it. And, perhaps, soon I will go back to study. But this is another story.
I may not have the most exciting story – I didn’t have to work in a factory to pay off my training, I didn’t encounter hundreds of rejections or clients beyond inadequate. I simply allowed myself to pursue what I was interested in, what I was passionate about and excited about, I didn’t pull a harness on an unloved job in a field I had already learned. And from here on, I’m ready to discover new areas for myself, to constantly expand my skill stack, to learn everything I’m interested in, and to choose those projects in which I can grow. Maybe someone will also help my story and decide to make a change, albeit small, I will be glad.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means we may make a small commission if you make a purchase.