Why freelance outsiders become critical design saviours.

Two hands reaching out to help each other
Two hands reaching out to help each other
Photo by youssef naddam

One of my clients is the largest telecommunications provider in New Zealand. They command hundreds of employees and run multiple internal product design teams. Yet they’ve chosen to hire me — an independent freelance UX/UI designer — to lead a critical redesign of their entire digital design system (across websites and apps). Why trust a project that complex and important to a lone outsider?

Many of my other clients are fast-growing, well-funded tech startups with innovative digital products or data services. I’ve led them through design processes — sometimes lasting over a year — to discover and create their apps, products, and marketing websites. …

10 rules to help you thrive when your design foundation is missing or moving.

Time lapse photo of man dancing with motion blur
Time lapse photo of man dancing with motion blur
Photo by Ahmad Odeh

Remember the good old days when you’d get a stable design brief, have the luxury of “big design up front”, and the time to produce a consistent, well-considered design system in a non-changing, pre-dev vacuum state?


Neither do I. It’s been a while.

The design world has moved past that waterfall process because shipping, testing, and validation have superseded planning and prediction. As a result, our job has become a lot more challenging.

The struggle is real

One of my current clients is a multi-national corporation. But within that corporation is a small team that essentially runs like an agile startup inside the larger organisation. …

Money is not a goal, it’s a byproduct of success.

Man holding burning cash money
Man holding burning cash money
Photo by Karsten Winegeart

I’ve run my own one-person design business for 18 years. Through most of that time, I’ve never allowed money to influence decisions around which clients to work for or what design projects to take on.

I say “most” because there was a time when I did, and quickly learned it was a mistake.

New freelancers will know all too well that when you first start — when you’re building your business up from nothing — there is a time when you have to take every opportunity that comes your way. You work not for interesting design challenges or for fulfilling client collaborations. …

5 quick hacks for failing fast

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Photo by Joanna Nix-Walkup

New to freelancing and don’t know where to start? Fear not! With so many great gig marketplaces and collaboration tools, freelancing is easier than ever — anyone can do it, no matter your experience. The barrier of entry is literally zero.

Just ask your nephew. He earned $10 on Fiverr last week and all he had to do was design an entire website in a day. Easy peasy!

It’s so easy that everyone is jumping on the freelance bandwagon, and COVID is only accelerating the trend towards flexible employment and contracting options. …

If you find a single answer that satisfies this equation, you have the recipe for a lifetime of making money by having fun.

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Photo by Jacqueline Munguía

I have an 8-year-old son who’s recently obsessed with earning money. More specifically, he wants his own iPhone, security/spy cameras for his room, and every nerf gun ever invented. Since his (incredibly evil and ungenerous) parents won’t buy all that for him, he’s decided he needs to get more money of his own.

But there’s only so much a child can earn from household chores, hawking lemonade, and delivering papers. …

Put down your red flags and recognise valuable partnerships.

Man looking through red binoculars
Man looking through red binoculars
Photo by mostafa meraji

All too often, we focus on the worst in our clients. Difficult client experiences can be scarring and memorable. That’s why there’s so much advice on what makes a nightmare client and how to look out for the red flags.

Great client relationships can be equally memorable, yet we don’t talk about them nearly as much. We should. The truth is, half of the time a relationship goes sour, it’s you to blame, not your client. A good working relationship, like any other partnership, requires the right commitment from both sides.

We think if we could only avoid bad clients our careers would be wonderful. However, there’s a difference between avoiding bad client relationships, and building good ones. …

If you work from home, will thousands of people from around the world be competing for your role?

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My professional experience over 18 years of remote freelancing has taught me that no other career could be as reliable as the one you build for yourself. I have no fear of globalization, yet I’m reminded frequently how some people think remote work means opening yourself up to being outsourced.

History doesn’t support that theory. The internet has globalized jobs for two decades, yet all the truly skilled professionals are still as in-demand as ever.

The idea that the work-from-home movement — accelerated by COVID-19 — will lead to a new wave of outsourced creative service jobs irks me because I’m living proof it’s untrue. …

Chuck Close describes the designer’s creative process in two perfect sentences.

“Think outside the box” illuminated sign
“Think outside the box” illuminated sign
Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky

I’ve never understood the design industry’s fixation on creative inspiration. If the number of articles written about it is any measure, it seems to be the one thing on everyone’s mind. How often do you see this?

  • “Top 10 inspiring design trends for 2020”
  • “My secret weapon for design inspiration”
  • “How to overcome your creative block”
  • Show me pretty pictures please because I have no idea what I’m doing and I need something trendy to copy.

Don’t even get me started on what’s become of places like Dribbble and Behance. Superficial design inspiration has become big business, and in the process has replaced critique with vanity metrics, exploration with imitation. …

Here’s how I’ve made my freelance business untouchable by economic downturn.

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Photo by Yohei Shimomae

Knock on wood and fingers crossed — so far I’ve had no ill-effects on my freelance earnings due to the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. Even if the economic impacts last for months or years, as expected, I’m confident my company of one will weather the recession, just as it did during the GFC of 2008–9.

I don’t plan on taking a government hand-out because my freelance business is going to thrive. Our new reality has caused a lot of self-reflection, and I’ve been pondering what I’ve done (and am doing) to keep my independent design business healthy through turbulent times.

Here’s my advice — backed by direct personal experience of 18 years freelancing — to keep your indie business booming while everyone else hunkers down in survival mode. …

COVID-19 has amplified existing trends — uncovering the skeleton of the old, dead, linear career model.

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Photos by Greggory Hayes and Roberto Delgado Webb

You were comfortable. Rising in your workplace, maybe at a management role with a promotion on the way. Years of loyalty to your employer was finally paying off. Your respect and responsibilities were growing with a salary to match.

Then BOOM. The pandemic hit, everyone freaked out, and you find yourself jobless — now scrambling to put together your own website and resume — to try out this brave new world of freelancing.

Or maybe you’ve been freelancing for years, possibly decades. Except it never felt real. Even your family and friends didn’t treat it like a serious career. …


Benek Lisefski

I’m a UX/UI designer from Auckland, New Zealand. Writing about freelancing & business for indie designers & creatives at https://solowork.co

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