Lessons Learned From My First Freelance Project

I recently just wrapped up a quick freelance project that I had been working on, which involved creating a hi fidelity prototype for the client. Overall, I think the project was a success: I completed it on time and the client was happy with the final product! However, seeing as this was my first non-school related project, I did a lot of “winging it” and had I known some things prior to working on the project I would definitely have used a different approach for some things. Here are three things that I would do differently for next time:

#1: Always ask to be paid an hourly rate / Projects always require more effort than you expect

Seeing as the client had already done the user research and identified the features that she wanted to incorporate into the demo I figured it would be fairly simple to create a prototype so I decided to charge a flat rate for the project. Boy was I wrong! If you think a project will require “x” level of effort, multiply that by two and that’s probably a more accurate measure of the work you will have to do.

#2: Be prepared to explain what UX is and how it differs from visual design

Many people are unfamiliar with what UX is and may not understand the value that you bring to the project other than just making something “look good”. Don’t get discouraged or offended if this happens. I was pretty lucky to have an open minded client, so it was a great opportunity to practice explaining what skills I would bring to the project. If you are not as lucky, it is still a great opportunity to practice communicating the value of UX design. It might even be better practice because you will have to really argue your case to get your point across.

#3: Pick your battles / Small changes and additions add up BIG TIME.

As someone who tends to want to make people happy, this is definitely something I struggled with. I did a pretty good job of pushing back when it came to usability issues with ideas that the client wanted to incorporate, but I gave in to most of the aesthetic/content changes that were requested. This would have been fine if all these small changes hadn’t added up to hours and hours of work, requiring me to stay up way past my bedtime. In hindsight I would have told the client that I would keep all of these things in mind and come back to them if I had time after completing all of the more important items first.

I hope this post helps you get started! As a designer, you can bring a lot of value to a project. Don’t worry about not having a lot of experience. Any opportunity, whether you get paid a lot or a little, will be a great way to try new methods, tools, products, and learn from your successes and failures.

Intro to Google’s Material Design – A recap from NovaUX

Last night I attended the NovaUX meetup featuring presentations on Getting Hired as a UX Designer by Chrissy Ching from HireStrategy and Google’s Material Design by Roman Nurik, a Design Advocate at Google. Thanks to NovaUX, HireStrategy, Chrissy and Roman for a very informative event! Here is a recap of the material design presentation for anyone who was not able to attend.

What is material design?

Material design is a flexible design system that provides a more coherent cross-platform experience. With material design, 3rd parties are given more freedom to express themselves and their brand. Material design also incorporates a rational approach to visual interaction and motion design by combining the best of flat design and skeuomorphism.

Material Design’s 4 Key Elements:

1) Tangible surfaces – Everything has a sense of depth, and is designed like sheets of paper sitting on top of each other.


2) Print-like design – Everything is designed incorporating principles of good print design. Text is arranged like ink on paper.


3) Meaningful motion – Motions and interactions aid in telling the story of what is happening in the UI.


4) Adaptive design – A single design system that adapts to different environments (devices).


Some tools and resources to help you if you are interested in getting started:


Tools for prototyping motions:

  • After Effects
  • Polymer
  • Framer.js
  • Keynote/PowerPoint

Design For Action Conference Takeaways

Yesterday, I attended the Design For Action – Behavioral Economics Meets Product Design conference that was organized by Action Design, an organization with meetups in DC, NYC, Boston and SF. I have enjoyed attending a few of their meetups in the past and I would have to say that the conference was great!

So as my first blog post, here is a roundup of 8 things that I learned at the conference:

#1: Well being is made up of thousands of small decisions and about 40% of our daily decisions, we don’t even think about. 

Speaker:  Kelvin Kwong, Jawbone UP

Takeaway:  Sometimes we need to think about designing for a series of longitudinal interventions leading up to a bigger decision rather than thinking of the big decision as a single event. An example of this is the Foot in the Door Technique, which is asking users to complete a small task, and then following up with a BIG TASK, creating a higher chance of the person actually following through.

#2: We follow our gut intuitions to make decisions. Our gut intuitions are not always right. 

Speaker:  Kristen Berman, Irrational Labs

Takeaway:  People can sometimes be their own worst enemies. We don’t always make the best decisions for ourselves. When designing for people, it is important to immerse yourself in their environment and isolate their key behaviors to get a clear picture of their preferences.

#3: People don’t care about the data, they care about the outcome of the data. The data is just a means to an end. 

Speaker:  Chris Risdon, Adaptive Path

Takeaway:  Consistency is more important than accuracy. With consistent data you are able to see patterns in behavior and understand the context in which a product is being used.

#4: Users are not designers, they are experts on themselves. 

Speaker:  Wendy Chiong, Answer Lab

Takeaway:  Exploratory UX research allows us to observe people in their natural environments and understand the context in which problems occur early on in the design process. Examples of exploratory research include: ethnography studies, simulations of the environment, and having users participate in innovation games.

#5: Because the object (product/service) of a review is also the audience of the review, there are biases in feedback systems for online marketplaces. Fear of retaliation, Induced reciprocity, and discomfort (guilt, self-doubt, awkwardness) are some key biases that come into play.

Speaker:  Matthew Pearson, Airbnb

Takeaway:  In shared economy products/services where review systems are key features that validate a provider’s trust and reputation, it is important to design systems that nudge people towards honesty and transparency.

#6: Quality of motivation is more important than quantity. Quality motivations such as intrinsic motivation lead to quality behaviors of people’s own volition and willingness.

Speaker:  Dustin DiTomasso, Mad Pow

Takeaway: Appeal to people’s human needs when designing products/services. People want to feel a sense of competence + mastery, autonomy over their actions, and to relate experiences with your product/service to others they’ve used in the past.

#7: Hassle factors are things that derail you from taking an action. They can sometimes be used for good by making it harder for you to do things that you may not want to do. 

Speaker:  Josh Wright, ideas42

Takeaway: Hassle factors can come in a variety of different formats. One example is choice overload. When people are presented with too many choices they are less likely to make a choice than if they are presented with fewer choices. As designers, it is important to test our products on users, but also understand the hassle factors that make it more difficult for them to get what they need.

#8: Paths and Sandboxes. We should think about how to make awesome users by allowing them to play in sandboxes. 

Speaker: Stephen Anderson, Author Seductive Interaction Design

Takeaway: Paths shape people’s behavior, lead people along, have predictable outcomes, are measurable, design every detail and create dependency. Sandboxes are platforms and social spaces that create engagement, let people explore, have unknown outcomes, under-specify design, are observable and generative. Combining elements of both in design allows people to explore and engage within a product while offering some guidance so they don’t get lost.