UK based user experience freelancers?

10 Dec 2008 - 9:30am
5 years ago
2 replies
264 reads
Sam Menter
2008

Hi IXDA list

A few questions for UK based UE freelancers / recruitment agencies...

*About the current UE industry*

• It seems to me there's lots of work about at the moment... how are you
currently finding things?
• How do you feel about the recession - could it be good for freelancers as
companies cut in house headcount?
• Are there currently any particular specialties with high demand?
• What's your strategy for 2009?

*About freelancing in general*

• Is freelancing a dead-end career - a nice day rate but no long
relationships?
• What's the most satisfying thing about freelancing?
• What don't you like about freelancing?
• What advice would you give someone thinking about full time freelancing?

Thanks for you thoughts!

All the best,
Sam
www.pixelthread.co.uk

Comments

11 Dec 2008 - 5:10am
Mike Padgett
2008

Hi Sam,

Great question, hope I can do it justice!

I *was* a UK-based UX consultant but in May 2008 I upped sticks with my other half. There were a number of reasons, but certainly future prospects and availability of work were two of them.

At the risk of sounding a bit big-headed in a "oh, I know the market" sort of way, I think it would be better (and probably far more interesting) in 2009 to be working (regardless of status) for orgs that:

a) Recognise that UX has a proven business advantage (of course this should apply to all orgs, but for many the truth of it has yet to filter through to the decisionmakers upstairs and sometimes it can be hard to prove that advantage) so that might include online banking (but can the banks employ folks right now?), education, business apps and so on;

b) Have project budgets signed off beyond 2009 - you wouldn't always know that upfront, of course, but you could take an educated guess whilst bearing in mind that nothing's ever written in stone;

c) Have specialist or 'niche' requirements - here's where domain or microdomain expertise will probably always be essential (the deity of forms that is Caroline Jarrett pops up here regularly and I doubt someone of her calibre *ever* has dry spells - sorry, Caroline ;-D);

d) (for England at least) Based in London, the M4 corridor or perhaps Brighton. This isn't to suggest that other places don't have work, but in Leeds for example - which I think of as being fairly representative of "the rest of" England - there's a lot of low-hourly-rate, short-term work in which the client thinks it wants a designer when what it really wanted was an Information Architect or a generalist UX professional;

e) Take on permanent members of staff. This is a personal point of view informed by the knowledge that no job is 100% safe, of course, but it's a fact that there are simply less headaches and heartaches involved in being made redundant than there are in winding up a limited company, a partnership or even one of those umbrella thingies if the time should ever come that you're (whisper) unemployed;

f) Are academic institutions doing research, but that's not for everyone.

I don't believe, in the UK at least, that headcount trimming equates to a boon for freelancers. For me it's more like a warning. UX people are easy targets because for most orgs they're not considered business critical in the way that someone like a Unix Administrator might be. At times like these are becoming, orgs are starting to think about what is necessary and what is not necessary.

It's horses for courses really. The last two years for me were very successful but I wouldn't be in a hurry to repeat the experience.

I ran a limited company during that time. Ultimately it served its purpose because we set ourselves a goal when we started and it gave us a life choice that might not have materialised in the same way had we been permanent employees of some other org.

In short, we achieved our goal and we even surprised ourselves with our success, but what you tend to gain in material terms and *occasionally* work of better quality, you have to be prepared to lose in spare time and probably some personal and professional development. If you're not doing so well, for example, you can't afford training (always expensive). On the flipside, if you *are* doing really well, you're too busy taking the work while it's there and you don't have time to be going off and doing training!

If you're in it for the long term, you have to try to pace yourself and balance your needs. Certainly the UK government does not make it easy for you to go it alone - that's another irritation and it deserves a post of its own (it's also off-topic). As I'm suggesting here, going freelance only really starts to 'pay' for itself in the long term and in the present climate you'd want to be securing reliable sources of work. These are not especially common, even in boom times.

I've heard it said a thousand times ad nauseam but it makes perfect sense: if it was easy everyone would be doing it. If I chose to go freelance again now, I would do so for life reasons - if I had a mortgage and kids, I would stay permanent out of a strong sense of responsibility; if I had a general lack of patience, a small rented flat, very few outgoings and no real debts, or if I was in big demand for my own and not market reasons, I might be persuaded to go freelance. But probably not, because the average day's work ends up working out pretty much the same whatever your status.

So your question to this list is well considered but understandably work-centric. That's because this is a UX list and you're quite right to put it the way you did - we are all UX professionals, not life counsellors. However, if you're thinking of going freelance, I'd recommend that your choices in terms of work status would be best informed by personal considerations moreso than professional ones. Sounds daft but I firmly believe it.

Finally, doom and gloom is a British skill and maybe I'm rather cautious because I also remember too well how things got to be in my region after the first Gulf War. For some people, that means the bottle will always be half empty, but it's hard to see it any other way when you can't get on with your life for economic reasons. For others though, like my partner, it was an intervention that enabled her to start a totally different career! Like I said, it's horses for courses.

So if you're thinking of going freelance yourself, it might be useful to record your decisions in some way - perhaps on your (nice) website - so that you can review them later and check they're still working for you. It follows that the important thing is that you make things happen rather than allowing things to happen to you. The great Californian writer John Steinbeck once said something like "the best thing in life is to commit; the worst thing is to omit". If that's a misquote, it's probably better advice than the correct one!

Bonne chance,

Mike Padgett
www.mikepadgett.com

>Hi IXDA list
>
>A few questions for UK based UE freelancers / recruitment agencies...
>
>*About the current UE industry*
>
>• It seems to me there's lots of work about at the moment... how are you
>currently finding things?
>• How do you feel about the recession - could it be good for freelancers as
>companies cut in house headcount?
>• Are there currently any particular specialties with high demand?
>• What's your strategy for 2009?
>
>*About freelancing in general*
>
>• Is freelancing a dead-end career - a nice day rate but no long
>relationships?
>• What's the most satisfying thing about freelancing?
>• What don't you like about freelancing?
>• What advice would you give someone thinking about full time freelancing?
>
>Thanks for you thoughts!
>
>All the best,
>Sam
>www.pixelthread.co.uk
>________________________________________________________________
>Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

12 Dec 2008 - 4:38am
Sam Menter
2008

Hi all,

Apologies for the duplicate post - it took a long time to come through, so I
thought I'd posted from the wrong email address, so re-posted.

Thanks for taking the time to write your interesting detailed responses. I
think the thing I find most attractive about freelancing is the variety of
projects you get to work on, which in turn leads to a good variety of
experience for future contracts, good for surviving a downturn.

On the other hand, a graphic designer friend was telling me he'd stopped
freelancing for agencies (as opposed to running his own show) because he was
frustrated at getting the projects the agency's in-house staff didn't
want...

Thanks again
Sam

2008/12/11 Carl Myhill (UXD +44 (0)7952 502067) <
carl.myhill at userexperiencedesign.co.uk>

> Hi Sam
> I'm a UK freelancer I suppose. I've been at it for about a year now (though
> was permie for 16 years).
>
> I like it a lot! I've got a nagging uncertainty about work but I'm not too
> bothered. I have a friend in a big bank in london. He has been a contractor
> for 8 years and has survived 2 rounds of lay-offs. He's not in UCD but he is
> a software engineer. I think this supports the point you are making - he is
> not headcount so he survives. Well, he is also very good so that is why he
> really survives! (not many of his contractor colleagues have survived so
> long).
>
> I work in Cambridge. I dont think there is loads of freelancing work here
> really. I think London is better, though Bristol also seems to be a hot bed
> of usability these days.
>
> Why dont you take a look at 'london_usablity' yahoo group and 'london-ia'
> and see what jobs are popping up on there.
>
> All the best.
>
> Carl
>
> 2008/12/10 Sam Menter <sammenter at gmail.com>
>
>> Hi IXDA list
>>
>> A few questions for UK based UE freelancers / recruitment agencies...
>>
>> *About the current UE industry*
>>
>> • It seems to me there's lots of work about at the moment... how are you
>> currently finding things?
>> • How do you feel about the recession - could it be good for freelancers
>> as
>> companies cut in house headcount?
>> • Are there currently any particular specialties with high demand?
>> • What's your strategy for 2009?
>>
>> *About freelancing in general*
>>
>> • Is freelancing a dead-end career - a nice day rate but no long
>> relationships?
>> • What's the most satisfying thing about freelancing?
>> • What don't you like about freelancing?
>> • What advice would you give someone thinking about full time freelancing?
>>
>> Thanks for you thoughts!
>>
>> All the best,
>> Sam
>> www.pixelthread.co.uk
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>>
>
>
>
> --
> User Experience Design
> (http://www.userexperiencedesign.co.uk)
>

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