What are the details on contract IxD/UX work? (does it even exist)

10 Sep 2013 - 11:50am
2 years ago
4 replies
5448 reads

While I was at an internship over the summer, a client recommended that I start seeking contract work while I finish up my MFA. (as opposed to my previous plan of taking a bunch of internships to learn different skills.. I'm told more than one internship can make it look like you didn't learn anything or your skills aren't up to par for a real position)

I would really like to get into this kind of work because I'm currently working one soul-sucking half time job + a part time minimum wage job to try and make ends meet. the result is that I'm running around too much to do much actual school work, and it's making me so depressed that it's hard to get motivated to work in the rare cases that I actually do have time. plus, I'm still in the red. I also want to be adding experience to my resume while in school, because most full time jobs I'm seeing have a 4+ year exp requirement. 

All that said, I'm not having any luck finding contract work in my area (Indiana) or work that can be done from a distance. When I search here, there are no posts about contract work since 2010, so I figure maybe it's time for a refresher. Is contract work even a thing anymore? If it is, where do you find it? While I don't want to turn this into another "Contract rates" thread, I'm curious what the going rates are. I spoke to a recruiting agency in my area and heard it was $25-35/hr. from what I've read elsewhere, that seems low, but I am located in a black hole for this kind of work. (also, FWIW, I'm generally looking for mid level positions. even though I'm still in school, I've got 15 years working in instructional technology/instructional design and have experience and soft skills from that. UX design folks I've worked with have told me that my skill level is generally above that of a junior position)

Just kind of want to hear experiences to figure out if I'm barking up the wrong tree or approaching this wrong. 


10 Sep 2013 - 4:22pm
Kelly Noah

I think you're on the right track by talking to recruiters - sure, you might be able to charge more hourly by cutting out the middle man, but to me recruiters have been a matter of convenience. They find the opportunities and I don't have to dig it up myself (I've used recruiters both for finding full time jobs and for temporary short term contract work that I picked up occasionally when in school, on school breaks, not sure what I want to do with my life, etc). And that sort of short term project work might give you more valuable experience than internships (the flipside is that to potential employers it might look like you flit around a lot and aren't committed - but I think this could easily be explained).

I imagine most contract work that recruiters place you in would have to be local, however. It's a bit more typical to hire in contractors as short-term help with the expectation that they are in the office as any other member of the project team would be.

11 Sep 2013 - 4:08am
Sean Pook

As a UX recruiter I may be able to give some advice. The advice you received to get some contract work under your belt is technically sound, but will be tough to achieve, Firstly your location does not lend itself well to contract OR permanent work in the UX field. Secondly, 80%+ of contract work calls for several years professional UX experience and it's mostly mid-senior-lead level folks that get contracts. Contracts tend to exist because something unforeseen has come up or a quick project needs doing and it pays to get someone in who can get up to speed on day one. Thirdly, you'll likely need to discount your non UX work experience. The UX industry, whilst appreciating your other experience, will not attribute monetary value to it, thus you're a junior / graduate and you'll have a tough time getting a mid level role until you have circa two years commercial (not academic) UX specific experience.

Finally, breaking into this industry as a junior is very hard, thus better consider relocating to the West Coast or East Coast for the higher number of opportunities. Best of luck.

14 Sep 2013 - 9:08am

You are not doomed. It's just not easy. 

Firstly, your life is much simpler if you can do more than IxD-- visual design and front end code are particullarly powerful, with information architecture and information design good skills to fill you out (at lest on the west coast there is a big demand for data visualization). I.e. be a unicorn. Take at least some basic classes in these; it'll make your Ixd work better and you more hirable. 

Many agencies fill out their bench with contract folks, whom they mark up. unfortunately that means lower rates, but it also means not having to handle the selling or billing.  Put together a good resume and portfolio, and send it to agencies. better yet, go on Linkedin and see if you are connected to anyone who knows someone at a big design agency. I've heard NYC in particular hires "wireframe monkeys" which, while depressing, may prove to e useful to build a relationship and work history. and money.

West Coast is very uncorm-focused among startups, which are often willing to hre a junior in exchange for the cheap rate. Yes, most startups want to pay as little as possible for as much as possible. they are not in the reality busines, you know. 

The second approach is more time consuming: hit the pavement. Talk to local businesses and see if they need help wiht their websites, reach out to local companies and see if they hire contract people. Also hit up temp agencies, you never know. 

And go ahead and intern all you want, you are getting very spurious advice. the only thing that really matters is a kick-ass portfolio.  You can't make one of tthose without work. 

Finally, sean is right-- head toward the water as soon as you can. Indiana is a tough row to hoe if you are a IxD. 

14 Sep 2013 - 12:15pm
Stephen Perry

You definitely need to examine the resume and portfolio and make sure it tells the story of you skills in UX, not just instructional design. Look at the similarities in skills needed from job posts and such and tailor your resume and portfolio appropriately.

Talking to recruiters and having placement agancies to represent you is a good step. But if you want to get work on contract and independently there are a number of sites who help support that. Odesk is well-known for people who want to find independent work and prefer working as contractors. And since it is all remote, your location is not an issue, and hitting the pavement is not needed. Just be skilled at remote teaming and client management.

Could be a way to gain experience as well as work on what you like to work on – and get out of that soul-sucking job.

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