UX Freelancing

UK UX Freelancers Rate Review 2010 – The Inaugural Report

Recently I conducted a survey of the UX Freelancers in the UK. Usually I would leave this kind of thing to our professional bodies, however given that a recent ‘official’ industry survey managed to achieve only 44 responses from UX Freelancers in the UK, I thought it was important that we get a more substantial sample size and verify the findings (and perhaps learn some more about ourselves).

This survey is not intended to be an authoritative source on ‘what to pay a UX Freelancer’ but rather a data point that can be used by freelancers, their clients and relevant recruiters when trying to make an informed decision about a reasonable rate to charge or pay.

One of the key findings has to be that the anecdotal feedback – that UX Freelancers’ day rates are all over the place – is true. This is particularly the case among our less experienced colleagues.

There are certainly some people with very little experience being paid some fairly hefty day rates. At the same time, there are some very experienced people charging extremely reasonable rates. There is no discernible evidence for why some people charge more than others except for a self-perception of expertise and value.

It is my hope that sharing this information will enable us to better self-regulate and make sense of our own relative value in the current market.

The survey opened on November 29 and closed on December 13 2010.

In that time 168 people completed the survey. Many thanks to everyone who who tweeted, emailed freelancers they know and tapped people on shoulders. As far as I know, this is the most extensive survey of UX Freelancers ever done in the UK (probably in the universe).

I’ve taken a comb to the data and I’ve compiled some findings below.

Do feel free to take a look at the data yourself and see what other conclusions you can draw – there are many different ways to sift through the data, it was very hard to choose which way to slice it up.

Firstly – the bit I know you’re all really interested in. What are we charging?

A Summary of UX Freelancer Day Rates 2010
[table id=1 /]

For me, the most interesting thing about the data behind this table is the diversity of rates charged within each ‘category’. There was considerably less geographical impact on rates than I might have expected. There wasn’t much difference between the rates charged by sector. There was only a slight difference in the median rates charged by men and women.

Gender Comparison of Median Day Rate by Experience
[table id=3 /]

I couldn’t find anything logical to explain the diversity, however I do wonder whether how you get your work makes a difference to your day rate (whether you contract direct or go via a recruitment agency for example) – a question for next years survey perhaps.

I’d be interested in any other hypotheses you have that we might be able to test.

A note on the data: as this was the inaugural survey I wanted to not make any assumptions about how we’re charging ourselves out at the moment so I left the ‘rate’ field as a text field – this made analysis quite a pain but it did avoid me making assumptions that could have completely ruined this endeavour. If you want to play with the data you will similarly have to go through this pain to get to the day rate data… sorry!

Out of UK: This refers to UK based UX freelancers who do work on projects that are predominantly based outside of the UK.

So, in the course of exploring the reasons for the diversity in our rates, I was also able to explore another subject I find quite interesting – the intersection of ‘experience’ (years we’ve worked) and ‘seniority’ (our own perception of how expert we are relative to our peers).

Seniority / Experience / Day Rate
[table id=2 /]

(Note that some segments in this table have very small samples so shouldn’t be taken too seriously in isolation)

For me, this table calls out (at least) three interesting things.

Firstly – as a profession, it would suggest that the tipping point at which we consider ourselves ‘expert’ is before the 5yr mark. The progression from ‘entry level’ through ‘mid level’ and onto ‘senior’ seems rather swift to my thinking. This may be an artifact of freelancers particularly, but I suspect this is something we should be cautious of.

Secondly – women don’t start freelancing until they have about 5yrs experience under their belts. Of the 45 female respondents, a mere 13% were freelancing before this 5yr point as compared with almost 40% of the male respondents who were freelancing from the very earliest stages of their career.

Thirdly – as mentioned earlier, your personal perception of your skills and abilities relative to those of your peers (whether you rank yourself as a ‘mid level’ or ‘senior’ practitioner is of vastly more importance than the number of years experience you have behind you. In some ways this makes perfect sense, but it also makes life difficult for potential clients.

Some other nuggets from the survey data:

In the next calendar year do you expect to increase, decrease or not change your day rate?
Q2 Graph

We’re feeling optimistic.
98% of participants intend to maintain or increase their day rate.
50% intend to increase their day rate.

What industry sectors have you primarily worked in this calendar year?
Q4 graph

I thought the representation from Start Ups and Charity was surprisingly strong here.
Other answers included: energy/utilities (3), retail/e-commerce (4), sports (3), travel(2), ad agency, arts, engineering, gaming, multinational corps, music/entertainment, online web giants, restaurant/food, software industry, technology, tourism

Which of these do you regularly contribute to your projects
Q5 Graph

Other answers included: conversion rate enhancement/optimisation (2), social media, experience / service design, training, accessibility, sales, evaluation, search engine optimisation (SEO).

Conversion Rate Enhancement or Optimisation is a new one on me (as a specific job role, that is) but I have to say, I quite like it.

Seniority: Do you consider yourself to be:
Q6 Graph

Predictably, most freelancers consider themselves to be relatively senior.
Other answers included: 
not sure, senior to mid, executive/director level(2), guru (!)

How many years of UX experience do you have?
Q7 Graph

Industry affiliations
Q8 Graph

Considering the importance of networking for freelancers, the proportion respondents who identified as active members of some key industry groups is quite low.

Geography – where do you do most of your work?
Q9 Graph

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the respondents report doing most of their work in London.

Q10 Graph

Male UX Freelancers significantly outnumber female significantly. The UPA Salary Survey doesn’t report salary by gender so it is not easy to say if this is representative of the general proportionality within our industry or specific to freelancing – would be interesting to know.

Other answers included: Jedi (note: this respondent also answered ‘Guru’ in response to seniority. Apparently we have The Force among us)

Q11 Graph

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of UX Freelancers are aged between 30-40yrs.

A selection of additional comments from respondents

Freelance rates are highly variable, especially when working through a recruitment agency. I often find advertised rates are below what I earn, but then find that after speaking to a potential client they’re willing to pay my expected rate or similar. It seems that advertised rates (by recruiters) are perhaps used to lower expectations of contractors in advance.

There still seems to be a lack of respect for/understanding of experience…my day rate has not increased in 3 years even though experience has…(and it was at the same level from 2000 – 2007)… recruiters won’t touch me once they find out my rate …say I am too expensive…say people can be had for £350 (or less)…(fortunately, at my level i don’t need them much even though they call me)

It would be nice if people went back to talking to references…there are still quite a few amateurs out there on £350/day which makes it bad for the good ones, weakens the whole respect for contribution if UX…

Also seems to be a bit of a fuss about promotion/rock stardom…so the silent craftsperson who mentors on the job across silos and fiefdoms is not even that valued by his community unless he speaks in public or blogs or tweets or in some says “look at me”…kind of what academics have to do which distracts from their alleged purpose – education and mentoring…

It might be useful in future to provide for variable rates, e.g. I charge more for short jobs than long. Here I quoted for long duration jobs. Also education might be interesting. (This comment was made by several participants, something to consider if we do this again next year)

There is sooooo much work about – 2 or 3 recruiter phone calls a day. I have no idea where they get my number from…

There seems to be a lot of people trying to side step into this industry from roles such as project management which seems to be devaluing what we do. These people are expecting the same rates as solid UX’er with years of experience. I think these people are ultimately going to drive the day rate down and I find it quite frustrating.

Senior people are highly in demand in the UK particularly if you have strong sector experience.

Its very difficult getting work in the Midlands as a freelancer… we constantly have to turn to London for work!

As a profession UX suffers from such variable approaches and outputs it’s very hard to get an idea of how to place yourself.

Although a great salary is a good part of being a freelancer, for me it’s more about having flexibility in terms of my time and the type of projects I choose to work on. This is facilitated by good pay, but we should focus on quality of life and work above mere cashflow.

I look forward to more North West based clients embracing usability and conversion optimisation, as well as more UX professionals working in Manchester and the NW to bang the usability and UX drum like it is in London!

In terms of how I operate, I never give ideas away for free – no spec work, free pitching, etc. This has been the single most important aspect to my success in the field – conversations are the most important. Also, I never do work for people I don’t actually like as people. Sounds a bit silly, but as a self-employed person, you can only blame yourself if you’re working for people you don’t like :)

Knowledge is power. Use it wisely. A small rant.
So, there you go. You know what the rest of the UX Freelancers are doing. Go, adjust your rates accordingly (judging by what I’ve seen in the data, there’s a bunch of us who could do a little tweaking as part of our freshen up for the new year!)

This works both ways – there are plenty of people out there who – if they have the experience and skills they claim to – are really undervaluing themselves at the moment.

On the other hand, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence (and some support from this survey) to suggest that there are some of us who are more confident to claim seniority and charge higher rates with less experience.

Now, experience isn’t everything – if you are doing an amazing job and really delivering results for your client then, well done you. If you can’t really see how your client is making back your cost and then a whole lot more, then think carefully about the rates your charging.

Let’s make sure we’re doing what we can to continue to built up the respect that our clients and peers have for us by making sure that we do represent good value to our clients.

And, on that note, I wish you all a productive, creative, inspiring and rewarding 2011.
I welcome your comments, questions etc. below.

16 thoughts on “UK UX Freelancers Rate Review 2010 – The Inaugural Report

  1. Hi Leisa,

    Great survey and really interesting data. Thank you for taking the time and for sharing the results so openly.

    I have a slightly different perspective on the results. You say:

    There is no discernible evidence for why some people charge more than others except for a self-perception of expertise and value.

    Why is “self-perception” the only possible explanation? What about the perception of clients and team-mates? It sounds like you’re making a tacit assumption that rate-setting is done entirely by the freelancer, and isn’t affected by the judgement of the client team.

    Also, I’m interested to know why you chose to ask about “seniority” (which surely translates to “job description within an organisation”) and number of years experience, rather than skills? There’s a link, because IMO people who employ freelancers aren’t buying years of experience or perceived “seniority”, they’re buying skills.

    Final point: the terms “senior”, “mid-level”, and “entry level” only seem to come up in organisational org charts and recruitment consultant job specs. Do you think they are useful for creating great UX teams? I’m not sure I do. And in the UK at least, using senior/junior/etc. in a job description is legally/ethically shady, because they are “terms which imply a particular age group” which is now viewed as age discrimination. (See this twitter discussion).

    Looking forward to hearing your viewpoint! :)

    1. Thanks for the great feedback Jonathan – this is the first time I’ve done something quite like this so really appreciate all perspectives! I do feel a little out on a limb! :)

      You’re right, I have assumed for the purposes of this survey that the freelancer is the one setting the rates. The survey did ask people to share what their day rate is (the rate they ask for), and it also asked for the lowest rate they have accepted.

      Day rates are always a negotiation (well, often), but I have assumed that it is good practice for a freelancer to commence negotiations with an idea of that ‘their’ day rate is. What they actually end up being paid for a project may vary.

      As a result of these negotiations, I have then assumed that the feedback from clients/co-workers etc. feeds back into the freelancers self-perception of their relative worth in the marketplace. Where else (other than recruiters advertising day rates for their particular kind of freelance projects) do we get any feedback from?

      However, I agree these are both really important sources of feedback and you’re right, I probably should have called them out as key influences.

      With regards to seniority, I asked about this precisely to capture this idea of relative, self-perceived skill – deliberately separated from ‘years of experience’.

      It’s been my experience (and I’ll happily hear evidence to the contrary) that most practitioners have a sense of where they fit in a seniority continuum and that these ‘markers’ make sense. (I did see that discussion re: the ‘shadiness’ of the term ‘senior’ – if anything I think this survey design shows that the years of experience/age and ‘seniority’ are not the same beast).

      I wasn’t really interested in whether these are useful for creating great UX teams because that’s not really a major part of the scope for freelancers. You probably shouldn’t be looking at freelancers if you’re focused on building a great team, right?

      I deliberately didn’t choose to base this on ‘skills’ because I’ve seen different people’s interpretation of the same ‘skill’ and they are absolutely not the same thing (by output or quality/usefulness). I’d argue that it’s our ability to choose the right skills to apply and then to execute those skills well that make the difference between the levels of seniority.

      I would, however, be really interested to hear which skills you might have expected me to be capturing here? Perhaps this is something we can look at next year (assuming it’s considered useful to repeat this exercise!)

      It is really tricky to compare like with like when it comes to us UX folk – this was my best first shot but I’m really happy to talk about better ways to do it.

      1. Hi Leisa,

        Great points!

        On feedback from clients/coworkers: the point I was trying to make is we shouldn’t assume that high rate/low years of experience freelancers are ripping off clients. IMO clients are neither innocent nor ignorant, and they can make their own judgements about value. That is, the fact that clients are prepared to pay rate X makes it good value, assuming the client isn’t stupid or ill-informed.

        I should declare my bias: I hate the word “senior”. To me it reeks of the rotten corporate culture of pay for years served/old boys clubs/[insert discriminatory cliché here]. Literally it means “old”, and so I’m stoked that the new age discrimination regulations make it legally shady. So many job specs still say “Senior [x], requires [y] years experience in [z software package/technique].” That’s no way to find people who’ll actually improve the user experience.

        I don’t agree that the “do you consider yourself to be?” question captures an “idea of relative, self-perceived skill”. I think it’s more likely to capture the “type of job description the organisation uses for me.”

        I would love to read a more detailed take from you on: “..most practitioners have a sense of where they fit in a seniority continuum and that these ‘markers’ make sense.” I agree that most people have a sense of pecking order, but I don’t agree that it “make sense”, i.e. it isn’t necessarily helpful for building great teams/getting things done.

        Freelancers vs. teams: can’t you build a great UX team for a 3 week project? Isn’t that exactly what you did with the recent super-short project you blogged about? ;) I think descriptions like mid-level/senior actually get in the way of building great teams, even for short projects. (I accept that you weren’t talking job descriptions, but self-perception–I think the connotation is always there when we use recruiter-speak or corporate-speak.)

        Finally, you called my bluff:

        “I would, however, be really interested to hear which skills you might have expected me to be capturing here?”

        Busted, governor. I totally agree it’s tricky to compare like with like. And that “our ability to choose the right skills to apply and then to execute those skills well” is key. Which is perhaps a consultative role. So maybe the question I’d ask is what type of work do you do for clients? Is it strategic, consultative, facilitative, change-focused? Or it following instructions and plans made by other people? Which brings me disturbing close to Jared Spool’s hands vs. brains argument. Hmmm.

        Thanks for the discussion. :)

  2. Pingback: Rate Review
  3. Thanks for this Leisa, food for thought indeed. Very interesting to see where the frustrations in the community are coming from.

    The market for buying and selling freelancers (in the recruitment agency landscape) could well be a factor. Also, in terms of skills vs experience debate – there seems to be a lot of emphasis on shiny portfolio documents, not proof of effectiveness (e.g. references).

    I’m getting quite aware as I get out and about in the community that there are a *lot* of good UXers out there in the offices but not on the social network / conference circuit radar; and that there is an increasing number of ‘look what I did’ freelancers with impressive but ultimately inappropriate portfolio work under their belt – things that might be awesome and involve a whole lot of process and sticky-notes and sketchy wireframes, but in the delivered context improve the users’ experience not one bit.

    Should we ask the users what our work is worth ;)


    1. Interesting idea, Lou :)

      I think you’re touching on something that I’m really interested in which is more proactively showing how the work that we do benefits our clients (and their bottom line) and putting our rates into context with the benefits we bring.

      For many of us, I think something like the can actually make us look like incredibly good value – our work can be the reason that a lot more money comes into our clients’ coffers or less goes out. And we should be thinking about and trying to measure that where we can (admittedly, this can often be difficult).

      As you can probably imagine, I find it difficult to criticise freelancers for getting out and having a bit of profile (although I am very pleased when they can walk the walk as well as talk the talk) – this can be a very important skill as a freelancer, particularly if you are seeking to avoid the recruitment agency market where, it seems to me, the day rates have a fairly low ceiling.

      I do agree though that there seems to be a significant group of very capable UX Freelancers that we’ve never heard of. I wonder if they are also the ones who are charging below average rates for their level of experience/expertise? (lurching into speculation now).

  4. Well done Lisa, you’ve put a lot of effort into this and your analysis is balanced and thoughtful. Although I’m not a freelancer this makes very interesting reading. I think there is still a lot of missunderstanding about what is/isn’t UX and lots of people have jumped on the UX band wagen as it has been the hot topic for the ast couple of years. There are a lot of good people out there doing good work and promoting/supporting UX very well, you survey will add to this. Well done and lets hope there’s a larger response next year – if your willing/brave enough to do it again.

    Regards, Dereck

  5. Leisa,

    Well done for pulling this together. I looked at both the raw data when you published that, and this post, with a much greater interest than the UPA survey.

    I have a few comments in relation to some of the responses so far.

    Re: setting the rates
    I believe recruiters to be most guilty for this. A few recruiters that have got us great people in the past and managed to elicit very high rates for them, have tried to offer less skilled and less experienced candidates at those same rates without even agreeing with the candidates. I know this because I often get the same candidates for wildly different rates, and as a result I will often be forced to reject someone who might actually be quite suitable.

    Re: Seniority vs. years experience
    I hate that we can’t stipulate or discriminate on years doing a role. It DOES matter. There are some folk who have just switched from a completely different field and have very little actual experience – maybe one project. I’m sorry, but that is incredibly risky for me as someone running a department and ensuring quality consulting and delivery skills. However, experience in other fields can help a lot to understanding and consulting.

    Re: Glossy portfolios etc.
    Having a ‘glossy’ portfolio WILL get you more work. Having a ‘good’ portfolio with decently presented illustrations of your process and your deliverables will get you more of the right kind of work. I would like the UK industry to at least raise the quality of portfolios so that the work can at least be better understood, so that we can get to a stage where that work can be better probed in an interview. At the moment, most good work is shielded behind appalling presentation.

    Re: Hidden UXers
    Too right. The best people I have ever worked with have little or no public profile, and rarely attend UX events. I think that is a shame as they could help raise the bar of the ever-improving London UX scene. This applies to permies and freelancers.

    Re: Building a UX team of freelancers
    This is the big challenge. I think the Leisa, Andrew and others example was a rare delight. If this model could work repeatedly, more agencies would be in trouble, but luckily for those agencies it can’t easily. UX people can rarely agree on the way to tackle a problem, let alone agree on the solution to a problem. Pairing, or teaming up people in a team is hard enough with permanent people you know, but next to impossible when you haven’t actually worked together before. You may know people from a few events and blog postings, but you don’t really know their idiosyncrasies. We’ve been lucky on a project we have going at the moment, where there is a huge number of UX Architect and Designer freelancers. Luckily they are all really good. Luckily they get on. They do disagree. But they get over it. Is it a model i’d like to repeat? Not really, however, I would like to think that people that have worked together for RMA (where I work), would work together outside RMA in the future. In fact, I am actively trying to support such a ‘collective’ model within our organisation so that we can build hot teams quickly in the future.

    I am tempted to start a similar in-depth survey for full-timers, but I fear that I am not in a position to be objective with the data. well done again for pulling this together. On top of all your other work and writing your book, this is a valuable thing you have done for the UK industry.


  6. Pingback: Quora
  7. This is very interesting, Leisa. Thanks for doing the research, and for publishing it. Great comments above, too.

    I wanted to say something about the seniority/years of experience thing. Broadly, while I understand Jonathan’s frustration, I agree with Jason that years of experience in UX are hugely important. That seems obvious: the kind of problems we deal with are various and complex, and while good core skills are essential, there is a huge advantage in being able to call on the hard-won, detailed lessons that only come from doing something yourself.

    However this then begs the question – what counts as experience? What should count?

    Interviewing over the last couple of years at Flow, I’ve seen lots of people who have years of solid experience in one area of UX – say, designing complex web sites – and salary expectations to match. But when you probe a little further you find that they’ve never done any user research, or never documented a user journey, because it never seemed that important.

    Obviously, regardless of their years of experience, it’s difficult to employ these people in a role that might take them outside their comfort zone, because they still lack core skills. (This is related to the problem of what we call ourselves and our work – but that’s another whole can of worms).

    So I guess what I’m saying is (and here I show my true colours as a UX professional) – when it comes to judging people’s worth based on years of experience, “It depends”.

  8. Excellent piece of work Leisa! Much food for thought.

    I think that Jason has a point and that some (only some) recruiters are guilty of “setting rates” to improve their profit margins, rather than to benefit client and/or candidate. For example (and both of these cases are one-offs, so please don’t think that all agencies apply such practices).
    1) I was offered a position at 100/day below the final rate agreed on. The extra 100/day I got, I discovered later, did not come out of the client’s pocket, but out of the agency’s margin.
    2) I discovered once that the recruiter was taking nearly 40% of what the client was paying for the position. I gave notice the same day!
    Take care, Harry

Comments are closed.