UK UX Freelancer Rate Review 2010

If you do UX as part of your job, you’re based in the UK and you’re a freelancer, this survey is for you.

The background:

The UK UPA recently released a salary survey for 2010 (warning: PDF) which included a tiny overview of freelancers day rates and ‘salary satisfaction’.

These rates, which could now be considered a reference point for both current and potential freelancers and clients, were drawn from a base of 44 responses (up from 39 last year). This is a pitifully small sample and no where near the sample size needed to provide any confidence that this data is indicative of the current situation in the field.

Given that I reckon I personally know about 30 UX freelancers in the UK, and there are many I don’t know – I reckon we can do better than that.

So, rather than whinge at the UPA anymore, I’ve drafted a survey and I would love it if we can find all the UX Freelancers we know in the UK and get them to complete it.

It’s totally anonymous, so if you want to find out what the results are you’ll need to check back here (add a comment below if you want notification), or follow me on Twitter.

The survey will close on 10 December, and I’m hoping we can get at least 150 responses between now and then.

So, if you’re a UX Freelancer in the UK, please come and complete the survey now.

If you know a UX Freelancer, please point them to this survey and encourage them to complete it.

Let’s create an accurate view of the UK UX Freelancing marketplace that can help guide all of us as we set our rates and that can help our clients make good decisions about the appropriate rate of pay for people in our industry.

Designing at speed – DesignJam1

I had the pleasure of mentoring at the first Design Jam in London today.  The event brought together about 50 UX designers from student to seasoned professional to form teams of about 4-5 to design a solution in response to a design challenge.

The challenge for today was:

What is the ideal interface to keep track of previously viewed online content, across multiple devices and locations?

You can see what the teams came up with by checking out each of the team wiki pages.

It was a lot of fun running around from one team to the next seeing what they were working on and, hopefully, helping to guide them towards a solution to present at the end of the day. It was really interesting to be able to observe  nine teams approaching the same design question, and to see where the common challenges emerged. Some observations and advice:

  • Spend less time choosing your idea and more time defining it. Specifically, what problem are you solving?

    Peter Drucker, a business management guru said ‘Ideas are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action.’ Nowhere is this truer than at DesignJam. If you want to have something interesting to present at the end of the day, you need to quickly identify a specific problem that you can solve, and then you need to be able to describe that problem in a concrete story. Keeping track of previously viewed online content, across multiple devices and locations‘ is so broad as to be meaningless from a designer’s perspective. But, being able to re-find a hotel website I saw a week ago when considering a holiday, or the location of the event I’m going to tomorrow, or finding the link to that funny website my friend emailed me about the other day – those a real, concrete, solvable problems.

    It doesn’t really matter which one of these you choose, what matters is that you quickly identify a relatively small, concrete problem that you can solve and that you can describe the problem clearly and believe that the problem is real, and describe how life will be better for people with this problem resolved.

    The elevator pitch technique is one method you might want to consider to help get yourself to a stage where you *really* *clearly* understand what you’re working on and why.

    I really can’t stress how important this part of the project is – this is the foundation on which all the rest of your work is built on, and the most important thing is not *which* idea you choose, it’s about how clearly you’ve defined the problem you’re going to solve and the value you’re going to deliver – your value proposition.

  • Define your audience by understanding the important behavioural characteristics.

    Ah, the vexed issue of personas.I saw a lot of personas at DesignJam today and very little evidence of them being used as part of either the problem or solution definition. Personas *can* be very valuable but only if they’re used in the right way and that is as a tool to help you understand what are the behavioural differences that are significant to your design problem, preferably informed by real data points (your mum, husband, grandfather do count as data points in a DesignJam scenario!).

    Time is precious in a DesignJam environment (as it is on all the project we work on, right?) – we need to make sure our time is being spent in the best possible way. I witnessed too much time being spent making personas because it felt like the next logical step in the design process. In most cases, I would have preferred to have seen groups spend time defining usage stories or tasks and then, if it became clear that there were divergent behaviours and we needed to choose to support one kind of behaviour or another, then capture that somehow – and perhaps a persona is a good way to make that behaviour more understandable.

    Having said that, one of my favourite designs today emerged in response to an ‘extreme’/edge case persona – so persona’s can be a starting point – but what drove this design was not the persona as such but the behaviours we were able to identify that were specific to that persona (and very different from our own) – in this instance, the use of links in email as a primary trigger point for viewing websites, also getting relatively few emails from relatively few senders.

    If you must do personas, then do as few as possible. If you’ve got more than three personas, I want to know why.
    If you’re going to spend time making personas, then I want to see you actually using them in your design process.

  • Get sketching! Generate and evaluate lots of design solutions before you start wireframing

    So, all that time you probably spent trying to come up with A Good Idea, spend it here instead. Quickly generate as many ideas as you possibly can. I reckon it was at least 2pm before I saw people starting to sketch out ideas at DesignJam today (teams started tackling the design problem at 10am and were supposed to present at 4pm).

    A really popular approach to generating lots of ideas at the moment is to do 6-up wireframes another technique I quite like is Design Consequences. However you do it, the key is to get as many ideas as you can onto paper. And then – once you’re out of ideas – to use your clearly defined design problem and whatever user behaviours or personas you have defined to evaluate which aspects of which ideas are strongest.

    Once you’ve evaluated the first round of ideas and you’ve got fresh ideas in your head – do another round of visual brainstorming. Rinse, repeat until the answer becomes obvious. Eventually, it will. Then everything will start falling into place.

  • A group is a resource and a liability (user your numbers, appoint a facilitator)

    When you’re designing with a bunch of other designers (or actually, with any group at all), there are two key things to remembers – firstly – use all the people in your team, get them all actively designing, make sure everyone is sketching and contributing ideas, remember to do things quietly and individually sometimes and to do things collaboratively and together at other times.

    Secondly – make sure that someone is driving the team – keeping you on a schedule, working out how you’re going to get from here to the end of the project, making sure that you’re staying true to the project problem you’ve defined, making use of the personas you’ve defined, keeping everyone focussed, on track, and working productively. Have this discussion at the beginning of the project rather than waiting for a ‘natural leader’ to emerge (especially if you’re working somewhere where politeness is at a premium and potential leaders might be nervous of treading on other team members toes)

  • Pitch clearly and persuasivelyThe day wraps up with each team presenting their design to the larger group –  for me, this is as important as all the design work you’ve done throughout the day. A clear, focussed and compelling presentation enables you to convey to the group what you’ve been working on, what problem you’re solving, who you’re solving it for, and finally, to show the design solution you’ve come up with.That clear value proposition and the user stories or tasks that you’ve defined come in handy yet again and show be key to framing your work in a way that is understandable and compelling to your audience.

    Don’t think of this as ‘just the presentation’ – as much as any of the design work you’ve done throughout the day is great experience and practice for your day to day design work, the same couldn’t be truer for this part of the process. As designers, we’re only ever as good as the design we can convince our client/team to implement and this means that we’re constantly presenting our work – explaining what the problem is, why we’ve done what we’ve done. This is something that, as designers, we should be able to do at the drop of a hat because of the preparatory work we’ve done earlier in the design process.

While these thoughts are specifically in response to the DesignJam day, I think they’re pretty much universally true to any design project and very common issues that come up on projects I’m involved with. The hothouse environment of DesignJam brought it home, yet again, how difficult it can be to facilitate a team around designing a solution – it’s tough work but very rewarding.

Well done to Johanna Kollmann, Joe Lanman, Franco Papeschi and Desigan Chinniah for organising the day and to everyone who participated for putting in such a great effort. See you next time!

I’m writing a book about Strategic User Experience.
Send help!

I’m having another one of those moments where I feel terror and delight in equal parts. This is a feeling I’m becoming increasingly familiar with and almost welcome as a good omen. The reason, this time, is that I’ve agreed to write a book for the team at Five Simple Steps which will be called A Practical Guide to Strategic User Experience.

This is not the first time I’ve contemplated writing a book, but it’s the first time that I’ve actually managed to make the commitment to spend my time doing this and not something else – the main reason being that I’ve found that on the projects I work on these days, the biggest impediment to getting good UX work done is almost always strategic.

The funny thing about strategic work, though, is that there isn’t a process for doing it. There isn’t a series of methods that will always work. It’s more a way of thinking, a way of seeing things, a mindset. It’s really hard to ‘teach’.

I really noticed this when I thought about how I might do a workshop on Strategic UX for the upcoming UXLX conference. Subsequent conversations with a few people who I thought might have some easy answers for me (see my earlier post re: mentoring) also seemed to indicate that this might be an area that needs some work done on it.

There’s a lot of writing out there on strategy, on design thinking, on organisational change, and – of course – on user experience. There’s a growing body of work out there on customer experience and service design. There’s not much for those of us still want to be really great user experience practitioners, but who want to be influential in the way that our company (or our client’s company) thinks about our users’ experience beyond the interfaces/flows that we might be tasked with designing.

So, that’s what this book will set out to do – to give you a grounding in strategy from a range of different perspectives, to help you acquire the skills you need to to be effective in influencing strategy at an organisational level, and to learn how to facilitate the creation of an experience strategy and then help drive that strategy both outwards and throughout the organisation, and to apply that strategy to the day to day, tactical work.

And now, to my request for help…

… I’m really interested to talk to user experience practitioners with strategic UX war stories. I’d love to hear about:

  • what you found most challenging,
  • where the biggest problems lay,
  • what techniques really worked for you, and what didn’t!
  • I’d love to hear stories from ‘innies’ (inhouse design teams) and ‘outies’ (consultants),
  • I’d love to hear from big companies and small.
  • I’d love to hear about how being strategic has changed the way you do user experience (or not).

If you’ve got a story/thought/rant you’d like to share, please either leave a note in the comments below or drop me an email: [email protected]

Thank you!

Some thoughts on mentoring

As we’re getting into the tail end of the year it’s become apparent to me that one of my themes for this year has been mentoring.

This year, I’ve been doing a bit of mentoring.

  • Quite a number of my commercial assignments have had a mentoring ‘skew’ to them – rather than project work, my mission has been to try to impart as much of my knowledge as I can to a person or team.
  • I’ve had the pleasure of working with interns on two of my projects this year (which is pretty unique and fortunate for a freelancer).
  • I’ve been involved with the Information Architecture Institute’s mentoring scheme (you need to be a member and be able to remember your login)  which has given me the opportunity to compare notes with a number of up and coming UXers in the UK.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be a ‘mentee’ (is that the opposite of mentor?) on several occasions – mostly when I’ve just straight out asked people if I can have some of their time to talk about a topic that’s on my mind and that I could use some extra perspective or experience on. In addition to this, there are dozens of people who unknowingly act as informal mentors to me as they share their experiences on Twitter, in books and at conferences.

What I’ve found really surprising is that in both the mentoring and mentee situation, I feel like I’ve been the one who has benefited.

Obviously, in the latter situation, I benefited from the kindness, experience and wisdom of those who were willing to do a Skype call with me (that’s the usual format of my mentee-engagements). It was where I was acting as the mentor that I was really surprised.

There’s a saying ‘if you can’t teach it, you don’t know it’. I’m not sure it’s entirely true but there is a special kind of knowing you get from having gone through the process of thinking about how to communicate what you know to someone else.

It does something to the way you know things – firstly, it makes you more aware of what you know, which is gratifying and confidence building. I think it also makes your knowledge feel more accessible and more valuable.

If the majority of the learning you’re doing these days is informal and self directed, you may find that mentoring is almost a way to give yourself a mark out of ten, an end of year exam, a sense that you have actually accomplished some learning and know a bit about what you’re talking about!

So, I want to take a moment to thank my mentors, and to ask you to think about how you might be able to participate as a mentor.

Do you have opportunities where you could invite an intern to work with you and gain invaluable experience? Can you offer some time to be a more formal ‘mentor’ to a UX newbie? In my experience, it can take as much or as little time as you want it to and the benefits to all involved are significant.

And yes, you probably do know enough to be a mentor – the best way to answer that nagging doubt is to give it a try. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.