Sebastian Mitchell is a freelance user interface designer for web, mobile, and tablet. He’s designed interfaces for Conservation International, the UN FAO, and Nokia Brazil.
I’m a user interface designer and front-end developer. I usually work remotely with small (2-5 people) development teams who need user interface design input or support. I’ve worked with teams in Brazil, Ukraine, Kenya, Spain, and the UK, most of whom build software for the humanitarian and development sectors.
The types of software I design interfaces for vary, but I’ve worked a lot with data collection, management, and mapping applications.
My start was fairly slow and organic. The big turning points were because of people I met who helped me along the way. When I was living in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, I started getting small web design gigs through people I knew. After a year that led to joining a small local startup, and eventually a job in Nairobi with a non-profit tech company building data collection and mapping software for large NGOs.
After working there for two and a half years, I started to want more variety in the types of projects I designed. I decided to make the move back to freelancing.
It really pays to listen carefully to your clients, and to be very responsive. You can actually make up for areas that you might lack in just by being very attentive and getting back to people quickly! In terms of marketing, after moving back into freelancing I can say that for me getting referrals from my network has been the best way to get new clients.
You’ll definitely need self-discipline to work remotely. Good communication skills are essential, especially over email – don’t assume anything and make sure to ask a lot of questions to make sure you and your client are on the same page. You’re going to get a bad client now and then – when it happens, don’t get angry, just stay polite and fire them if they become too much of a hassle.
On the creative side, it’s super important to take a lot of breaks and not push yourself too hard – your work will suffer if you do.
Depending on the project, I may start with a mood board, a very rough wireframe sketch, or even just a brainstorming session with my client. I’ve run design thinking workshops in the past and find some of the techniques helpful in teasing out requirements and scopes. i’ll then liaise with the developers to see what is actually feasible.
I’m quite fond of color palettes so I’ll usually spend some time in the beginning finding a suitable one. I frequently need to create at least four or five design ideas for a screen or element before finding a good one – my creative process definitely involves a lot of trial and error. It’s also normal for me to work on several iterations of an interface before delivering the final mockups, taking into account developer and client feedback.
I use Photoshop for high-resolution mockups, and either Sketch or Keynote for wireframes. A paper and pen also come in handy! My laptop is a 15-inch Macbook Pro. I use a separate monitor sometimes (although I don’t have one currently) which is helpful when doing front-end development. I’ve started using InDesign recently for some print designs too.
I either work from home at my kitchen table, or in a coworking space about 20 minutes walk away. Being in a shared office helps me to avoid feeling isolated. I usually don’t work more than 4 hours a day, and try to fit in some exercise too. I work at coffee shops too but I don’t like them as much due to the time limit and the pressure to buy something to stay there.
I would say the best way to get started as a freelance UI designer is to get a job with a software development company. You’ll learn very rapidly (while you get paid), and will also quickly build a network of contacts you can tap into once you go freelance. Do that for a year and you’ll be in a better position than after two years of starting from scratch on your own.
Also, it pays to spend time reaching out to people you know (and don’t know) to see if there’s any overlap in your work and potential to collaborate. It’s part of my strategy for getting clients, and the results are sometimes surprising (in a positive way!).
View more of Sebastian’s work on his Behance profile.