If you are thinking about going into UX design you might be wondering what kinds of employment possibilities are out there. From a startup to a major corporation, there is no doubt that companies are looking for UX designers. You can join in on the fun as an in-house designer, working for an agency, or becoming a freelancer. But which one should you choose? Stick with The Guac as we compare the pros and cons of where UX designers work.
So what is in-house UX design? In-house designers work with one brand or company. You could be working as part of a start-up, smaller company, or large corporation.
For example, you could be an in-house UX/UI designer for brands like AT&T, Home Depot, Facebook, or Twitter.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of In-House UX Design.
As an in-house UX designer, you work so close to a single product that you develop a deeper understanding of what you are designing. You will likely form an attachment to your work and take great care and pride in its development. This puts you in a better position of ownership of your designs and work on the product. You can better defend your choices and have more sway in an in-house position.
Working in an in-house position will allow you the opportunity to work with everyone involved in the product development process. Having close contact with different teams will allow you to have your work approved in less time and overall just make project communication easier. You will also be exposed to different kinds of disciplines, not just design. This is a good way for you to learn and broaden your skills and knowledge.
Being an in-house designer will allow you the opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at how a business is run. You will also be able see what role UX plays in a company and be able to align business goals with user goals.
It is usually difficult to find a design mentor working in-house. This depends on the size and the company you are working for, but unlike an agency where you are surrounded by designers, many in-house designers are often the sole UX designer or part of a very small team. If you are comfortable learning on the job and teaching yourself, working in-house could be a good fit. But if you need more guidance or are new to the field, in-house design work can prove a challenge.
When it comes to in-house design, you’re always going to be working within the same niche. If you are a UX designer for Netflix, you are always going to be designing for a streaming service. You may get to work on different projects within the brand, but if you get bored working with the same clients and similar projects then an in-house position may not be the best fit for you.
More and more companies are realizing how important UX is, but many do not understand why it is so important. The company that hires you may not be used to design thinking. It can be difficult to get team members to understand the work you do which can make it more challenging to work on projects and communicate your ideas. You may have to establish a UX culture from the ground up.
Working as part of a UX design agency, you will be working with multiple clients at once. You might work in a specific area of UX or work as part of a team of generalists.
You could be a UX/UI designer for agencies like Fjord, Fantasy Interactive, Ideo, or IBM.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of working for an agency.
Working as part of an agency means that you will be working on a variety of different projects with a variety of different clients. This is very good for the earlier stages of your career because you'll be able to learn many things and explore new disciplines. You will gain experiences facing design challenges across different industry types and communicate with all kinds of people.
As part of an agency, you have more opportunities to experience design thinking culture. You will likely work as part of a UX team or a design department. You will be around like-minded, experienced senior designers whom you can learn from and turn to for help or feedback. You will also have access to the best UX tools and processes.
With an agency position, you can count on stability and having a routine. You will most likely have set working hours and steady income. Sometimes there are busy periods when you will need to put in those extra hours because it's crunch time.
With an agency job you get variety, but that variety usually comes in short term projects. Once they are finished and get handed back to the client, you won't be seeing them again. This can sometimes make the work unfulfilling for UX designers. You may not be able to track your progress and success or have a sense of ownership with these short term projects.
With agency work you don't get to choose the clients you work with. You also have to listen to the wishes of your clients, even if their wishes may not be the best for user experience. The client having the final say can be frustrating for some.
As part of an agency you won't always be in close contact with your clients. These long lines of communication can cause a lot of back and forth discussions and draw out projects. This distance from the client or product owner can also make it tricky to get a feel for their brand.
Freelancing means you are self-employed. You work for different companies or clients at different times, instead of being employed by a company or agency. Freelancing is often best suited for someone later in their UX career. Some common platforms to find freelance positions are Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal, Guru, Flexjobs, and Catalent.
Here are the pros and cons of working as a freelance UX designer.
As a freelancer you are your own boss, so you can pick and choose who you would like to work with and what projects you want to work on. You can get a varied portfolio and experience this way, and you don't have to be tied down to an agency or company.
Freelance work is usually location independent, so you don't have to worry about taking time out of your day to commute to work. This means you also have the opportunity to travel while you work if that's something you wish to do. Become the digital nomad you have always wanted to be!
Working freelance means that all the profit goes to you so you can end up making more money over time. However, it can take a while for you to build your freelance career and make some regular income.
Being a freelancer also means that you are on your own. With no work colleagues, you will have no one to immediately reach out to for help or feedback. If you are just starting your UX career, then you could be missing out on the learning experience that you might receive in an in-house or agency setting. That being said, you can still go out and find your own mentorship by other means.
Although the flexibility aspect of freelancing is appealing to many, this flexibility also applies to your income. In the early stages of your freelance career, your income will be very irregular. You have an influx of clients for a few months and then none the next. Make sure you are prepared to deal with the financial instability that comes with freelancing.
You will not get a steady routine as a freelancer. For people who need a routine, this can be a deal breaker. With no fixed routine you can end up losing track of your hours and not be able to draw the line between work and personal life.
Where you choose to work is entirely dependent on you and your priorities as a UX designer. If you want a creative environment and a variety of projects, then you might thrive in an agency setting. If you are someone that values having an impact on a product or brand with ownership over your design decisions, then an in-house position might be better suited for you. If you want a flexible, remote job, then freelancing might appeal to you more.
If you are just starting your UX career, it is important to take the time to consider which environment will be best for you personally to learn and grow your UX design skills, so that you can be the best you can be.