5 Things to look for on every freelance project

Small teams, big passion

On weekday mornings MTA trains from all over the city carry gaggles of coffee-breathed New Yorkers to their 9-5 jobs. During peak hours there can be so many people crammed into a train that there’s no longer any need to grab a pole because it’s effectively impossible to fall during a sharp turn or abrupt stop. Communication and eye contact cease during the suffocating ride, replaced only by the burning desire for personal space and real human connection.

To me this is what working at a large company feels like. Little room for growth, failure, or change of course. No individual accountability. Quietly impersonal.

I prefer working with small teams of passionate people who bring strengths to my weaknesses, communicate openly and honestly, and hold each other accountable for doing great work.


Clear vision

In movies there’s always a director to guide production designers, cinematographers, actors, and post-production in bringing a story to life. The director is the person with vision, the driving force behind the film. No one in Hollywood would make a movie without a director.

Products also require a director to communicate a clear vision throughout every step of the project. Without a vision, designers produce broken experiences because of conflicting information and unclear goals. I help companies to define their vision by deeply understanding their audience’s needs and desires before starting any drawings, wireframes, or UI design.



Vision tells me what we’re creating, and it’s your story that makes me care. Help me understand your company’s journey. Where did you begin? Where did you run into conflicts and how did you resolve them? Where are you trying to go? The stronger the story we tell through the product, the more powerful the bond we create with the audience.

Once I know your story, I listen to your audience’s stories to help define the problems we’re trying to solve. Where do they get tripped up? What gets them excited? Has anyone found a unique way of getting around a common hurdle? What do they think about your product and how does that differ from your vision? Talk to enough people and their experiences will start to form a pattern. These stories are the dots I need to connect in order to define and solve problems that go beyond surface level thinking.


Dedication to craftsmanship

Last year when New York City was frozen by the Polar Vortex, I finally broke down and bought a big, puffy jacket that went down to my shins. When I got outside I instinctively went to bury my hands in the pockets, only to find that the opening was too small for the bulk of the jacket around my wrists. I couldn’t fit my hands in them while wearing the jacket. I couldn’t believe it. Did the people who designed this jacket never try putting their hands in the pockets? And are pockets not one of the primary features of a jacket? Was this an MVP? Did some designer just create this on a computer in Miami in time for the Holiday season?

In contrast to the jacket, I’ll talk about the Moment Lens. Tired of all the cheap smartphone lens attachments being sold in the market, Moment created a lens to rival the quality and craftsmanship of professional photography gear. My favorite detail about the lens is that it mounts securely to your phone with a twist and lock motion, which not only eliminates light gaps between the lens and your camera sensor (a common complaint with the low-end alternatives,) but also mimics the same motion photographers use when switching lenses on a DSLR. It’s no surprise then that the small team who made this lens are photographers themselves, with over 25 years of experience creating professional gear.

I work on teams who take pride in the quality of their product, not the teams who need to put in the least amount of effort into a market opportunity. Great products are designed by people with a personal investment and interest in the problem they’re solving, and those who use it think “this was designed by someone like me.”


A seat at the table

Over the course of my career, design has come to encompass so much more to me than just skillfully painting in wireframes and hoping for the best.

Products with integrity are made by designers who sit at the table throughout the entire process of building them. Working with a small team, I want to help shape the vision, connect with the audience, solve the right problems, and see the design through iterations and implementation. Thoughtfulness and collaboration is important to me during each phase, and I need work on a team who feels the same.

Erin Nolan