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Freelance product design consultant: How I got my job and where I'm going

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my mother was really instrumental in my love of design and love of creating she was an art teacher when I was younger and then she became a first grade teacher and so she was always doing creative products projects with my brother and I over the summers around the weekends and so I think that for me she always allowed me to pursue that creative gene as opposed to trying to get me to go into something a little more structured I ended up doing my undergraduate studies in architecture it was a great combination of both hands on skills so creating physical products as well as digital design and then higher level thinking and math and science so it had everything that I was interested in all in one package and I got to learn how to solve problems creatively every semester we would do a different briefs of science labs aquariums markets houses just different types of spaces when I was in graduate school studying my masters in architecture I met a woman in a class who was starting a company in education and she needed a designer so I decided to work with her and then I really liked the company I really liked the idea and I really liked the work that I was doing in web and mobile design and I decided to drop out of my masters and pursue working at a startup full-time I got to learn how to start a company I taught myself to code I learned how to manage an engineering team so I got a lot of different skills out of that experience and I really liked small scale companies early-stage companies and the fast pace of them and the kind of crazy off the rails experience of them and that's when I started working as a product designer and then from there I worked for a healthcare company I worked for a few other education companies as a consultant and then I most recently have been working for COO Bay a smart wine bottle company as their product design consultant because the state of tech companies right now I think I'm pretty lucky and that there isn't a certification board or a degree that I have to specifically pursue in order to get my position it's mostly about a past track record of success and a good portfolio and networking well so networking not in the traditional sense of showing up to a room and trying to talk to strangers but more so in having a good relationship with a client and then allowing that client to speak on your behalf for other clients in that way your clients are some of your best marketers as well as your portfolio speaking for itself in terms of what you're able to do my portfolio consists of web design and mobile design so it's mock-ups showing the works that I produced and then how a user would interact with that work and then it's also a lot of text on why I made the decisions I made in the interfaces that I designed so what conversations with consumers and users drew me to those conclusions and caused me to make the design decisions that I made I think that carries over from architecture I was trained that it's really important to have a reason behind every decision you make not to just make it because it looks good because usually that ends up with creating a pretty terrible experience for the most part I've been very lucky in that Boston's startup space is pretty insular and it's very positive normally if you have a good experience with one person they'll spread the word to other people and so for me it's mostly just about past experience and getting to know people over time I've been here for about seven years now and so I do feel like I have a very strong Network mostly it's just about asking around if anyone in my network knows anyone else who's looking for a designer I got the job at cuvee through a word-of-mouth someone who I had worked with very closely for a few years recommended me to them she knew that they were looking for a product designer and said you'll love Michaela you love working with her she and I had had a great relationship and so I came highly recommended growth opportunities for product design consultant could consist of hiring other designers and creating your own consulting group in order to start your own consulting group you have to be pretty serious about what kinds of projects you're willing to take on being a consulting group that focuses on early-stage companies I think is very exciting and is definitely a prospect I'm interested in it's also nice because then you get the feedback of other designers on your work day-to-day is opposed to just working by yourself another career path for a product design consultant is to be hired full-time by the company you're consulting with that's exciting if you really love the product and you love the team and it works out pretty well for everyone because you have good history with the product and the design being hired full-time can also give you more stability so you're able to predict a little bit better what your income month-by-month is going to be if you're going to have a position it also provides you with insurance that you don't have to pay for yourself so that can be a good opportunity for a lot of people my goals for now are I'd like to grow a team of designers I think that being a good manager also means being a good teacher and I find that really exciting I would also like to teach product design at some point there are a lot of entrepreneurial programs at various grad schools and I think that's an exciting prospect to be able to teach young minds how to start a company what it means to listen to your consumer why that's so critical when you are starting your product I've also taught high school previously it's really exciting because there the students are super enthusiastic I normally ask them to criticize an app that they really enjoy using and they get really they get very excited about that prospect and then also to criticize an app that they don't enjoy using and to think about why that experience isn't as good as it could be and what could make it better they have a lot of opinions and can get really a little ruthless but it's all it always turns out to be a good learning moment for them I also think the prospect of starting my own company again is something that I pursue I really enjoyed scaling an idea from the very beginning all the way up to a physical product that people could use and I'd love to go through that process on my own again generally if people are interested in getting involved in product design I said I tell them just to try projects to accept projects if someone is taking a first chance on you you might want to charge a little bit less than you normally would if you start getting your skills up to a good level but never do a job for free because your skills are valuable and you should always know that and you should always pursue that that's some good advice that someone gave to me early on and I think it it helps you feel like the work you're doing has value because it is really enjoyable and sometimes you feel so lucky to be pursuing design if you really love it you want to make sure that you're recognizing that it is your job and that you should be charging for it when you're just starting out another good thing to do is look at someone else's design work you think is great and try and pick it apart and understand the different layers of it figure out why it's really good figure out if you can emulate it in some way and try to take on that skill set I think that also if you're interested in just meeting someone for coffee you know it always helps to tweet at a company and see if any of their designers will meet with you and just give you advice and it could end up landing you a job it's really important to put your work up on sites so on your own website or on a site like dribble or Behance where designers are sharing their work because then you can get feedback from other designers and I know a lot of designers tweet their designs just to make sure that they're getting visible and that they're getting feedback from other people I think it's it's never helpful to design in a silo and just to keep everything to yourself and it ensures that it could also help build your network out because you'll be well-known for a certain style or for producing good work
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