Stef Ivanov, UX/UI Designer, had worked for a number of companies as an in-house designer before diving into life as a freelancer. Today, his favourite part of the lifestyle is the freedom it brings, despite knowing next to nothing about being a freelancer to before becoming one! We talk about his previous jobs, his working day and his biggest career break yet. 

How did you get started as a freelance UX/UI Designer?

In the first few years as a designer, I was working in-house for agencies, e-commerce companies, and a few startups, after which I transitioned to a freelance career. There was a time when I was freelancing on a part-time basis while still working for other companies. This is the only way to build your portfolio before you decide to work on your own.

So if you want to be a successful freelancer, my advice is to start building your portfolio asap and find private clients while you're still working full time.

What is the most rewarding part of working freelance?

Freedom to be wherever you want, whenever you want and work on projects you actually like. But you also have to be ready to pay the price - uncertainty at times, self-discipline, managing clients, invoicing, availability etc.

Freelance UX/UI designer Stef Ivanov

What were you doing before you became a freelance designer?

In-house designer for a London based startup, which was providing social media analytics based on footprints from the use of major social media services.

What other jobs have you had?

My first exposure to the design industry was 15 years ago when I started my first full-time job as a sales exec at a design agency. Then I moved to project management and a few months later to design. I’m a self-taught designer and front-end developer, everything I know I learned online and with plenty of practice. I don't have formal education in design.

Have you ever thought of doing something else?

You caught me here haha. My head is always buzzing with new ideas, but I try to be careful when starting a new project. Until recently I was running a pet tech company called Hello Buster along with a small team. We were doing well in terms of growth (25% MoM), but this wasn’t enough to build it into a sustainable business. We couldn't raise the investment we anticipated and decided to close it down.

Did you know anything about freelancing before becoming a freelancer?

Absolutely nothing! And that’s the best part! You learn on the go and figure things out when you face a problem. It will help you to do more in-depth research if you'd like to become a freelancer, but don't get distracted by the negativity and too many "ifs" that you'll read online. The demand is there and as long as you're good, you'll find the right clients.

Is there anything you wish you would’ve known before going freelance?

Yes. Freelancing is more or less a lonely journey, completely different from being in-house with a big team, coffee breaks, team lunches and faces you see every day. Instead, you meet and speak with more people and interesting entrepreneurs, but you build fewer friendships. You need to work more on your social-life that you probably expect.

Design by Stef Ivanov

What does a working day look like for you?

Not too different from a full-time role - I wake up, go to the gym, walk my dog in the park to clear my head and aim to start work by 9 am. I usually work on a few different projects every week, so Monday could be very different from Wednesday in terms of design tasks, but the dynamic is similar - design, meetings, calls, admin, repeat. In terms of working hours, my week is much longer than it used to be when I was an employee, but I still enjoy it. Working on weekends, late evenings and sometimes even a 5 am start is not unusual.

Do you work with any other freelance creatives?

Yes, and I love it. It’s always good to collaborate with people in the industry.

Biggest career break yet?

Being featured on some of the top online publishers.

Do you think you’ll always have work coming in as a freelance designer?

If I keep improving and upgrading myself every day - yes.

Do personal experiences ever inspire your work?

A lot. Everything that’s surrounding us is a form of design. Every user experience I observe (not only digital) is an opportunity to learn something new, improve it and apply it to my work.

How do you begin a creative project?

With research and a good long chat with the team behind it.

What type of client hires you?

Mostly seed and series A startups, that want to accelerate their companies growth through design.

Design by Stef Ivanov

If you went to uni, did it help you in securing freelance gigs?

Nope, I’m not a huge believer in the education system in the tech sector. Things in the tech world change too quickly for the education programmes to catch up with it. I believe uni is great for giving you the right mindset and introducing you to other like-minded people, but the actual skills you learn elsewhere. The reality is that by the time you finish a course, which is usually approved years before, things have changed so much that you have to be considering upgrading your skills straight away.

Do you prefer working for small or big brands?

Ideally, small which I believe are going to become big.

What type of projects takes priority for you?

Interesting concepts in fast-growing industries, with a smart and experienced team behind them.

To see more of Stef's work, check out his profile or his website.