Thanks DN: Am I a real UI designer? (2 year update)

over 4 years ago from , Design by Marcus

This is becoming something of an annual thing :)

My first version of this post was around 2 years ago and I’d been learning about design (specifically UI design) for around 6 months and had been worried about if I could really make a go of it. Being 33 at the time and a relative dinosaur in this digital world I feared it might be a bit too late for me to embark on a whole new career not too mention I had zero background in design.

2014 Post - https://www.designernews.co/stories/42878-ask-dn-am-i-a-real-ui-designer 2014 Designs (so bad) - http://imgur.com/a/GqTQq

I received some great messages from the community and it probably took me the best part of a day to reply to everyone.

A year passed and I thought I’d make another post to give an update of my ‘career’ so far and again I received great encouragement from the community. The impostor syndrome was still there (I think it’ll always be present) but definitely not as much as when I first started. I’d like to think I made to great strides in the quality of my designs and I was also able to raise my rates substantially from where I started at. All of my projects were freelance and for individual clients up to this point.

2015 Post - https://www.designernews.co/stories/61393-thanks-dn-am-i-a-real-ui-designer-1-year-update 2015 Designs (getting there) - http://imgur.com/a/OuMlk

So now we're at the end of 2016, it’s been awesome and not so awesome in terms of having regular work. The year started pretty badly and it wasn’t till the end of February that I got my first client, I ended up working for an agency based in San Diego for about 8 months straight till the work started dropping off but it was amazing while it lasted and I earned more money than I've ever had in my life. As that work started to slow down I was approached by an agency based here in the UK and have been getting steady work since I began with them.

So now at the grand old age of 36 I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and have been able to save 5 figures this year which feels amazing. For the whole of 2016 my rate was $50/hour and never had any push backs. I’ll probably raise it a bit sometime next year but it definitely feels surreal earning this much per hour and I have to pinch myself every now and then to prove to myself this isn’t all just a dream.

2016 Designs (still plenty of room to improve) - http://imgur.com/a/Hrzam


So what’s my plans for 2017?

At the moment I just call myself a UI designer so I want to learn more about UX and maybe even call myself a product designer at some point. I’ll be redesigning my portfolio over the next few days as I’m just not feeling my current one any more and I don’t think it represents my current skill level.


I recently got myself a MacBook Pro 15 (not the 2016 model, I’m not rich yet) so now I don’t need to be chained to a desk to get my work done. Real remote work is possible and I’ve booked a flight to Thailand and plan to work from there for the first few months of next year. If I don't come home early with my tail between my legs I'll move into Europe after, hopefully I'll still be able to travel around freely in the near future (fucking Brexit).

I’m definitely enjoying working remotely for agencies at the moment but in the long run I need to up my marketing game (can any recommend any learning resources?) so I can get more projects by myself.

Also another part of moving half-way around the world is to get myself out of my comfort zone so that I can improve my social anxiety. I’m fine with conversing through Slack and instant messaging in general but video calls and meeting new people is something that’s always been difficult, I’m under no illusions that I’ll be able to ‘fix’ it but just an improvement would be huge step forward.


Ok so what resources have I used to get better at design and freelancing over the past few years?

Dribbble - https://dribbble.com Love it or hate it, it’s an amazing resource. I’ve found the more experience I gain the less I need inspiration. With that said there’s 1000’s of designers on there that are a lot better than me so I regularly look at designs to improve my eye and for a bit of inspiration when I hit a creative wall.

Paul Jarvis’ Creative Class - https://creativeclass.io This is a great course to prepare anyone for freelancing and the Slack is also a huge plus because it’s a friendly community of very helpful people that always has great advice when you have questions.

Freelancelift - https://www.freelancelift.com/pro Another great course to prepare anyone for freelancing and comes with a ton of mini-courses and monthly calls with the head honcho Liam Vietch. I need to dive back into this stuff because it's goldmine of information.

Nguyen Le’s Process Masterclass - https://www.process-masterclass.com. Admittedly I only started the other day but I can tell this is going to be amazing just from the first few videos. His newsletter is also well worth signing up to!

Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing Rate - https://doubleyourfreelancing.com/rate I haven’t been able to double my rate (or price on value) but I think the value of this book is in the mindset that it teaches you and the fact that it tells you to think of yourself as an investment to your clients rather than an expense.

Books that helped me out in the beginning UXPin Ebooks - http://studio.uxpin.com/ebooks Austin Kleons's Steal Like an Artist - http://austinkleon.com/steal The Non-Designers Design Book - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0133966151

Slack Groups for designers and freelancershttp://www.freelance.chathttp://slackshot.comhttps://spec.fm/slack

I own so many books and courses, I should really stop buying them, maybe it'll be a New Years resolution. No more learning resources till I've worked through what I already have. It's an addiction!!


I’m sorry so about this ridiculously long wall of text so I’m going close this out with a bit of advice for anyone looking to get into the design game!

If you look at other peoples designs and worry that you’ll be never as good as them because they’re just naturals you could be right but your most likely wrong. I came to this with zero ability in design, look at this ffs (http://i.imgur.com/IbAs3YW.jpg). I've come realise that talent is not really that important for UI design (not sure about other area's of design). Time, hard work and a love for the craft is more than enough to put you on the path to good things. I started at 33 and at zero in terms of design knowledge and I have carved a whole new career path for myself and also gave my younger brother the encouragement to start too. If I can do this, anyone can and I sincerely believe that!.

Thanks, Marcus


p.s. Special thanks to my Slack buddies Laura, Helen, Marko, James & Imran for being awesome!


  • Helen . Helen . , over 4 years ago

    Terribly proud of you for how much you've accomplished! The imposter syndrome is real, no one can deny that. And I think just about everyone goes through that at times, even the "pro's".

    And oh my, a special mention for me, thanks :p

    P.S : Yes, you should most definitely stop buying new books until you go through your huge pile of books collecting dust.

    6 points
    • , over 4 years ago

      Thanks Helen, I'll definitely stop buying books and courses as I have quite the backlog to get through.

      1 point
  • John Jackson, 4 years ago

    You have produced some fantastic work, Marcus. Keep it up!

    4 points
    • Marcus H, 4 years ago

      Thanks John, it's always music to my ears to hear such words from a fellow designer.

      2 points
  • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, 4 years ago

    Hey Marcus, I'm SO psyched to see how far you've come. Great work!

    One request: can you maybe stop tilting your mobile designs? It makes them hard to tell apart and to examine, and I'd really love to check them out ;)

    2 points
    • , 4 years ago

      Hey Joel, I hear you on the the slanted designs, a few of my latest ones on Dribbble aren't slanted and I wasn't planning on do that to any future ones anyway :)

      0 points
  • Folake Knudsen, 4 years ago

    Hi Marcus, it's awesome to read your story because it gives me hope that if I keep at it, I will progress as well. I just followed you on Dribbble, I look forward to seeing more of your work!

    1 point
    • Marcus H, 4 years ago

      Thanks for the message Folake, I've followed you too and I hope you have a productive year filled with a ton of progress!

      0 points
  • Luca Candela, over 4 years ago

    I love your attitude, and to be honest you already have a much better portfolio than 90% of the designers applying for my open positions. My suggestion would be to work a bit more on your typography and maybe I would try spending some time copying designs in different styles (you have the "generic web - mobile sleek 2016-ish" nailed but a little versatility wouldn't hurt).

    Good luck!

    1 point
    • , over 4 years ago

      Thanks Luca, I definitely agree with you about the typography and the Process course I bought will be touching on that so hopefully I'll learn a thing or two. I haven't copied a design for a long time so I'll start doing it again and maybe do one a week if time permits.

      Even though you said I have a better portfolio than 90% of the designers applying for your open positions would you hire a 36 year old? I'm not looking for a job just curious!

      1 point
  • Rafael CoimbraRafael Coimbra, 4 years ago

    Great progress and great to see you reflecting in your journey. Keep up the good work and don't tilt the screenshots!

    Not that you asked, but It would help you a lot to be more concrete on the goals and your vision of 2017. In that way you can keep track on what you want to achieve and take deliberate steps there.

    Again, keep it up!

    1 point
    • , 4 years ago

      No more tilted screenshots in 2017, I promise.

      That makes a lot of sense on the goals and I'll definitely write some out before the new year. I wrote some long term goals out earlier in the year so I'll dig them out and adapt some of them to next year.

      1 point
  • Micah CarrollMicah Carroll, 4 years ago

    Super inspirational , I'm 21 looking to fill the feet and pave new ways for the designer industry one day as a major player.

    Super pumped to see what you have coming in 2017 ~

    1 point
    • , 4 years ago

      You have so many years ahead of you so you'll be amazing by the time your my age, I wish I was 10 years younger.

      I hope you have a great 2017 too.

      1 point
  • Robin RaszkaRobin Raszka, 4 years ago

    I see progress.

    1 point
  • Murat MutluMurat Mutlu, over 4 years ago

    Amazing progress, congrats!

    1 point
  • Gulzar singh, over 4 years ago

    Really happy for you. Amazing journey. Keep it up!!

    1 point
  • James StoneJames Stone, 4 years ago

    Hi Marcus, what an awesome post and it has been an honor to watch you improve your game over the years. It is very impressive your vulnerability in posting some of your early work. I also love how you talk very objectively about how you got to where you are today.

    RE: "Steal Like an Artist." I love it so much I have made it (in addition to his journal of the same name) required reading in my studio art course, "Scripting Fundamentals for Designers and Artists" at Penn State. Another great book by the same author is his sequel titled, "Show Your Work."

    Best of luck to you in 2017 and I look forward to learning more about your journey next year!

    Question for you: are there any design related books that have helped you out in the past year?

    1 point