Freelance UX and UI designer.
The Etch Spotlight series lets you get to know the talent that makes up the Etch Community. Find out their successes and challenges, how they got started, and what they like the most about working with Etch. This week, we meet Pete Wilkinson, Freelance UX and UI designer.
Hi Pete, please briefly explain what you do as a contractor...
Hi, sure. I do user interface design and user experience design. I do have other skills, for example, front end development skills. I find that helpful in understanding what's possible with a website, and more importantly, what's not possible for a website. This makes it easier when talking to developers as well, which I think is valuable.
Where did it all start for you?
Ever since I was a kid, I always like the idea of designing video games. In primary school, I tried to get a group of friends together to make a Hobbit video game because we were reading the book at the time. And it has stuck with me ever since. So, I went to university with the idea of eventually doing video game design. But I can't draw. I'm not very good at drawing! So, they didn't offer me a video game design course. But they offered me a course on Digital Media which allowed me to learn about web design. The course covered a lot of different stuff, including flash; remember that back in the day?!
After Uni, I moved on to an agency called Design Haus, which are now Etch. This would have been about 12 years ago. That's when I met Tom, Shelly, Phil, and Michael (he started working there when I was working there). I started my own agency with a Co-worker, which we did for about four years until I sold my share about three years ago. And that brings us up to today. Now I'm working for myself. I am quite a lot less stressed than I used to be, a lot happier, and I have a lot more freedom, so good all around.
What motivated you to become self-employed?
When we ran our own agency, I found it quite stressful dealing with a lot of the elements of different larger projects. So, when the opportunity came for me to sell my part, I was thrilled because I knew it would give me a lot more freedom financially and give me time back in my personal life.
I was motivated by freedom. And weirdly, by the fact that there was less responsibility in terms of work. Also, I didn't want to spend the next 20 or 30 years doing what I was doing. I actually wanted to have some life outside of work.
What do you like most about being your own boss?
I get to pick and choose my own projects. And I know that's a very privileged position to be in as a self-employed person, but it's the biggest thing I like. I get to choose what kind of projects on which to work. I've said no to a few things, which has led to other opportunities. It's taught me to say no to some things, which I think is a very healthy thing to do sometimes. And again, just the freedom to start and end my day whenever I want to.
What are your career highlights as a self-employed person?
The highlights span both my freelance life and when I ran an agency. When I was back at the agency, we were able to work on a few great charity projects. We worked with someone who had a database of different land mines. He worked with the UN, which was a great project to work on because it was making a difference.
I also worked with a doctor who worked in a high dependency neonatal unit. He was helping to upskill those in less privileged countries - areas that don't usually have good medical equipment. Not only was he developing training courses but also physical products that helped in this area too. That was a great challenge for me – to understand that you're not just dealing with a Western audience with a good Internet connection. You might be dealing with someone who's working on a phone in the middle of nowhere. So, you need to think about how you can design and build a website to work in those situations.
Is that the type of thing you look for in the work you do?
I would say that's a part of it. Especially now, I think to myself whether I want to work for this company, am I getting a good vibe from them? Is the end product actually going to make a difference to them and their customers or users?
I do try and look for products that make a positive impact. And I've had a moral objection to some of the companies we have worked with before. I don't want to work for companies that I don't feel are positively impacting the world.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced?
I have to learn new or revisit old skills that I've not used for a long time. For example, now I'm a one-man band, clients may ask me to design a site and build it. I recently worked with a coffee shop, they've got a Shopify site, which I had never worked on before. So, I had to learn how to develop a theme in Shopify. It's a good challenge, you know, having to revisit front end code that I've not looked at for a long time and learning liquid code in Shopify and stuff like that.
There is also the challenge of working on your own most of the time. It can get quite lonely. So, I think it's nice to work with Etch now that there's a community feeling around it, something that was always there but has really developed in the last two or three years.
What are you currently working on with Etch?
In the last three months, I've been working on a project for Mind. I'm in the process of helping them design their internal resource sharing platform. So that's been pretty good from an impact perspective.
I'm also working on a booking engine for an exclusive beachfront hotel in East Sussex. That's an excellent project to be working on. They have a good design base and some good UX problems to solve. Right now, I'm working on ADL. That's one of the more significant projects. I'm currently handling the UX and UI for that; it's a meaty project to get my teeth into.
Why do you enjoy working with Etch?
Well, this has been developing over the last ten years or so. Still, there's now a feeling that if you're working with Etch, the team will support you. Along with the team, you're going to come to a solution together, rather than being alone on one person do everything.
And I do feel like Tom and Shelly and everyone else who's been part of their leading core group for the last ten years or more has worked hard to create that in the company. And I think that's made a big difference for people like me who don't necessarily want a full-time job or a more permanent job. I'm a valuable resource for Etch, and I feel like we get the support we need, which is excellent.
How does working with Etch compare to other agency groups?
It isn't easy to compare because Etch is the only agency I'm working with at the moment. But I am working directly with other clients. And I guess it comes back to what I said earlier: when you're working with a team at Etch, you're a team, and you don't have to do everything yourself.
It's nice to focus on what you're good at, so for example, you don't have to worry about project management if you're a UI designer. If you're a front-end developer or a project manager, you can just solely focus on that. Having those core disciplines within the team is helpful.
James Perrin was speaking to Pete Wilkinson as part of the Etch Community Spotlight series. The Etch Community gives digital professionals a platform to grow, and a place to belong. It is for freelancers, business owners, and fellow agencies looking to grow their business by plugging into a community of top digital talent. Visit The Etch Community for more information.