How to offer UXD services--need coding partner?


I’m back with another question, this time about how to get small freelance jobs. The idea is to beef up my portfolio and gain experience so I can get a job, not to become a long-term freelancer.

I am thinking I could offer “website design” for new or redo-able sites for local small companies. People I might have some personal contact with already, thus a place to start a conversation from.

Most people have never heard of UX though, and would probably wonder: what is the use of usability testing of current site, design of new site (with usability testing along the way), and no one to implement it?

So, maybe I should look for a coding partner to work with on these projects.

Do you think this is necessary? And, if so, any suggestions for how to look for someone to team up with who, like myself, is willing to work for very little (or nothing at first)? Who’d be willing to work with someone at my level of experience?

Thank you!


Hi Dougc,

Starting off with personal contacts is a great way to get started. That way you can encourage advertising via word of mouth with work experience to back it up. I have found that this leads to getting more of the same kind of work, so there is a course you’ll need to plot in order to get to your ideal kind of projects.

Many small businesses will have heard of ‘user-friendly’ design, or will at least be able to quickly grasp it if you start asking them about times they’ve found a website frustrating. If you follow this conversation with examples of techniques you can use to objectively achieve a user-friendly site, then you’ll hopefully have laid a solid foundation for UX work. Take the UX process in your stride though (don’t sweat the details) as with small projects it’s the momentum and clarity of findings that really make the UX worthwhile, not necessarily the great wall of supporting data.

I’m not quite clear on how you jumped from user-testing to development, but I think you’re suggesting that you’ll need another person on your team to help bounce test feedback off? That’s true, and you’ll see the way forward much more clearly, but I would still recommend taking the client along for the ride with you in an active way. Otherwise you’ll alienate them from some design decisions and end up having to explain yourself anyway, without them having seen the value first hand. I would get them in whenever you talk with their customers, and once they’re familiar with the basic process and the importance of objectivity and an open-mind, you might also get them to have their own conversations with friends/customers/peers. I’ve found that this works well because they get a feeling of being effective and in-control.

Developers are highly sought after, and designers/founders asking them to work for free has been a running joke for them over the last few years, so I would be very wary of asking for that. There may be a recent graduate looking for part-time work, or someone in a local network who is open to working towards something with you, but in my experience the developers most worth working with are always able to justify charging for their work (the time/cost/quality triangle - pick two). Work on a small project/task first, rather than jumping in with someone you don’t know well. You may need to work backwards to some way of being able to charge your clients, or fund things yourself until you can pay yourself back later. You’ll also need to have a good idea of what kind of development you need (PHP, Rails, Wordpress, etc) as finding a developer unicorn is as hard as finding a UX unicorn. So, I’d try:
[]Putting a notice up at a local coding school or uni campus
]Networking at local web/development meetups
[]Asking on Twitter/forums for referrals to good developers
]Lots of people use online freelancer/outsourcing sites to find someone. I have had mixed success with this.
[/LIST] Developers tend to want clear instructions or direction upfront, so as long as you do that they won’t necessarily mind if you have little actual experience in UX. Lean on your architectural design experience. If you’re lucky you’ll also find a someone who is open-minded about re-work and tweaking during usability testing, as long as it doesn’t take things in a totally new direction. Get them involved early during research too.

Cheers, and good luck with it. I’d love to keep hearing how you go. =)

  • Luke


Luke–Wow, thank you for the long thoughtful reply! Great ideas.

I mentioned development because I’m picturing the average website owner would figure design input is kind of useless if it never gets used. If I do usability testing, and even visual design, then what? I don’t expect the client to know how to code, and if I don’t offer coding I’d just be telling them, “Well, it’s been fun. Good luck putting my ideas in place.”

Does that make sense?

I love your suggestions for how to talk about what I do/offer in simple approachable terms. And getting the client involved in the process, “taking the client along for the ride with you in an active way.”

Thank you, and when I get something going I’ll let you hear about it.


You’re very welcome. =)

You’re right - most people just want someone to help implement a website. Your experience and design offering will mean they’ll assume you’ll have options for implementation too. As you say, at the end of the day you’ll only be valuable if they get a finished website. =)

@all Any other tips for dougc to find a development partner? Who do you use, and how did you find them?


Hi Doug,

I’m doing some volunteer UX work with a not-for-profit startup in Canada, and we have five volunteer developers on the team (which is remotely based). Two are experienced developers from Brazil who intend to move to Canada, and one is a recent immigrant - they all want to get some local experience to put on their resume. They are highly motivated and do good work - although I’ll admit that sometimes communication is difficult as they have varying levels of English. We are slowly getting better at putting systems in place to ensure they can clearly understand what is going on and what they need to do. I’m not sure how they were recruited, but if you were interested in going down this path you could perhaps try contacting organisations that support immigrants or future immigrants?

The other two are young Canadians and are probably equally motivated by the mission of the organisation and the chance to get more experience.



Lynn–Thank you for the info on your experiences and for your suggestion.