Justin Zalewski - Solo to Squad: How freelancing prepares you for agency life


Wondering if becoming a freelancer can lead to success in your career? Justin Zalewski shares his insights on how to set yourself up for long-term success by diving into the world of freelancing. He discusses how freelancing can help you unlock your superpower in product design by expanding your experience and network. This is a fantastic interview whether you're just starting or looking to take your career to the next level.

🦸‍♂️ Unlock your superpower!

Build a freelance business outside your 9-5 to grow in the direction you want in product design. As a freelancer, you control the experience you get to add to your portfolio while learning new skills to determine your strengths. Expanding your network early and showing them what you can do allows you to set yourself up for long-term success!

Find your edge!

Once you have unlocked your superpower, use it to overdeliver to your clients. Give them what they are paying you for, but give them something extra that builds your experience in a skill that will help progress your career. By giving them something extra (at no additional cost), you will show them your value while building your skills!

Solo to Squad: How freelancing prepares you for agency life

In episode 45 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Justin Zalewski, Director of Product Design & Strategy at Studio Science, a design and innovation agency that exists to help smart businesses deliver experiences that work better.

During our talk, Justin shares his experience building a successful freelance business, offers advice on breaking into the UX space, and gives advice on building and leading a design team at an agency.

Justin Zalewski and Seth Coelen on The Product Design Podcast

In this article, we will focus on advice from Justin on setting yourself up for a successful product design career from the start!

How to Unlock Your Superpower and Stand Out in Product Design

Justin originally started in graphic design, leading him to web design and then product design. He built a successful freelance career that landed him a full-time role at Studio Science! When Justin started at Studio Science, he was initially a Senior Interaction Designer. He worked his way into a Lead Design role and has spent the last five years building and strengthening the design team as the Product Design and Strategy Director. In this episode, he shares his advice on getting a strong start in your product design career!

🎯 Expand your experience beyond your 9-5!

The best thing Justin said he did early in his career was being proactive and starting a freelance business outside of his day job. Becoming a freelancer not only helped him to expand his network, but it allowed him to gather experience and skills to round out his portfolio. Ultimately, his freelance career led him to Studio Science, where he has been for ten years!

💪 Overdeliver!

Deliver beyond what the client is expecting of you. Provide excellent quality work for your client and take the opportunity to include additional elements in your work that align with your interests and goals. For example, if you want to be known for having the best design systems, but your client doesn't ask for one - provide it anyway (and at no charge to delight your client!)

“One of the things that I've had success with and found valuable is to deliver beyond what you're asked for.”

🔥 It’s not ALL about the design work!

One thing Justin wishes he would have done earlier in his career is to focus less on the design work itself and a little bit more on making connections. He strongly encourages product designers to take the opportunity to establish a sense of place in a community by making connections with other professionals in product design. Whether it is through reaching out to people for a one-on-one coffee meeting or using social media to make initial connections, it will be well worth it!

💡 Lean into your design mindset!

It is essential to learn how to deal with ambiguity and complexity simultaneously. With new systems and technology always coming out, there is a need for people who can make sense of chaos and define a clear path forward. As designers, we are already used to following this direction through a design mindset, so we are off to a great start!

Justin Zalewski
“What we really need now is people that are able to cut through the clutter, make sense of the chaos, and find ways to progress forward. That's something that we as designers, no matter what kind of design you're doing, we approach things with that design mindset. That design mindset prepares us well.”

Thank you so much, Justin!

Thank you, Justin, for sharing your incredible knowledge on the Product Design podcast! Your advice on actions to take as people break into product design, how to grow a freelance business, and how building connections now can pay off later was fantastic! By following your advice, our audience can position themselves for a successful career in product design.

Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes Justin’s advice on building and leading a successful design team, including advice on when to step in and correct a team versus letting the team learn through their experience. Remember to follow Justin on Twitter, Linkedin, and his website to see what he is up to!

Where to find Justin

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