Freelance Product Designer


TommyMason (Freelance Product Designer)

Tommy is a Senior Product Designer Contractor who works on the likes of Tripadvisor to help design user-centric products.

Him/His • Birmingham, UK • February 3, 2023

What led you into design?

From an early age, I was very 'arty'. You wouldn't believe it now, but I was actually quite good at drawing when I was a teenager. I think people tend to enjoy subjects they're good at - so at school, I excelled in art compared to the more 'academic' subjects, shall we say. Because of this, I chose to pursue this path by taking an 'Art & Design' course at college. During this course, there was a module on Graphic Design - which blended my geeky techy side, and the arty side - which I loved! I think I liked it because I could be more accurate, if I made a mistake, I could undo it. Something you can't do with a ProMarker.

After 2 years at the art college course, and a few Photoshopped fake IDs for my friends later, it came time to decide whether to go to University or go down a different route. University didn't really appeal to me, to be frank, I wanted to earn money. But, I wanted to carry on designing.

The stars kind of aligned at this point, and I think if this didn't happen, I wouldn't be where I was today. I stumbled upon a 'Graphic Design Apprenticeship' at a local design agency in the town I lived. Here, I would complete the years apprenticeship and be working on real client work, in a real design team, with real deadlines and client feedback. Once I completed the apprenticeship, the agency decided to keep me on as a Junior Designer. My foot was now in the door to the creative industry, and the rest I guess they say, is history.

What does a typical day look like?

I'm definitely a creature of habit. My weekday is normally something along the lines of:

06:45 – 07:30:
This is when I take my best mates for a walk, we normally go down the canals nearby. This is a nice relaxing way to start the day, until Milo finds a squirrel that is. But yeah, a nice way to get some sun and fresh air too first thing, plus it means they should be relaxed the rest of the day whilst I work.

07:30 – 8:30:
Once the dogs have had their exercise it's now time for mine. I like to go to the gym early, as it feels great to know I've done my exercise before the day has even started. I normally get showered and ready etc at the gym at the end of my workout.

8:30 – 10:00:
I'd normally take this time to make a cup of tea and review my work for the day and plan my deep work sessions in between my meetings.

10:00 – 12:00:
A lot of the product teams I work with, like Tripadvisor for example, have teams that work in different timezones, so I'll have a standup with the development team around this time.

12:00 – 13:00:
Lunchtime 🍔

13:00 – 16:30:
Deep work time, I like to try and avoid meetings and calls during this time, so I can either get alot of work done or work on something more complex like information architectures or digesting user research reports.

16:30 – 18:00:
Dog walk number 2!

18:00 – 22:30:
Resting, making and eating dinner, maybe some Netflix and spending some quality time with my girlfriend.

Trap Bar with weights on
The Gym

The Doggos

What's your workstation setup?

Cookie jar in the shape of a dog
Del Boys Cigar Jar that features on my desk 😅
Shot of desk with Macbook, Cereal Magazine and Cup Coaster
My Home Desk Setup

Where do you go to get inspired?

I really like to travel and get inspired by design in other countries to see how they approach design. My girlfriend and I recently travelled to Finland to visit her family, and simply walking around the lakes and beautiful scenery was really inspiring.

Finnish House
Finnish House
Hut in forest
Forest in Finland
Porsche GT3 near building
Families lake in Finland

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I recently purchased some products from Hoto. This was me being a classic designer and making sure that even the tools around the house look beautiful.

Hoto Drill
Hoto Screwdriver
Hoto Screwdriver
Hoto Tire Inflator
Hoto Tire Inflator
Drill Toolset
Hoto Drill Toolset

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I've done a lot of work over the years that I'm proud of. And I feel the answer to these changes the more I produce and the more I improve as a designer. I'm sure at the time I was very proud of my first business card design, but if I looked at it now I'd probably cringe. A lot of my professional work at the moment is under NDA unfortunately, but here are a few shots of my recent personal brand update which I'm rather happy with.

A brand isn't complete without a tote!
Crew Tees
Business Cards
Web Splash

What design challenges do you face at your company?

I think the biggest challenges of being a freelance designer are more around people management. This normally surfaces in a few ways.

1. Clients trying to haggle on costs – I think you'll find this in most businesses, everyone loves a bargain - even if it's not their budget they're playing with.

2. Trying to be poached – this happens with nearly every new client, they're happy with the work I output and how I integrate quickly with their team, and of course, they need a designer (otherwise I wouldn't have been there in the first place) so they try and sell me a full-time employment package. Don't get me wrong, it's a compliment I guess and very flattering. But it's also really awkward to say no, and then keep them as a client.

2. Slow client processes – One of the most frustrating things is when a client has so many internal stakeholders and clunky internal processes, that it makes the project last much longer than it needs to be. This is normally the brands that have been going for quite a while, they're stuck in their ways and can't adopt agile methodologies and the sprint format, meaning I have to work the way that they work to get things done. Compared to a startup product or agency who can either adopt new ways of working, or who are already using the latest ways of working.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

• Make as many contacts as you can (just in case you decide to go Freelance)

• Take your work with you. Don't work at an agency for 8 years and have nothing to show for it. Be selfish. Save a copy.

• Listen more than you talk.

• Only listen to design feedback from those who are more informed than you. Otherwise, it's just another viewpoint.

• Insights and data beat opinions every time

• Do 1 thing per day for your own personal brand

• Recognise that most of the industry is also learning every day, you're not alone.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Nothing to promote - but make sure you drop me a follow so we can connect over on Twitter! Always up for connecting with other designers and creatives!