Joel Ackermann - Freelance UX and UI Designer & Digital Nomad


Meet our Freelancer of the Week, Joel Ackermann! Joel has been freelancing and travelling for almost six years. Read our interview on how he got started, the challenges he's faced, and how he juggles the digital nomad lifestyle with a successful UX and UI Design business.

Joel Ackermann

1) Hello Joel, thanks for the opportunity for an interview. Firstly, can you tell us and our users a bit about yourself and what are you up to these days?

Hello Natalia. Thank you for this opportunity. I am a 30-year-old French web designer, globetrotter and entrepreneur. I am from a winemaker family in the North East of France. I have been living in Hanoi, the most lively city of Vietnam for more than a year. I am coming back to France in the next few days and I will stop in Moscow and Moldova before France. Therefore, I am quite tied up these days with my current projects and travelling schedules.

2) What was your inspiration and when did you actually decide to become a freelancer?

I had an inclination towards art when I was a kid. I was into creating all kinds of stuff from scratches such as making tables, chairs and sculptures from woods. Then I was naturally oriented towards arts and started to study relating majors. When I was 20 years old, I had my first internship in a small Internet Marketing company near my home town. I did there my first web design work and I kept doing more projects. I was attracted in this area by the balance between creation and technologies. I am currently working as a freelancer for this same company which was originally the trigger in my design career.

3) In your opinion, which are the main benefits of working as a freelancer? What are the challenges?

The main benefit of working as a freelancer is the freedom. Being your own boss gives you the opportunity to manage your time. If you are aware of all the possibilities and you are not afraid of what you are doing, your life becomes more meaningful than you could expect!

4) What misconceptions do people have about what you do? What advice would you give to those aspiring to be UX and UI designers?

“Your life is a dream” is the most common saying from people around me. However, the truth is I am a digital nomad, which means that I live abroad and I work online as a freelancer. Being a freelancer requires a lot of self-discipline because projects are like your daily homework. You have to manage everything by yourself in order to balance your company and your clients. However, as a UX and UI designer, I need to be updated about many fields.

“ Being a freelancer requires a lot of self-discipline because projects are like your daily homework.“

In addition, being able to manage a life abroad and the constant move from one continent to another without affecting the quality of the work is a daily challenge. This life is not meant to be for everyone but I truly love it and I wouldn’t change it for anything else. For those who desire to become web designers, be aware of what this job is about and the skills you are required. If you like arts and graphic design, but you are not into technologies and the terms HTML or CSS scare you, you should choose another field. UX/UI designers are interface engineers.

You can compare web design as architecture. To be a good architect, you need to understand well the needs of the users, the purposes of the building and take into consideration all methods, materials and costs. We are not art designers, but interface engineers.

5) What do you love most about your work? Is there one particular project that you are especially proud of?

UX and UI is in a constant evolution. Every project is different and requires latest and diverse knowledge. It is really challenging if you want to stay on the top, but incredibly interesting. I have recently worked on the UX and UI of a big self-care project in New Caledonia, in which there are ten people from ten different nationalities. It is a lot of responsibilities to design the UX and UI of a project, which will be used by millions of users. In such a huge project, the team work is the key factor to address all obstacles. I am so proud that we were able to accomplish the project successfully with the best corporation from all members.

6) Apart from your professional life, what are your hobbies and interests? How do you manage workload with personal life?

My personal and professional life are mixed together. Beside UX and UI design, I am an entrepreneur addict. When I do not travel or play sports, I always work on my own startup projects.

7) What does a typical work day look like for you? Are there any apps or websites that you could not run your business without?

As a freelancer, I need a co-working space to work efficiently, but I also like to enjoy my freedom. My typical work day depends on the country I live in and the time zone. In Vietnam, I usually attend my Vietnamese class in the morning then from 1pm to 9pm, I work in a co-working space. Therefore, co-working places are probably one thing that I could not run my business without.

“Co-working places are probably one thing that I could not run my business without.“

8) Your website told us that you already visited 58 countries. What is it like to be a digital nomad? Which city/country is your favourite to work from?

I have been continuously moving from one to other countries for the last 6 years. Beside the challenging part, my life is more meaningful and fearless. If one night I dream of being somewhere, I just buy a flight ticket to that place the next day. Life is too short to postpone any adventures within your reach. I cherished living in South America which is a perfect combination between Europe and Asia to me. I was really into Argentina and Chili, but I loved Uruguay most. So far, Montevideo is the most stunning capital ever. It is a must go country!

9) Which challenges did you face when you first hit the road? Could you share any tips for freelancers considering going remote too?

It is of importance to have a work life balance because moving and working at the same time consume a lot of time and effort. For years, I have had essential halts between my adventures by staying from one to three months in one country. These pauses gave me enough time to build a little routine and to be able to focus on my work while getting used to life changes.

10) Last but not least, is being your own boss what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?

I started to be a freelancer while I was still studding. At that time, I had no expectations. What is amazing as a freelancer is whatever less or more work hours I have to do, I am always happy about it. More working hours means more incomes, less means more time to enjoying life or to work on my startup projects. It is all about balance.

Freestyle! Is there anything you would like to tell our readers?

My tips for the beginners: don’t rush. Take your time to learn and to build an impressive portfolio. Once you obtain one, you should look for new clients and exert your strength in every single project.

“ Don't rush. Take your time to learn.“

I have experienced hundreds of crazy and thrilling stories! In all my trips, my craziest adventure was in Alaska. For those who saw the movie Into the wild, my trip was as fierce as the movie but with a better ending. I went into the wild in Alaska to find the famous abandoned bus. It took me one week to find it and come back to the civilization. It was a truly survival when I was attacked by the natural enemies, having to walk on my injured feet for 50kms, to fight against hypothermia, to fish for foods, to cross and swim in a strong and deadly freezing river, to sleep outside when the temperature was minus 5 degrees and so on. I did learn how to surpass my limits and how to I enjoy exhilarating adventures.

You can find Joel here:

LinkedIn: Joel Ackermann
Skype: ackermann.joel

Take a Sneak Peek at Joel's work:

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