Designers / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Una Bassil, Freelance Product Designer

Una Bassil is a freelance product designer based in Latvia, where she works remotely with clients on leading design projects and shaping products.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am a Freelance Digital Product Designer based in Europe. What it entails is that I think through how the web and/or mobile apps work (UX) and how they look (UI). I try to think of the best possible user experience within the tech and business constraints.

Like many UX designers, I do not hold a design degree. However, I always was into the arts and attended a Fine Arts school as a teen. When it comes to becoming a UX Designer, I was quite fortunate to have Deloitte Digital as my springboard.

I truly believe no school can replace the experience of delivering real results for real-clients who have high expectations. I started out specialising in iOS native application design, as well as User Research, but have since developed into a much more well-rounded designer who designs both Android and iOs native apps, as well as for web.

Working on cross-platform products is probably the most fun for me, though the mobile will forever be my favourite platform!

Something that I am extremely passionate about and do on the side is CrossFit coaching. I am a certified CF Level-1 trainer and it’s a pure joy to help people achieve their goals, learn new stuff and have fun.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

It honestly really varies, though I will admit I love a good routine.

I try to not set the alarm clock and allow my body and mind to rest as much as they need to (perks of a freelance schedule!).

I always have a cup of coffee when I wake up and jump on my laptop to go through emails, Slack, any comments on my designs that clients might’ve left in Figma, so I know what the tasks and priorities for the day will look like.

I take my training pretty seriously as well, so I have my morning session 2-3 hours after I wake up. Then it’s lunch and work time. Working from home most days allows me to be frugal with my time and not waste it on commuting, so I can be more efficient with work.

I then tend to schedule any meetings for after 1 or 2 pm as I find am is my most productive time in terms of creativity (must be the caffeine, hey)!

I am still pretty new to the freelancing world, but I try to make sure I work the hours that suit me best in terms of productivity and other commitments. That being said, with so many clients based in the US, I sometimes need to push the work hours until later in the evening.

For those days, I just allow myself to start the day at a later point. I usually finish work around 5-6pm, which allows me to use my evening for more training and coaching as well.

So it’s not like I am chilling on the sofa and watching Netflix with a slice of pizza in my hand, but switching between design work and CrossFit allows my mind to also switch gears and relax and have fun.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I was always a remote and WFH advocate. In ALL companies where I worked. That being said, it always surprised me how it was perceived as a luxury thing one has to earn by working for a company for years.

The switch we are seeing right now during the global pandemic in terms of how people and companies work does make me happy. People are forced to test the WFH/remote work and experience all the benefits of it.

That being said, I have lots of friends who still prefer the office to WFH, but the majority are now either for balancing both and sticking to remote.

So right now, as a freelancer, I have the luxury to choose where and how I work.

Right now, working from abroad isn’t on the table, but I can easily choose to work from the comfort of my own home or cycle across the bridge into the city and work from one of my favourite coffee shops.

On busier days, I tend to stay at home. But if the schedule is a bit more empty and I feel the need to change the environment, I work from the city centre.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

It means being able to enjoy both my work and activities outside of it. Not feeling bogged down when I open my laptop in the AM and feeling excited about the work ahead of me.

That entails prioritising myself and knowing how to plan well, when to say “yes” and “no”. It is a life-time long journey, in my opinion, but something we should all consider for our benefit.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I definitely try to switch off from work in the evening to have a clearer mind when I go to bed. Stress management and being present in the moment is something I am very mindful of and constantly try to improve!

Also being a lot more transparent about my needs and boundaries with work/clients, to ensure I am running on a good schedule, don’t exhaust myself and can work at my (mostly) 100%.

The thing I have been loving is going for long walks in the evenings. I live in a beautiful area and just outside of the very centre of Riga, so I usually walk out, call a friend, and go for a walk while chatting and laughing. I find that routine super helpful to relax, unwind and feel happy.

Another big piece of the puzzle is sleep. I am very interested in the science and topic of sleep. Prioritising this part of the day has had a significantly positive impact on my life. My mood, my physical and mental health all benefit from practising better quality sleep.

Lastly, a pretty cool thing I would suggest and something I have been practising is nasal breathing. Again, it helps you to be a lot calmer and this way of breathing has many other rewards to reap.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Oh, there is lots of gold stuff out there!

For design-related topics, I love the Invision podcast.

An absolute must for any interested in design is a book by Don Norman – The Design of Everyday Things. And I’d also recommend watching a documentary about Dieter Rams for some major inspiration. Dieter’s ’10 principles for good design” is surely something to print out and frame. 🙂

For anything health, sleep or performance-related, I love listening to the WHOOP Podcast.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My WHOOP band! It allows me to track my sleep, stress and recovery via a sleek mobile app interface. The tool is super powerful and has proven to be able to predict when you might be getting sick. Right now, WHOOP is making some big waves in terms of their COVID-19-related work.

Another product is a beautiful 33L backpack by NOBULL. I have travelled the world and hiked mountains with that backpack on my shoulders, and it still looks great and fits all the stuff I need.

It was an investment, but to me, it is a symbol of product that has been made with a lot of thought, love for the customers and craftsmanship.

In terms of apps, I am not a big app nutter, despite mobile design being my speciality and love, but I do love the Slack mobile app (especially with the latest re-design), whilst Figma is certainly my favourite design tool!

At first, I pretty against it and wanted to stick to Sketch, but I can’t imagine not supporting and using Figma at this point.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I actually have a great podcast to share which includes some conversations on that topic!

Naval Ravikant (co-founder and CEO of AngelList) had an insightful podcast interview with Joe Rogan, where he talks quite a lot about the smart way of working and what the future looks like (self-employment and remote work are part of that).

It was very refreshing to hear someone as successful as Ravikant, to share the perspective of working smarter, not harder, where I see so many CEOs stuff their calendars with work and meetings from 7 am until past midnight. I’d encourage everyone to give that podcast a listen.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.