Design Dilemma: Are You Confused About Your Career Options?

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The design industry has many levels of involvement. Some think you can be a designer, an art director or a creative director and that’s it, but there are so many more positions that make design part of business. Some people are not cut out for actual designing but are brilliant in certain support roles that are just as important as being a hands-on designer, and just as satisfying at the end of the work day.

A message from a confused designer begs the question of where he fits into the scheme of things in the design industry. Perhaps this will answer his quandary. So, Join us as we delve into another Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design…

Creative Avenues Can Be Confusing

Flee1907 writes: Hello from a graduate of the Multimedia Design program at UQ, Australia. I graduated on the 14th of December and am currently unemployed, but looking for a job at a studio. Jobs here in Brisbane are really hard to find for designers and only the very best of best are chosen because of the limited jobs.

During my three years at uni, I quickly grew to understand the degree I’d taken doesn’t teach me how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, make a website properly, or be a designer that can sketch nicely, use a tablet, etc. The degree was focussed on human-centered design and had a lot of programming involved. Whenever actual design was involved I wasn’t given much opportunity to sketch, wireframe, do it in Photoshop/Illustrator, etc. because someone more skilled in my group would do it instead.

“Seeing the portfolios of the designers from my graduating class and them in their happy little jobs is always so depressing and when I go to redo my desperate portfolio, I’m left feeling depressed and empty because I didn’t really design any of it, I just guided the design team the whole way there.”

This essentially means I’m not good and don’t enjoy programming (any form of Java – JS, jQuery, and others, PHP, mySQL, python, etc) and I’m not skilled or knowledgeable enough to make that really nice looking design that’s in my head a reality because I don’t know how to use the right tools — or what the right tools are. I feel completely useless.

I aced many of my subjects with high distinctions because I was able to present design documents and reports of the work my other team members did — and together. They’re pretty good designs and developers, and with my good documentation and project management, we got high marks.

I won’t be a complete dope, I am actually pretty good at making websites, I’ve made some for clients (from my “freelancing business”) that’ve come  in 2nd place in institutional competitions, etc. and I can design basic things nicely, but I’m best at seeing others’ work and critiquing it and making it better. I am very good at being a “creative director”, IMO, as I’ve been a tutor at uni for some design subjects, and always the project manager in my groups. But a graduate can’t apply to be a creative director, now can they?

Then there are the other things I’m good at. One in particular is food photography. But I’ve no official qualifications, so I can’t really apply for a job there, either. I feel like I’m over studying, I want to make-do what I can with my degree, but I’ve no where to start/go. Seeing the portfolios of the designers from my graduating class and them in their happy little jobs is always so depressing and when I go to redo my desperate portfolio, I’m left feeling depressed and empty because I didn’t really design any of it, I just guided the design team the whole way there.

Do you have much advice? Or am I just a whining soul that needs to try harder?

Not Everyone can be the “Best Designer”

I worked at a corporation that had a huge creative staff of 1,200 people. A privately owned company, it was renown for not firing people. What happened instead is they moved weak designers into creative administrative roles. The more incompetent the person, the more administration duties they had heaped upon them and the less administration they could handle, the more they had to do endless meeting where nothing ever really got done. The main problem was the titles of “Art Director” and “Creative Director” these people were given. The successful designers were really the driving force of the great products being put out on the market.

“Sometimes we have to be real with ourselves and our expectations. Sometimes our limitations hold us back from success in putting forth our best abilities.”

When business got so bad (due in part to the power-mad ADs and CDs killing innovations they couldn’t understand), the number of creative staff was cut in half and most of the ADs and CDs were let go. Watching their efforts via LinkedIn, none could get or hold a job with the same title in other companies. If they had any talents, they certainly didn’t play to those strengths. Sometimes we have to be real with ourselves and our expectations. Sometimes our limitations hold us back from success in putting forth our best abilities.

Some of these people went on to selling their own crafts on Etsy, found employment in completely different industries, others claimed to be “retired” and some just let their spouses earn the money. Some have disappeared off the web and who knows what happened to them. They were never destined for being a creative at all.

Design Opportunities Abound!

Flee1907 (if that’s your birth year, then bravo for being computer literate!) but just to give you a short, sweet  opinion as to what might help you; is to stop thinking like a failure as a designer and start thinking of your success as a leader. Very few creatives have the special talents to understand the process and wrangle a team of creatives to a successful conclusion. This is what makes for strong art directors, creative directors, design directors and heads of creative services, just to name a few titles that suit your abilities.

You can always go back and pick up your technical studies, but you should pitch your ability to lead and look for an associate creative director’s position, or something similar. You’ll start low on the ladder but will climb it quickly if you can handle the professional pressure.

“Stop thinking like a failure as a designer and start thinking of your success as a leader. Very few creatives have the special talents to understand the process and wrangle a team of creatives to a successful conclusion. This is what makes for strong art directors, creative directors, design directors and heads of creative service.”

Since you just graduated, I’m going to guess you’re about 21 or 22 years old? Well, let me tell you from experience that you have a long, adventurous road ahead of you. On that road, you will take wrong turns and the long, scenic secondary roads, but the important thing is your destination. You may not know what that is just yet, or have an idea… which may change as you travel. All of the experience you gain on the road will make for a better end game, so just keep moving forward, learn from mistakes and keep your eyes open for the opportunities that will come your way.

As for food photography, that’s an interesting field and one that has always demanded people who are great at it. Here’s a fun article I wrote about food photography a little while ago!

My friends joked that I am the Forrest Gump of design — always landing the top jobs and projects by being in the right place at the right time. I’d like to say they were wrong and that I made sure I was always in the right place at the right time… and that’s part of knowing how to network, but there were some great opportunities that found me, too! The key of finding an opportunity, no matter how it is found, is to keep it with talent and ability.

Just put yourself out there, care only about what you and your clients think about your talent and be humble among other creatives, not giving any precious time or effort to negative feelings. Elevate your designs by elevating the talent around you, in whatever role you can handle well, and that pleases your desire to work in the design industry.

Send Us Your Dilemma!

Do you have a design dilemma? Speider Schneider will personally answer your questions — just send your dilemma to dilemma@designshack.net!

Speider has created designs for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, and Viacom, among other notable companies, and is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, and co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee. He writes for global blogs on design ethics, and business practices, and has contributed to several books on the subject of business for designers.

Featured image ©GL Stock Images

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