7 Common Facts of a Design Career

Passion – this has always been a key ingredient to being a designer. In fact, passion is probably what sparks many budding designers to embark on a career in design.

Unfortunately, the truth is this – oftentimes, passion is not enough to sustain a designer’s pocket and stomach. Sure, it keeps them going, but the lesser-known fact is the reality that various drawbacks exist. A design career prospect inevitably has a glass ceiling; it is rather challenging to attain financial success. And these pitfalls are real.

Pitfall 1: Low Barrier of Entry
The fact is, the design market is filled with competition. The entire industry consists of many small agencies with less than 10 staff. Independent designers and these agencies and freelancers are keenly and aggressively contesting for the same design projects. Not forgetting, with a laptop and wifi connection, everyone can be his own boss. So, with everyone pursuing the same pool of clients, who gets the project?


Pitfall 2: Speculative Design
These agencies and independent designers tend to offer a suite of similar services. Without substantial service differentiation, competition becomes rife. The issue of cost also arises – and cost is the foremost consideration for clients. In our local context, it is a common practice to undertake speculative design or what I call “unpaid creatives” which require both time and resources. Do you want to take the chance or lose out on an opportunity?

Pitfall 3: Demanding Customers
We need to consider the modern world we live in. In this modern age, technology has become more sophisticated. Due to this growing influence, clients are beginning to have a more complex understanding of technology and better design appreciation. With this, their expectations for higher creativity and quicker response time become more demanding and intricate. Can design agencies keep up with these demands? It depends on perseverance and the availability of your studio resources.

Pitfall 4: Design Service – Lowest Rung in the Food Chain
Communication design falls under the lowest rung in the food chain. In bad times, this is the first budget to come under the chopping block. In this business, you can’t expect the workloads to remain consistent. Project volumes differ from time to time, and these projects are usually infrequent and last for shorter durations. One day you can be busy, and the other, your workload is relatively lighter. Are you ready for the ups and downs?

Pitfall 5: Think Less, Do More
Bottom-line pressures do exist. Hence, in order to stay profitable, designers are forced to multi-task. The repercussion of this is that they begin to spend less time thinking creatively, which might affect the quality of work. This reduces a designer’s role to a mere production worker in a sweatshop.

Pitfall 6: Lack of Designer Career Upgrading
A designer functions as a workhorse in agencies, working tirelessly to produce creative and artwork, often for hours on end. With the lack of job mobility and promotion, many have to resign to the fact that all their efforts may not translate to a career upgrade. Limited studio resources is also an issue, resulting in limited career upgrade. As though the lack of resources isn’t a problem enough, bosses are also reluctant to send staff for upgrading or training, which stunts a designer’s professional growth and development.

Pitfall 7: Design Career has a Short Life Span
And then there is an issue of life span – how long does one last as a designer? The harsh reality is that the life span of a designer’s career is usually 15 years. Upon reaching their 40s, most designers hit a mid-life crisis. Despite accumulating knowledge and experience over the years, all that extremely long hours may result in the dwindling of passion and energy. They become hot targets for substitution and are replaced by a younger workforce who are more willing to commit their time at a fraction of their salary.

Creative Burn Out by Early Forties

Of course, to embark on a design career, you have to love your job. But the process is often tedious and laborious, which many might not be ready for. Though this sounds almost absurd, it is the fact of life. Resultantly, many end up leaving their agencies to begin freelancing or even set up their own agency once they reach a certain age. This is perhaps the future of many ‘older’ designers.

Despite the love for designing, designers need to realise that the design industry is ultimately a business. Hence, they need to be taught how to survive beyond dependence on their talent. While experience in creative and project management will come in handy, lack of business management knowledge will eventually lead to business failures. Hence, designers should be taught business management knowledge as part of their education to enhance their design-consulting role and to build a sustainable career model for themselves in the future. They also need to constantly push themselves to take on heavy weight roles such as business and marketing management rather than mere creative thinking. This will better prepare them to overcome their individual’s career crisis looming ahead.

Conclusively, the key to surviving in the industry is to educate designers beyond the basis of design thinking. Hence, First Media Design School advocates the teaching of design management which includes personal development and career planning, design and studio management, and business and marketing management to equip its students well to face with this eventual career fallout.

After all, in the design industry, there is no room to be short-sighted.