A fellow designer looking for advice

Firstly, hello and thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this, I greatly appreciate any advice given.

I am a 40yo UK based graphic designer of 14+ years experience, currently working as an in house designer in a software company. For too long to mention I have been feeling very stagnant and frustrated with working life, it is clear to me that I need to change direction…

My issue
Basically I have grown a little tired of the subjective visual nature of graphic design. I also feel the worth of a graphic designer these days is diminishing as ‘designing’ is getting more accessible and the line between experienced professional and opinionated amateur is getting smaller.
With myself being a ‘traditional’ graphic designer (think design for print, layout design, branding etc) I feel this role is slowly becoming irrelevant and designers these days are required to have a jack-of-all-trades skillset, particularly in digital. Even though I do have digital experience, I currently feel a bit left behind the times.

My hope
To find a job role or career path that is a little more objective than subjective and that will be relevant for a few years.

My options

Website design - I find the mix of logical user experience and creative design for websites interesting and I guess this ‘form follows function’ approach is a little less open to subjectivity. I have previously enjoyed designing Wordpress websites as it has allowed me to focus on the design rather than the coding. I question whether my lack of interest to learn coding languages will become an obstacle, plus I wonder whether this ‘singular’ profession is also diminishing due to accessible wysiwyg builders and the UI/UX industry moving towards app/interface design.

UI/UX design - Similar to the above, I find the logical and creative design for interfaces interesting. I have worked on some UI/UX design professionally and occasionally tinker with some low-level Android UI design. My only problem here is that I will need to re-educate or learn the industry programmes as the bare minimum. If I need to put money down on a course I would need to be sure this path is worthwhile.

A different career entirely! - I don’t really know what I would do! The thought of leaving the creative industry doesn’t sound terrible. I guess a ‘careers advisor’ of some sort would be the first port of call.


If you have got down to here - thanks! I would be interested to hear if you have been in a similar situation and how you arrived at your outcome. Any general insight or advice from people already in these professions would be helpful too.

:slight_smile:

Why the frustration with subjectivity, just out of curiosity?

I can’t answer for BlasFamous, but here’s my reasoning.

When clients start imposing their own ideas on engineers or an attorneys, the bridge risks falling down or the client ends up losing their law suits.

With graphic design, the consequences are less dire or, at least, less immediately apparent,. When the client says put a pink and green gradient drop shadow on that puppy and make it POP!, you can make the best argument possible, but it never does have quite the punch as the bridge will collapse killing hundreds of people, then you’ll spend the next 20 years in a jail cell.

Sure. Of course this depends on the client or employer. I’ve had employers who had good creative work and didn’t inflict their own subjective ideas on me. I’ve had other employers with crappy low end work who continuously subjected me to their creative input.

I share many of your same concerns and viewpoints about the broader field of graphic design and where it’s headed.

You said you’ve spent 14 years at it; I’ve spent 40. During those 40 years, the field has changed enormously and will continue to change into the future. When I first started out, graphic design skills were beyond the reach of most people. It’s not that they didn’t have opinions, it was just the the technology around preparing artwork for print was just too esoteric for people to pick up short of heading to school or starting at the bottom at a job.

Today, it’s entirely different. Everyone has a computer and everyone who’s interested can work with type, colors and layouts of various sorts. It might be incompetent work, but hey, these people and their clients don’t care or don’t know the difference. With the advent of various online do-it-yourself services and crowdsourcing platforms, whole segments of the field are collapsing into hobbyist and amateur territory. The quality might be awful, but the need for high quality in these instances is arguable.

There is still room for high-end and specialized designers in much the same way that there’s still a need for professional photographer, even though everyone can shoot a photo. The problem is the glut of newly graduated designers has completely flooded what’s left of that part of the market. How it will settle out, I don’t know, but I’m reasonably certain that 95-plus percent of students in higher-ed programs who are studying graphic design will not find well-paying jobs and will leave the field for something else. In my opinion, the field really should be licensed, like most every other professional field, but that’s water long under the bridge.

I’ve been designing websites since '93 or '94 and finally had my fill of it last year. It was once fun because it was new and exciting. It’s gotten to the point, though, that I hate designing websites. I find almost no creative satisfaction in web design since most everything is either too tightly restricted by technical limitations, cost, onerous development concerns or amounts to little more than mixing and matching templated options.

It’s a little ironic that you simultaneously bemoan graphic design being dumbed down into Canva-like, mix-and-match easiness (my words), but that you see creative opportunity in taking the same approach with WordPress. Unless one designs WordPress themes, it’s really just picking and choosing options others have provided. That’s not so much a criticism as it is just an observation about differing perspectives.

Also keep in mind that WordPress is mostly a lower-end, off-the-shelf platform for smaller businesses to use. Yeah, larger businesses can use it to, but most larger businesses have specialized needs that require more than what off-the-shelf software can provide right out of the box. This segment of the web design market, in case you missed what I was getting at, will likely suffer the same fate as graphic design in that same market segment. For that matter, it’s already happening. The online do-it-yourself website building apps are already taking their toll.

I can still enjoy coding a website from scratch or designing a template/theme (not working with one, but designing and coding it) for Joomla or, yuck, Wordpress. It’s gotten to the point, though, that web design is either very difficult (a dozen languages and frameworks to master) or very easy (picking a WordPress theme and juggling around the options) or working as one specialized cog in a development team.

Even if all one does is draw pictures of websites for others to code, knowing what’s possible, what’s practical and what’s cost-effective requires knowing enough about the code to determine if one’s great idea is reasonable and doable. Some of the seemingly simplest things in web development are the most difficult to pull off.

This is another reason, I’ve learned to dislike designing websites — things are splitting off into hundreds of different directions with thousands more things constantly coming along to learn and figure out that are way beyond the ability of one person to master. You can largely plan on spending a quarter of your time figuring out how to do things. And half the stuff you struggled to learn last year will be obsolete next year.

For me, this never-ending spiral of needless complexity and obsolescence is maddening. The only way to keep up with it is to specialize so tightly into one area that it risks narrowing oneself out of existence when that niche is supplanted by the next hot new bit of technological complexity that most everyone decides they need.

2 Likes

I started much like you, but was very interested in Computer Technology as well. I ultimately chose a Computer Science degree. Although I worked in Graphic Design during and after college, I slowly transitioned into Front End Web Development, then Back End, then the full stack. I also became “burned out” in this field, not to mention the money wasn’t what I wanted. So I fell back on my degree and became a Network Administrator in the Public Sector(Gov). I’m now in Engineering but still in the Public Sector.
That said, my belief is this: it’s not WHAT you’re doing for work, it’s you. For example, I’m interested in so many different things and I understand that I get bored and burned out easily. If I look back on my career so far, it reflects on this logic; it’s all over the place(just like me😆).
My advice is to embrace who you are, and find the environment the caters toward this. You will never be happy until this happens. Best of luck to you👍🏻

I made the jump from graphic design to UX/UI or product design a few years back. The skills required for the UI portion of the work are fully transferable from graphic design. I wouldn’t work about tools, they come and go and are fairly similar to most design tools just a few easy to learn nuances. If you have decent research skills, you should add a designer, you’ll find its really just a shift in what data you are looking at to inform user experience decisions. I didn’t find it a big jump is what I’m saying

Hi Keming. It’s been awhile! :grinning:

Thanks all for your replies!

@praxis My frustration with subjectivity is mostly from my current employer, but it is also related to opinionated amateurs piling in and consequently making design decisions a crowded and drawn out process. It gets tiring.

@Just-B I see we share very similar views on the industry. I take your point about Wordpress - in my small business use case providing the theme/plugin set is flexible enough, I can be visually creative within those boundaries. You’re right - platforms like WP does negate the need for web dev’s to a degree, I guess it is a gift or a curse depending on your position. You make valid points on learning frameworks/languages and this is one of reasons why I haven’t started to learn coding.
Have you changed career now? Or are you just hanging in there to pay the bills?!

@Indiana.Doug That is a varied job history! What was it specifically that made you leave the creative industry? And what made you move into Engineering and keep your interest in this field?

@KemingMatters Good to hear your personal experience. I’ve read a few articles on ex-graphic designers that made the switch to UI/UX, and you’ve pretty much repeated what they said about transferable skills. Do you work on a blend of UI/UX or do you specialise more in interface or experience? Would you say this career path is a worthwhile switch for the long-term?

I’ve never considered myself to be exclusively a web designer, coder or developer, even though that was a big part of my work for a long time. I’ve just tried to minimize website work now in favor of what I’ve always liked best — publication and typeface design.

Looking back, I needed a change in culture more than anything. I also wanted to make bigger decisions. It’s pretty much that simple.

It has, been a bit of trip in a slightly different trajectory than I originally set out, but that’s life I guess

It’s been crazy rewarding, I feel like I have the missing piece of the puzzle in my career now. I work a great blend, but to me UI is really and integral part of UX. You can have a winning UX pattern perform poorly with sub par UI. I really enjoy research and experimenting and distilling data, it’s not for everyone though and I think the culture in an org plays a big part in how fun and rewarding it can be.

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