It’s been a very long time since I have posted (7 years!). I do however have very fond memories of reaching out in the past and receiving a lot of useful tips. Yo was kind enough to respond to me directly as a student and offer useful words of advice, something which I have not forgotten. I am hoping I may receive the same again.
I have had the fortune to work in a lot of different areas. I have also had very different roles, to the point where I am now pretty much a one man band. Around 75% has probably never launched, but I have still had a lot of exposure to different areas of industrial design.
What is concerning is I am starting to get jaded by the industry. More and more ‘stuff’ that has no reason to exist. I look sideways to equivalent agencies (I wont name names, but I am talking about your perceived ‘top tier’ agencies), and their work doesn’t excite me, I find this worrying because these are great companies.
I have put in my own goals to try and resolve some of the issues. Side businesses,launching own products, yet I still feel very underwhelmed.
This is not meant to sound like a cry for help, nor am i searching for pitty, I am hoping to that there maybe some objective advice out there. I have a feeling that this may also be important due to shifting priorities of age but nonetheless i imagine others have had similar thoughts so i am curious as to how you have dealt them.
Hopefully that makes sense, and thank you in advance for any advice.
My advice to designers who have spent a long time consulting is to go in house for a bit. I think the hit rate with consulting tends to be about 75% never comes out, 20% gets modified without your involvement (billable hours) and 5% comes out how intended… this is for A LOT of reasons that can be very difficult to understand if you have only ever consulted, and I think it leads to that jaded feeling of “what am I doing this for”. I think it is a pretty natural feeling. You are working hard, enriching your firm and your clients, and that is probably not enough of a purpose.
My advice, you have had the good fortune to be exposed to a lot of industries. Evaluate what industry holds the most interest and purpose for you, and get an in house job at that industry. It doesn’t have to be a “forever” job, but I think you will benefit from 4 things:
1 - the sense of acomolishment and deep learning that comes from focusing on an industry
2 - you will gain a better understanding for what your clients go through, making you a better consultant if you choose to go back to the consulting side
3 - by selecting an industry you have a personal interest in, hopefully you will feel a greater sense of purpose
4 - get out of the project grind and do less projects for longer that make it to production as intended
After 4.5 years of consulting I did the same, went in house to Nike for 7.5 years. Then went back to consulting for 2 years, then back to the client side for 5, and have been consulting for 2 years (this April) again. Being back consulting I’ve noticed I empathize with clients more, spend more time up front understanding exactly what they need to get things to production, scope projects differently, and more things are going to production (probably about 50%) closer to their intent.
One designer’s advice on what worked for him. I’m 20 years out.
Robg, I’m over 35 years in, and judging by your work profile I’ve a strong suspicion I may have worked with your company a decade or two ago…
Yes, change can offer a formative reset, and going in-house might be a good thing to explore. It might help you re-define ’what success looks like’ in house vs. consultancy, which in itself is a big learning which you can carry forward if you subsequently revert to consultancy. You’d be at the centre of the classic Venn diagram of Biz-ID/Ux-Tech.
In-house may be more ‘narrow-band’ and prone to corporate inertia, politics and process, but apart from potentially better pay and benefits, you’d get to embrace the whole process from the germ of an idea, through to seeing it becoming real in some stinky tool shop in Asia somewhere- which is pretty exciting!
But in the end, there’ll always that conundrum nagging at the back of your mind as to whether you’re succeeding in making a life better somewhere, or squandering the earth’s resources to make better looking land-fill. That and your personal work-life trade-offs…
Good advice given so far. I guess I’d ad… what else do you want to do? I’m about 10 years in. I’ve done corporate and consultancy; I’ve worked on consumer products, medical products, power sports, industrial equipment, lab equipment, soft goods, children’s products, etc etc etc.
Thing is… I can do research, I can understand the market, I can come up with great solutions, I can point out problems, I can help guide management to the right call, but most of the time they don’t listen. A few points in my past, I was working with the executives directly; brands with a well built product but a business that was sort of floundering. Analyzing the market, coming up with a plan on how to revitalize the business, and helping STEER the corporate ship to better weather, that was way more satisfying than most ID projects I’ve done, ever, because it helped so many people. It kept companies alive, more relevant, and ultimately more profitable. Of course, I was paid basically jack shit since I was at a consultancy, but still. I miss that feeling of people in trouble, with a giant business, and having to find solutions to turn them around. I wish I knew what that was, because that was when I felt like I had the most impact.
10 years. That seems about right.
After 10 years-ish of consulting I opened my own shop.
After 5 years-ish of my own shop, I went corporate. (yeah, not 10 years but I really disliked the sales side of having your own shop)
After 10 years-ish or corporate, I shifted to business unit ownership. (yeah, still corporate, but entirely different responsibilities)
My point? Just change. I always find it funny when the people of NPD resist change. It’s what we do, and if I may go full-on dork, resistance is futile. Don’t really have any advice on what exactly you should do, that is entirely a personal thing, but just do something different.
Thank you very much to all that have responded, it is refreshing to hear other industry professionals advice outside of my current network.
My advice would be to find an area of design you absolutely love to do! If your just half way in your not gonna make it. It’s the only way you will survive all the b.s. that comes with your job. If not I hope you got a wicked jump shot.
Ahhhhh the good old 10 year soul searching scenario.
A bit interesting that you’ve pretty much done everything and have no satisfaction. I would’ve assumed that starting your your own business and your own products would have “filled” the need for something fulfilling.
Why not look for a company/brand that you absolutely love and work there? Don’t focus on the product or design work but how that company will help you grow professionally and vice versa. Or create your own business or product. But keep in mind that the goal is to make a profit and grow. Designing an awesome product is just the way to having a successful business. What you are looking for is a sense of accomplishment which seems you are currently missing.
I pretty much felt this way after we had kids. Everything just seemed pointless/petty/redundant etc., and all I wanted to do was get home and be with my family. But unfortunately I have to work to pay the bills/diapers/college/mortgage etc. So now I see design as my career and not the center of the universe. I also (with years of experience) see Design as a (sometimes small) part of the product life cycle which helps me to accept the ups and downs of product development and appreciate the business side of designing and selling a product.
I would suggest be honest with yourself and write down what you like/dislike doing. Which companies you like and dislike and of course why. Where you see yourself in a year, 5, 10, when you’re 40, 50, 60. This will help to hopefully narrow down where you want to go and really understand yourself and what will give you that sense of accomplishment & growth.