Advice on tyring to move on with career

So I feel like I am stuck between a rock and a hard place currently. When I graduated a couple years ago I was given what I thought was a pretty good offer right out of school by a packaging company. I wasn’t thrilled about the company and would have rather be designing products instead of packaging, but since hardly anyone in my class was even getting interviews it was tempting. I talked to my studio professor about it and he enthusiastically encouraged me to take the job, learn as much as I could, and then leave to find something I enjoyed more after 2-3 years. So after a discussion with my wife, I took the job.

Well I am now at that point where I am trying to leave. I have had many initial interviews, but they rarely go further. The reason? I think I may be getting paid too much…Since I’ve been here I’ve gotten some raises and my salary is now about 10-15k more than other designers (according to salary comparison sites). Actually I’ll just post it since it really shouldn’t matter. I make 74k/year with a masters in Industrial design and 2 years of full-time experience and 4 years of part-time freelance work in. My job title is technically a junior designer, but I am the lead designer on one of our most important accounts for a large and iconic phone/computer company. This is also all in Arizona where the cost of living is a lot lower than a lot of the US.

As I’ve been interviewing however, they always ask what my salary expectations are. I try to avoid it, but sometimes they press, and what they are willing to pay a designer is a lot less than what I am currently making. I’ve had a few places tell me that they really like me but that they couldn’t pay me what I needed. I should also note that I’ve been interviewing all over the country, not in any specific place.

I’m hesitant to take a salary cut for one big reason. I have a family that I am working to support. We are pretty much just living paycheck to paycheck too right now so I really couldn’t take a pay cut anyways. We just had our 3rd baby and he has had some serious health challenges which means a ton of medical bills. My wife is a homemaker and we feel is important for our kids to have someone at home with them. Also If she were to be working, that money would pretty much just go into child care expenses so it doesn’t make a ton of sense for her to work.

My current company really like me as a designer and really don’t want me to leave, but I really want to get back into products full time. Also the workplace is getting a little toxic and that is pushing me even harder to look for other employment. I know that I am a good designer and would bring a large amount of value to any company. That is part of why my salary is so high currently. I started 8k less than what I am at now.

What advice do you have?

74k for a junior position is fairly high, I would at the very least ask you current company for a title change (junior industrial designer → staff industrial designer) if not a significant raise to at least quell your concerns in the short term. I have done that in the past with data to back up my request and a pretty strong relationship with my supervisor. A title change will help to show you have enough value at your current company to earn a promotion and would then put you in a level to get a lateral move to a consumer level position with equal pay range.

I don’t think 2-3 years is quite long enough to pigeon-hole you into packaging design but it will make it a little bit tougher to get a staff designer or senior position in a consumer product environment. I think for this, it may be valuable to add any materials from your professional work into your portfolio to show that you can work with a team that brings ideas to market. It looks like your portfolio is still work from when you were a student.

First off, I will say don’t think the grass is always greener in another company or position. Being that you only had one job since graduating I would be extremely careful about making decisions that will impact your family and your current situation. I have been to a few different companies and I will tell you they ALL have some sort of b.s. politics or negative people. Also be aware the pace, amount of work, and expectations maybe entirely different at another company.

If I were you I would speak to as many designers as I could that work in the environment you want to be in first… I would save up money, revisit your budget, maybe ask for another raise before trying to make new career choice. Family always comes first and foremost! If you do happen to entertain another offer, make sure you outline their expectations and duties fully so you are not caught off guard and in a really tough spot! Good luck.

Sounds like you are pretty grounded in reality. Sucks doesn’t it. I know a few people trying to change industries and it’s hard.
Congrats on the 3rd kid and I hope his/her medical challenges get resolved.

  1. If you want to move:
    How’s your product design portfolio? Keep doing product projects on the side to showcase your product design skills.
    Keep looking until you find your “ideal” job. Maybe it will take 1 year to find the right fit. There are not a lot of jobs out there and for every job there are dozens and dozens of people applying at different levels and salary requirements.
    Maybe you will have to take a pay cut in order to start over in a different industry/segment. 74K, Junior designer in Arizona is really good.

  2. Develop your packaging career further. Ask for a title promotion. Maybe a salary & job responsibility increase as well.
    Look for jobs at other packaging companies. This might give you a title promotion and salary increase as well in one shot.
    Consider packaging, display & environmental design companies.
    Would you prefer to be a junior Product Designer making 65K or a Lead Packaging Designer/Manager making 80K+. At the end of the day you need to do what’s best for your family.

  3. When making your decision make sure you take into account the following:
    a) Cost of living (primarily mortgage or rent)
    b) Commute. How long will the commute be. Time away from home is very valuable considering you have 3 kids. School and extra curricular activities will demand more of your time as they grow older.
    c) Healthcare Benefits. Since you have a family this will be very important and expensive.
    d) Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side…but so is the water bill.

Good luck.

akrober3 -

I’ve been there and know your pain. I was in CPG for over 13 years and went through the same concerns as you. I was hired right out of school in a packaging design role. I told myself I would use it as a learning opportunity and then move on to a product focussed role. Like you I worked my way into more work, more money, and got a little stuck. At the time I had just gotten married (no kids yet) and had family in the area that I did not want to leave. Also at the time (early 2000’s) packaging design had a bit of an identity problem. Many Industrial Design circles viewed it as a Graphic Design job or a niche profession.

It was very hard to break away. So I decided to take a different approach. Instead of focusing on packaging itself, I realized that a pack is only as good as the product in it. Its not about wrapping it in pretty graphics and putting it on shelf. Its much, much, much more than that. I started to focus around how the packaging created an all around holistic experience. How do people buy the product? How does it appear on shelf? What were the emotions behind the product/pack? Why was it bought and how was it used? What were the proper hand gestures when using the product/Pack? By changing the way I started to approach this work I started to build context and stories around the designs which created strategies. I then transitioned this role into a strategic design role where I worked with others to build out consumer centered design strategy practices within the organization. This then included things such as consumer research, brand strategies, food design, design thinking practices, and much more. We built a team that is still thriving.

My point here is look around you and take note of how you approach the work and what else around you that may be presenting opportunity. Packaging is just another “product”. Its how you present that product that matters. If you are looking to get out of packaging think about that “how” and build a story around why that pack exists. You always attract more in the design world with how you think rather than the product you create. Turn what you are doing into transferable skills. By doing this you will present yourself as being able to think about peoples needs rather than solely focussing on the product itself.
I ended up leaving packaging to go to product and then moving on to build a design practice in an insurance company.

With that said, there is now a huge focus on consumer experience and packaging plays a big role in that. There is ton of work in CPG at the moment. PepsiCo is hiring like crazy, Mars, P&G, Estee Lauder, Unilever, SC Johnson, are just a few that have a ton of internal design folks. At all of these place you will do much more than designing a pack.

Hope this helps.