Affect of Corporate Gig on Consulting Career

I’ve been working at a product development consultancy for the past 7 years and an opportunity has come up that I am seriously considering. The job is to run product development for a small corporation in a location that my wife would surely enjoy better than where we are right now.

Here’s what my initial reactions on the pro side:

  • Relocating to this area would make my wife very happy (I like the area, too. The change of scenery would be very nice and I have friends there.)

  • The money looks pretty good, particularly considering the area.

  • There’s the potential additional financial incentives (i.e., stock options).

  • It’s a new challenge and a new type of work - a blend of product management, sales, technical support and custom design.

  • There’s some international travel involved which I think I would enjoy.

Here are my concerns:

  • I really love being a consultant. Over the past seven years I worked on dozens of programs that cross a wide range of markets from medical to industrial to consumer. I’m concerned that to be limited to a single (albeit fairly wide) product line may lead to boredom.

  • If I remain in this new position for more than a few years, my portfolio of recent work will shift from the diversity of consultancy programs to that of a corporate product line.

  • I’ve grown very accustomed to the fast-paced style of work within a consultancy. I have heard that moving into corporate from consulting means that while things still move fast, the pacing is very different (your time isn’t being billed by the hour). This could take some getting used to.

  • Most importantly: Will this shift damage my value to consultancies in the future should I choose to return to consulting?

I appreciate any thoughts that you might have.


… and what a perfect question to be anonymous on. This is actually a good reason to have the option not to log in.

Anyway, to the question. I made a similar list when I switched over. I was in a consulting firm 5 years at the time. Here’s where I net out almost 3 years into the corporate gig.

  • Relocating was great. We didn’t realize how much the other area sucked until we moved somwhere we really liked

  • The money is way better

  • the potential additional financial incentives are great depending on the company

  • The challenges in corporate are very different, and if you choose to go back to consulting full time, your knowledge of corporate structure will be valuable.

  • The travel gets old after awhile. The first few years I loved it, Paris, London, Asia… after that it becomes business, it’s still cool, inspirational, enlightening, just not the huge pro you think. Probably due to the fact I love where I live.

  • I really love being a consultant. Still hard on some days, you just don’t get the wide array of projects, what you do get though is more depth and control of the design to production. You also get more wins, i.e. the ratio of projects that make it to production is much higher because you are part of the decision making proccess.

  • If you remain in this new position for more than a few years, your portfolio of recent work will shift from the diversity of consultancy programs to that of a corporate product line, if you don’t consult on the side and enter competitions. As mentioned below, the pace is slower corporate, there are busy times and slow times in the calendar year and they are predictable. I never want to be a “footwear” designer, or any other type for that matter. It is important to me to just be a designer, to specialize in creativity. Some days its hard to balence it, but the other option is getting locked in to an industry.

  • Most companies have a set calendar which has busy times and slow times for design. I started in a slow part of the calendar year and it drove me nuts. So I invented all kinds of projects for myself, which ended up being a nighmare in the busy part of the calendar. Take advantage of thee pace to get some things done you want. I consult, but only on projects for friends and on stuff I love, I paint, enter competitions… you get the idea, this negative can be a positive.

  • Most importantly: Will this shift damage my value to consultancies in the future should I choose to return to consulting? I think it actually can increase your value if you play your cards right.

Good luck dude. It’s a tough decision.

[quote=“yo”]… and what a perfect question to be anonymous on. This is actually a good reason to have the option not to log in.

I thought so, too.

Thank you, Yo for your very thoughtful as well as thorough response. I couldn’t have asked for a clearer perspective.

Yes, I too believe I agree with your assessment of the pros and cons and that, if I play my cards right, will turn out to be a very smart move.

Thanks again, I’ll keep you up to date (and reveal my identity when the time’s right :wink: ).

Great topic…

Im in the midst of this right now too, but from the opposite direction… going from a solid corporate gig to a well known consultancy.

I’m a little concerned that I’d be nutty to even consider giving up the concept-production control you have as corp designer for lots of quick turnaound sketch projects and (seemingly) less production work. Never worked in a consultacy however, and it would be one of thoose places that would not look bad on the resume later on… not to mention a much more creative environment and potential to grow.

Anyone have comments on moving this direction?

From friends that have gone this way, the things they seemed to struggle with at first are the deadlines. Projects come out of nowhere and have to be done yesterday constantly. There’s usually no time for screwing around (billable hours) and you know it will all happen again next week. Then out of nowhere a lag time will pop up and you can have fun for a few weeks. Once you get used to the feast or famine kind of pace your pretty set.

You also gauge pretty quickly what clients are going to be putting something into production and what clients just hired a design firm to validate their own job internally, which kind of sucks, but allows you to open the throttle up a bit.

Good luck man, would love to know how it works out. I think it is a great experience to have. If you ever go back corporate you will have a new perspective for sure.

Thanks for the quick feedback…

It would definitly be one side of the business that I’ve never experienced, and the way projects are approached does sound different than corp… decisions, decisions…

since you mentioned it Yo, how did your buddies faire in the long run… have you heard if they stayed with consultancy work, or did they transition back into a corp design position?

Some posters around here make it sound like consultancies are more stepping stones than long term homes for designers - but people say alot of crazy stuff that isn’t really objective too.

Of the few guys I know who did it, one went beck to corporate after a year (money), another went back to corporate after about 4 years (money, less work), a third stayed on the consulting side (going on 5 or 6 years now) and another went freelance (has been for years now). It all depends on what is the right fit for you. The only way to find out is by experiencing it first hand.

You come across as self-conscious and insecure, or the proverbial kid lost in the candy store.

Always a joy to hear designers yap endlessly about how they courageously live and breathe change but then get all sweaty about even changing one cushy job for another and agonize balancing real and imaginary personal perks. This profession will get its dues only when more practitioners will have chosen it as a vocation instead of just another means to a salary and stock options. Translation: more designers should put their money where their loud mouth is (especially after 7 years’s work experience in the same spot) and eagerly seek new challenges (especially when paid) as a means to grow both themselves and their profession. Remember the one about change growing neurons in your brain? That should count for at least as much as the weather at your new destination.

I say a good half of industrial designers out there should have been accountants, computer analysts or some other sort of predictable bean counters. Just safer livelihoods.

How pathetic.

you talking to me or Trav?

either way, some good sentiments, but not sure why you felt you had to word it that way? It makes you come off as petty.

You need both experiences.

Consulting gives you breadth of work, a strong customer-service work-ethic.

Corporate gives you depth of work, gives you an opportunity to influence which products you develop and work on, experience the dynamics between marketing and engineering and ultimately make design a strategic value add. Plus corporate gives you the opportunity to pick the consultants you want to work with.

[quote=“yo”]you talking to me or Trav?

either way, some good sentiments, but not sure why you felt you had to word it that way? It makes you come off as petty.[/quote]

Strictly to original poster, yo. But it takes way more than mere “pettiness” to affect change. It’s just no fun always agreeing with everyone on everything, don’t you think? Our “Anonymous Guest” sounds like a pedantic snob so I’ll reserve my personal sympathy for others in society more needy and likely more deserving.

anyone who uses the word “pedantic” is a snob
anyone who uses the word “proverbial” is a snob
anyone who calls virtual strangers “self-conscious and insecure” is a snob
anyone who calls virtual strangers “pathetic” is a snob

this profession will get its due when less of us are annoying, self-righteous, difficult-to-work-with snobs.

I dont really mind the harshness… its an opinion that maybe not everybody shares, but hey - thats why I read this; to hear other designers’ opinions.

I do think EGG should back it up though or it siunds like all he is doing is taking potshots and looking down his nose at people. And by back it up, I mean lay down some concrete examples or share some personal experiences. How can a career change for passion vs. stability/dependable income can pay off better in the long run?

personally, I think everybody has their own limits of risk and being the most cavallier designer does not necessarily equal good. I know plenty of great designers who worked for long periods in the same job, and several excitment-change junkie personalities who have found hard times and family problems by not thinking carefully how to advance their careers

I mean families and life outside of work count for something too

Core etiquette notwithstanding, no one has assasinated the Anonymous Guest asking for career change advice. I come from the school of hard knocks in more ways than one and always encourage especially younger designers to take a chance on a change of scenery and consider it “professional travel”. Who says passion and money don’t go hand in hand - they almost always do. In times when so many talented designers are out of work or severely under-employed, reading the initial posting sounds like someone asking whether to get the leather shift stick on his new Z3 or not. Everyone is happy for the guy (and, yes, do go for a new preofessional experience like cg says), but personal worries like these from a senior designer are very low priority in my book. It’s not like the poor guy is starving under a bridge or something.

Clearly, some individuals here have delicate skin and are quick to jump anyone outside their self-protective mindset. One major reason to frequent these boards, or read anything for this matter, is to hear and be confronted by opinions and life experiences other than yours, otherwise what’s to be gained? Each of us here speaks from his own livings, professional and otherwise. I happen to believe we can do a lot more to open up business and industry in ways more meaningful than the tired drivel in most media about design that hasn’t led to significant employment gains for product designers. At least not in America.

My comments may be harsh at times but so is the business world we’re evolving in and it is not getting friendlier either. A capacity to withstand and capitalize on risk will become even more crucial for designers, whether they remain employed or run their consulting or manufacturing firms. I cringe whenever - as in this case - I come across people looking to get the maximum financial safety out of a product design career, of all things. The competition in this field is far too intense to sit on your laurels, at least if you want to stay on the creative side of things. Design management adds a good measure of financial security to your life but you cannot claim to have the same creative license up in the boardrooms.

In the end it is all a matter of individual choice. I don’t believe anyone here is in search of some absolute universal truth about what we do. I certainly take things as they come and try to understand the long-term trends as they develop while still bringing home the bread on a daily basis. What human being does not look for security? Paradoxically, in design as all creative professions, a good measure of financial security is derived from the constant insecurity of repeatedly jumping into the unknown, something we all do every day. Our work is all about creative risk-taking or else employers and clients would see no value in what we do. With experience, what happens is that you start being right a lot more often than not, building value and profit for others as you go along.

Creative people thrive on critical thinking and by nature contest the status quo, making them a pain for the more linear types out there who value comfort above progress. You better hope to have around you more people who disagree with you than not. It is your only chance to challenge your preconceptions and grow.

As for taking potshots, looking people down, being a snob, naahh, not my nature really but I enjoy “pinching bottoms” once in a while for effect and social research purposes. And some reactions here actually proved my points. Maybe those offended by my “haughty” (yes, in the dictionary) remarks just need a good cold beer and a sense of humor.

i don’t know about beer or sense of humor but actually the original poster has portrayed a designer as a prostitute on a sidewalk asking: you want a bjob(consulting) or straight f*ck(corporate).

I love when people feel like they need to post a two page dissertation to prove their point. Who’s coming off as self conscious now? hmmm… if you think I agree with everyone, you just aren’t getting it EGG, and your comments to this guy not only come off as petty at this point but it also seems that you are jealous that some one has some employment options… come down of the high horse, its nice down here on the ground… if I had a dime for every time someone wrote “I’m just trying to get some reactions as a social experiment” what a load of BS. Your just trying to get your rocks off at someone else’s expense, its lame.

Weeding through the thicket of poor wording, you make some good points, their is just no need to fluff it all up with comments that have that attempt to make others feel small or fee their post is somehow less worthy of consideration. I doubt this will sink in but…

UFO, do we need to go over this AGAIN? OK, watch the below movie and get back to us…



Yo, the 5-star Core general with time on his hands and top police officer draping himself in the flag of justice just pooped another one to put himself on a pedestal at the expense of others. Wide is the Garden of Heaven indeed. Re-read your post, who’s petty and lame now? And of all posters, you get the credit for redefining “BS” on these forums anyway.

yawn…that was tiresome. wake me up when you have something other than a re-word of “I know you are but what am I”.

BS is his middle name. michael “va a caggare” ditullo.

This post made my day, and I hate Mondays.