Balancing career with relationships/family; etc... especially when our profession is limited by geography.

Hi all,

I was just curious if any of the more seasoned designers have had to sacrifice or adjust their industrial design dream careers in order to stay put in a particular region of the country that isn’t super ID/Design-centric and/or move their families or put relationships on hold to accommodate their careers? I was wondering how they dealt with it and if they had any advice for me?

A bit of background: I graduated with an ID degree in my mid 30s ten years ago; am no spring chicken. Did a few internships, and contract positions along the way, scored a big hit 6 years ago in a very well-known design-centric company, relocated for this position and pursued a semi-long-distance relationship with my significant other during that time in order to accommodate my blossoming ID career until that gig ended in early 2020. I am currently living with my partner of 15 years in the state of MN (he owns a home here), happy to be finally together after so many years of back and forth, bi-monthly hotel stays in between and meeting half way, etc. I am now collecting unemployment and wondering where my next gig will be (if at all!). Minnesota isn’t necessarily a huge mecca for ID like California or NY; apart from a few corporations (Target, Room and Board, Blu Dot, MadeSmart, 3M) and quite a few medical design-oriented firms + companies. But I am quite happy here, and was hoping to successfully continue my design career here; even if that means making some adjustments or moving into other areas of design where I can use my degree.

A bit more background: I am extremely passionate about housewares, home decor, furnishings, furniture, etc; not the most innovative type of design most go into ID for, but it is what I am passionate about. Target comes to mind when I think of retail/home decor; etc and Room & Board/Blu Dot on the higher end of the spectrum. I am heavily networking at those companies currently; but so far, no luck in this current economic climate. Will keep trying. Hiring for design seems to be at a low; at least in MN.

I can’t divulge where I worked before because it would give me or my former employer away (let’s just say “fixtures”)… but I am now seeking my next career chapter and most of the positions I see that appeal to me (William Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, West Elm, etc… even furniture start ups like Burrow) are out-of-state or on opposite ends of the coast. I am slowly coming to the realization that not all occupations are created equal when it comes to geographic distribution. In other words, there are certain positions that are found more frequently in specific geographic locations. So I may have to do some soul-searching and decide if I want to keep pursuing a traditional ID job even if that means relocating again at the expense of my relationship or modify my goals into some other type of design work I can do locally and stay put.

Sorry for the long rant, but am hoping that by sharing some background, others who have been in my shoes can chime in with suitable advice.

Thanks in advance!

-Eameser

I pivoted out of ID into UX because regionally it was tough to find a lot of opportunities in NYC (several small boutique agencies, startups, but very little in the way of corporate ID gigs). There was far more demand for UX and I was able to make the transition while with an employer which certainly helped. My wife is a teacher so for similar reasons, moving out of NY would cause us to lose her pension which is massively valuable, aside from just having friends and family in the area.

Would you consider starting something yourself that was more of a boutique furniture business? It would really depend on your total capital and rest of your life situation, but there are a number of small furniture/contract builders in my area that seem to do well enough to keep their lights on around here. MN obviously has a much lower cost of living, so getting by may be a easier even if you’re only moving a few pieces a year. But I’m not sure if you want to focus on something more designing but less building related.

Sorry to hear your gig didn’t pan out before you could figure out your next step. Your problem is certainly not uncommon and I too share your conflicting pulls.

I have been in the industry for 10 years more or less. Something I have found pretty early on is exactly what you mention. After moving across the country a couple times NY → CA → MA I decided I am not one to continue chasing jobs at the sacrifice of my relationships and personal happiness (My SO is also a teacher). Like Cyber mentions above, I found myself inside a company that allowed a transition, about 2 years ago, to a different career track while still maintaining ID capabilities, which is refreshing from a professional perspective as I am developing a new skillset within a group that fosters growth. I am pretty fortunate to be afforded that opportunity.

I have worked on my own successfully, but it is a grind to keep the work steady.

I don’t have much more advice and would echo trying to start a business built around what you are passionate about. If you are in the furniture business, think beyond residential markets and more into the commercial markets, reach out to interior architects/designers in the commercial business local to you and see if there are opportunities for you to create custom offerings for them and their clients. May sound niche, but Blu Dot at least was doing it with a lot of their offerings for instance.

I have 16 years experience. I did the opposite to y’all. I moved to a place that doesn’t have much ID, but I made it work. You could do FAR worse than Minnesota for a design career.

I moved to Montreal to be with my ex and stayed because I enjoy living here. I might be giving up something, but I never apply to jobs outside Montreal. When I’ve job searched, I’ve found that patience is key however.

Eameser: You are lucky to have 6 great years of experience (if I understood correctly). I’m sure you’ll get a lot of calls with that. The downside with design in general is lack of openings, but once you crack that 5 year barrier, you have a lot less competition. Not many get this far!

Also, considering the WFH trend, I would keep applying to some places and offer to work remotely if they are interested.

Best of luck!

It’s something you need to decide for yourself. No easy answer. With a working wife and kids I have constantly made decisions that worked for my family and I. Even though I am in a design-centric region I have to take commuting into consideration. Spending 2+ hours driving a day is something I tried to not do for long time so I can spend more time with my family. Also selling the house and moving my family 15-30 miles for a more appealing job is out of the question. These are constant decisions that you’ll probably be making forever. You need to find out what works for you and your partner then go from there. Good luck.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in MSP the last 2 years. Times are tough in the Minny for sure!

There are loads of medical startups if you want to stay in the hardware side and ad agencies that utilize ID design skillsets are plentiful. These firms are sheltered from the current crisis as they connected to the U of Minnesota’s massive medical research influence on the local economy. Ergotron in Egan might suit you as they make medical furniture and accessories. Try Worrell Design, Whiteboard Product Solutions on the consulting side and if you’re inclined to offer your skills and experience to students… try teaching. UMN has a product design program and uses adjuncts to bolster their small program. MCAD also has a Product Design program and has used adjuncts in the past. UW Stout in Wisconsin is only a 45 minute drive from the Twin Cities. They have a strong ID program.

Frankly, you’re probably too old for Target or 3M. Those gigs squeeze hard on the young talents and spit them out when they become too expensive to keep around. (i.e. 3Ms Director of Design recently just resigned and moved back to the Netherlands). Once you turn 40ish you need to consider building something on your own. If you’ve been smart with the opportunities in your career, you then need to take some risks in order to sustain your career. No better time than during an economic reset like were in now.

Relationships always trump career. Don’t let Design become your mistress…stay with the ones you love no matter.

Good luck…!

Thanks to everyone who chimed in with advice and shared their own personal experiences with my dilemma.

Inspired by your examples, I have created a list of potential options to turn this around to my favor; using my acquired skillset and 6 years of ID experience so that if I don’t find traditional ID work here, I can still make a living.

  • I have given a lot of thought to freelancing (even though I’ve never done it). I am concerned about not so steady work, but at least it keeps my portfolio/resume up to date. I will give this some more thought, and see where it takes me. It may help keep me afloat until the right corporate gig pops up.

  • I have some money saved up so I could use it to start something entrepreneurial; maybe an Etsy store making/building stuff. I don’t have the right set-up/model shop and wouldn’t even know what to design and build, and this is the riskiest of all ventures, but as Cyberdemon mentioned, I am in a lower cost of living area where I can give something like this a try. This will be last on my list of options.

  • As designbreathing had suggested; just going into the consulting side of things, maybe even medical (though that particular industry isn’t something I am passionate about, it may help keep me employed until the right gig comes along). I may start looking also into other areas of the design industry here in the Twin Cities that can utilize my skillsets; even if it is not traditionally product-centric ID, I can still make a living as a designer: Packaging design, retail store design, working with local interior designers/architects, POP design.

To address designbreathing specifically; I am past my 40s, yes… but what makes it complicated is that I only have 6+ years experience (including internships). And though I agree that once you are past your 40s as a designer, you could have enough accumulated experience to possibly venture out on your own; but only if you have maybe 15-20 years under your belt, no? What happens when you pick up a new career in your late 30s? I remember when considering ID 10+ years ago, I came to this forum seeking advice about whether I was too old to pick a career in ID. The advice was mostly positive (apart from concerns about ageism; which affects any industry), so I decided to jump in and make the best of it. Thus far, I’ve had a fun ride. I really enjoy what I do, so I will try my best to get back on it; even if this may be a challenging economic climate to pursue it.

Thanks for all the feedback guys. Keep ya all posted.

Best,

Eameser

Get a real estate license and use your design sensitivity there. Mpls has a great re market, and if you can talk about bungalows passionately, you can bypass your dilemma, in my opinion. Or build a small rental property empire. Let someone else fall on the coastal cities sword.

That reminds me of an agent here in Portland who brands himself “real estate through design”
https://www.jeffweithman.com

Damn, cries in European. Looking through this guys Instagram there are some dreamy properties I’d love to live in and not too expensive. You guys really do have some interesting (and spacious) properties in the US.

Anyway, back on topic I completely empathise and as I’m getting older can relate. Moving around for ID roles in my early 20s when I’m single and without any commitments has been fine…now I’ve just approached 30 I am starting to think if continuing completely in this career is the right thing for the future.

Each job I’ve taken has involved moving house to be closer to the office and I’m nowhere near my family. I was recently laid off due the pandemic and I’m thankful I don’t have a mortgage or a family to provide for as even if more prosperous times it’s difficult to change jobs like other professions.

I did have a Zoom interview last week and I had to ask if this will be in person in the future as it’s not in a location I’d really like to move to…

Don’t move anywhere you don’t want to pay for or be. I’m done moving for career reasons, and since I have no sentimental attachment to work, as it is simply a means to an end, there’s no pride or sense of identity committing me to one career path versus another.

Not a recommendation, but FWIW, I nuked everything at 40 to leave London accept a job I couldn’t refuse with a well known Design company in the Bay Area. Brutal and painful at the time, but ultimately things just about worked out for all involved.

I have had to compromise moving into a town with hardly any ID. My advice: don’t do it :slight_smile:
All in all it is about making things work for everyone involved. If it turns out not to work, be more creative or simply start over. In case of no fixed contract jobs available with an employer, the ‘independent entrepreneur’ route of developing own product is definitely recommended! I recently bought our house number sign from an ID’er from the mainland who for financial reasons bought a house on Cyprus and runs a local business there with global shipping. He appears to be doing well and there are more such stories of designers who find a niche somewhere.

I’ve been in both of your places.

Traded the start of a promising carreer in boutique ID for a steady job in a family business in the wrong place, due to being deeply in love and deeply entangled.
In the long run it did not work. I alway felt like I was missing out. The love went. Many flawed decisions.

Don’t take my advice on the matter. Just one:

See a professional about it.

There are trainers and coaches, who do that “soul searching” with their clients all day long and are really good at it.
A top notch one would see you and your partner in person, go for a long walk. Will go for a long walk with either of you. Some more.
And thus the three of you will move towards sound and deeply founded decisions.

mo-i

That sounds like great advice. Do you mean relationship therapists / psychologists or more in the area of personal/spiritual consultants?

More like the second. Mental coaching which embraces carreer and personal motives/ goals all the same. And both partners involved.

mo-i

I understand where you are coming from…

After 9 years of Industrial Design, 5 relocations, dodging layoffs I decided to leave the industry. Design is very restrictive in location and opportunities. I have no regrets. I’m much happier, close to family, and never have to worry about moving and layoffs again.

What are you doing now Incognito? I’m always curious what professions designers transition into.

I went into the trades. Previous experience designing tools. I get to be outside, be active, and cannot be replaced by someone remotely.

Smart!