Being given tasks non-design related

Hi guys,

First of all, a little introduction. I came to my current company to build up a design department and so far I’ve been doing front end industrial design and some projects related to graphic design and branding. I’m the only designer at the moment here and it looks like we aren’t going to hire anyone else. My company works in the field of isolation but I’m mainly working for two other companies in the areas of wellness and metal works.

The situation started around a month ago when my company landed a big project in Mexico. I’m the only Spanish speaker in the office and I started getting tasks like translating documents to Spanish, calling companies or people in Mexico and things like that. So far these duties haven’t taken too much of my time, but I had a meeting today where I was told that probably I will have to dedicate more time to it in a daily basis (25 - 33% of my time). The problem is that I came here to design and we still have a few projects that have to be finished plus a few more which haven’t been started yet. I very much enjoy this profession and I don’t want to be dragged into doing stuff that doesn’t relate to my regular duties at all. Furthermore, I had already been thinking about looking for another position (I miss the consultancy environment), so this could be the final push towards that.

What do you think about the situation? Has anybody been in a situation like this before?

Much thanks!


Can you tell us at what stage in your career you began your current position, why you took the position, and what you think it takes to start a design department? Also, please tell us what is your interpretation of a design department? I think this will help us see the reality that you are in.

You do what it takes to get the job done.

I just spent most of my morning trying to set up a server with our consultants in Bulgaria.

Is that design work? No, but it needed to get done.

If nothing else keep track of the many odd jobs you do and ensure your management knows about it. If you aren’t happy having to do that work then you can look elsewhere, but most people at any company will get volunteered for odd tasks based on their skill sets.

Agreed, stuff needs to get done. It’s still design and project related, you aren’t being made to clean toilets.

Bigger question was how did they get a project in Mexico if nobody speaks Spanish?


There’s a problem …

If only there was a go to person to solve problems …

Sorry to be snarky, but obtaining resources to get the job done is a part of your job description. Sure, I could run a CNC and cut a mold, but that is not a productive use of my time.

Find resources to do the translating. Tell your bosses the costs involved - what happens when you are doing the translations vs. what happens when you use an outside resource to do the same task. Don’t give an ultimatum. Be objective.

Thanks once again for taking the time to write something here, I’ll try to explain everything a bit more.

The project itself is 100% non-design related, they are insulating pipes in a construction site in Mexico. I’m just being asked to make calls, email and contact workers, lawyers and subcontractors there. It started as doing some favors to a couple of colleagues of mine but seeing that it’s much easier having somebody in house who is able to do that, they decided to give me more work. Don’t get me wrong, the company needs this and I’m happy to be useful but this is not what I came here to do. It’s interesting to learn some about other areas and get some experience outside of the design field, but this is something anybody could do (if they spoke Spanish).

It’s the management who asked me to do that, I work directly with the CEO of the company because the idea of opening a design department was his as he wants to diversify the business. However, seeing that this project is going to run for 2 - 3 years time, I’m afraid that I’ll be given more and more work related to this isolation project and having less time to design. This is something a colleague of mine kind of told me she heard in a meeting. This far it doesn’t take much of my time to do this, but knowing how my company works and what they told me, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up spending more time doing things for Mexico than anything else.

When I say design, I mean any stage of the design process, sometimes that would be sketching or modelling but many others would be planning, discussing manufacturing, contacting suppliers or holding meetings with the management. All of that is fine by me, some of that I enjoy a lot, some not that much, but I still consider all of that design related and very interesting. These duties motivate me and I find very valuable, calling Mexico I don’t.

PS. So far I haven’t complained about it, I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do as fast and efficient as possible. I’m just trying to evaluate the situation before doing anything.

I think this would be a good task to do in order for you to validate the business side of things…

One of my internships, which was at a great firm and I learnt a tremendous amount but they had me and the other intern do odd tasks like run to Home Depot or set up product displays for investor meetings. The other intern used to grumble until I informed him that it makes more sense for the company to use us at a cost of $10 per hour than it does to have someone more senior divert their time off their projects at a cost of $50+ per hour.

If you find it is cheaper for your company to bring in a contract translator than use you, present it to them so that their money and your skills are put to good use.

They key thing to remember in all of this is although you have your skills and bring value to a company you are still a $ figure walking around the office. An ex-girlfriend of mine’s father was quite a successful business man and once told a story that a buddy of his had his senior staff one day walk around with badges on displaying their salary so he knew how much their screw ups were costing him. A completely BS story but it drives home the point…

There are two sides to this coin:

1- employer. You job requirements shift with the business needs. The term “other duties as required” will be most of your job

2- you. You are a designer and want to be seen as and itemized as such. It is your core value to the company, the thing you can do that others can not.

So you have to frame your argument with the POV of number 2 but in the language of 1. That means opportunity costs. figure out how many projects you could be getting done with that 35% of time. Now figure out what that represents in revenue for the company. If it is more than the cost of a translator, done. You will likely need someone in finance to help you. Use the opportunity to make a partner.

I agree with iab. You’ve proved there’s value to having someone do these tasks, but you also need to prove that there’s less value for them in having you do them. They can find somebody with lesser qualifications, likely at a lower pay rate, to do the same thing.

It needed to get done, sure, but did it need to get done, by you?

Certainly a good idea to track the work and measure the value of it up against the value of your actual responsibilities so you can bring it to management to make a case for more compensation, more resources, new hires, etc.

Lots of good advice here, and Yo, lays it out well in terms of the theory behind it.

However, there is also reality. It’s a small company, and you are the only designer. Obviously you aren’t that busy or needed on design tasks if the CEO has you doing these other things. Unless you can come up with a compelling argument of what you would be doing that is more important and something the CEO isn’t already aware of, it may sound kinda petty.

Just keep reality in mind with the theory and “want” vs. “need”. You want to be doing something else. They need you doing this. If they needed you doing design work, you’d be doing it.

You don’t mention you are super busy or have projects suffering so it sounds as if the time is available.


As stated several times, the OP needs to convince management they “need” him to do design work instead of the translation work by making an objective case.

I would personally frame it as yes, in the short term, the OP can translate. All hands on deck, rah-rah, above and beyond type of stuff. Sometimes getting outside resources up to speed isn’t worth the effort. But this is a 3-year project. It is better to get management on the same page now than a year from now because then it is ingrained. The OP will be stuck.

In my “Industrial Designer” role I do the following

Industrial Design (sketching, research, briefs, 3d models, renders, production drawings, assembly instructions)
Graphic design (2D line drawings for brochures and price lists, illustrations, graphic templates)
Marketing (Content for brochures, Converting buy in file types for renders, naming products, event ideas, promotion ideas, facebook updates, photography, 3D animations, interior design of environments for marketing renders)
Admin (Product rules, product specifications, Dimensional charts, Maintenance manuals, file conversions, CAD blocks)

It’s good to have different tasks. Helps break up the day/week/month.

i had a similar experience, while i was in the design department we hired another designer to help with the design tasks and products, after a couple of months i started to receive a lot of work from the sales department because me being the only foreigner in a Chinese company is easier for me to deal with English speaking clients, while the other designer took some of my design work. after a couple of months i was not designing at all and i was in charge of all the international clients and translating their requirements into production drawings and renders (still some design related work but mostly changes to existing product references) , but it was taking more than 70% of my time, including working after work for non-design task, until one day i talked with the CEO and tell him that it was good to have some experience in sales, but it was almost more than 6 months and i didn’t have not even a single sketch of a new product. After talking with him for a while and simply explaining the situation, i’m now back to the design department and with one day free of work to do anything i want. and i use it for my own projects, travel and study. definitely worth the talk with the CEO, he understood the value as a designer for the company and now they hired more people to do the job i was doing.

As for the non-design related task i had being in the line production, fixed computers, clean, load containers, some stuff that sometimes need to be done and if they ask you to do something that an employee with a minimum wage can do, like one day i was asked to write the numbers from 1 to 200 in some card boards, they will be paying 3 or more times if they use your time to do such task and they know it so if they ask you is because really there’s no one else to do it and they will appreciate your help in that moment.

I was in a similar translator situation, where we had a supplier from my home country. I was asked to take make some calls, then to translate a contract, then revise a contract, then translate the product specification etc etc. It was fun at first, but I was really not in a position to translate a legal document, so I involved my dad and did it after hours. The company actually used a translator as well, but he was not a native speaker, and basically was far far far from good. Except they paid him $300/h.
During my salary negotiation I brought it up, but they said they couldn’t make it part of my job description and thus not pay me more money. So I said either I’m not doing it anymore, or I’m doing it in my spare time and charge $250/h. Noone has asked me to translate anything since then.

Great pieces of advice here, I really appreciate it.

I agree that I’m getting these tasks because it’s cheaper for the company. It’s not so easy to find an external consultant here who speaks Spanish and doesn’t charge a lot. Not only that but it also saves time from two project leaders who now have direct and more flexible access to somebody who can help them out with the paperwork. I don’t see how this situation is going to change, there’s not enough work to hire someone else and what the company pays me is much lower than an external consultant.

The company makes money on the isolation business and the design department started as an experiment for bringing new products to the market through these other two companies. It’s the second time they’ve tried this, first time was a few years ago and it didn’t end up well. Fortunately, this time it seems to be working out, so far I’ve received very positive feedback. However, as I said before, design is something secondary and the main business is isolation.

In my opinion, there’s a gap between what I want to do and what the company wants me to do. When we discussed the possibility of me coming here, we agreed I would come here to work on new designs or redesigns. There was the possibility of being asked occasionally to carry out different tasks, but the main scope of my work would still be design. Furthermore, at the moment there’s enough workload to keep me busy for an extra 9 - 12 months. However, I was told and from my experience here I can tell, this framework is going to change and that’s not ok with me. I’m afraid once I start working on isolation, I’ll get stuck there, because it’s not only this project, there’ll be more coming.

Once again, much thanks!

IDAL, I’m curious what you mean by “isolation”, is that like laboratory isolation units and equipment?

My bad, I think the correct term is ‘‘insulation’’, I mistranslated it from German. The company works on tank, pipe and factory insulation, mainly PU foaming and PU pre-insulated pipes. Some projects also cover tank construction and special requirements, mainly for breweries and other factories related to beverages.