Defining yourself as a designer

Hello all,

This may be better suited for the employment section, but something that has been gnawing at my mind lately is my inability to answer the question “what type of designer am I?” When people on this forum or in interviews speak about how they would define themselves as a designer, most seem to just know what they want to do or what style suits them. Whether that be shoe designer, transportation, packaging, or housewares, a lot of you just seem to know and have a pretty sorted out style. Perhaps this is more of an identity crisis for a young graduate, but I always wondered how people reached a point of certainty. I am sure I am not alone in trying to settle my identity, I always hear people speak about how everyone in life is just winging it for the most part until they get the hang of it then the confidence will come.

Some days I just want to create beautiful/awesome products that become objects of desire (Lockheed lounge) while others I feel as though I should be socially responsible and create the next LifeStraw. This is something I probably should have partially figured out while I was in school, but now that I have graduated it becomes all the more apparent I have not yet defined myself.

I do not have a focused passion for one area of design, maybe some more than others but nothing in particular. I think this a major factor among others as to why I am having trouble getting employed. I seem to get interviews alright, but never make it past that stage, so I figure employers/interviewers sense a lot of uncertainty and mismatch with my personality and their companies.

This is a big mental roadblock for me and I am having trouble with reworking my portfolio until I figure this out.

tl:dr Who am I? How did you all figure it out?

Sorry for the rant, just wondering if anyone had the same issue.

I understand exactly what you are saying. In school they always pushed us to figure out what part of design we wanted to go into. It does make it easier to get employed. But I chose to just kind of let the winds of fate blow me around a bit and I have to say I would not change it for anything. I have done all kinds of design the only common thread was it was for the outdoor industry. But really I have not specialized at all. I have done footwear, soft goods and hard goods. It has been really fun.

But yes I think it makes it hard to find a job but the rewards are worth it. I can confidently go into an interview and say yes I have experience with that. It is a great feeling to point to an example in a portfolio instead of hand waving in hopes they believe you enough to hire you to design a specific product.

If you want a job quick specialize. If you want to design a lot of different things you should plan on begin lost for a bit. But be persistent and you will end up exactly were you want to be.

Interesting discussion! And one I have been curious about as well. There is a recent thread in the employment section that had a lot of talk about this kind of thing too: Nothing's going on...

@singletrack: That is good to hear and something that I didn’t hear in school. Although your username sounds like you specialize! :wink:

Good find. I should probably do a more thorough search before adding a topic next time. Iab definitely gives some tough love advice with things like “So take your best guess at a focus. Contribute 100%. If you don’t find the work interesting, leave. I expect that, it is reality.” or
“As an employer, I can’t offer you the world and I won’t even try because there is no business model to support that proposition. I can only offer you a segment of the possibilities. You can get a range of diversity of business in a large consultancy. But even if you land a gig there, they are not going to hire you because you are still finding yourself. They don’t have the time. They need to pay for the lights. They need you start in one spot. And you need to be great at it to have the opportunity to move to another spot. They not going to pay you to crash and burn. It is not a charity.”

Thanks for sharing in my anguish, I guess being lost all the time is just a part of life and asking people for help is a necessity. Also staying persistent is tough, but I must get through the grind.

I guess I will try not to worry too much about narrowing myself down and just focus on creating a clear and thoughtful set of work that I will be satisfied with as well as potential employers.

Good question. It took me about 3 years of professional work before I felt comfortable defining myself as a designer.

Think about what you enjoy about design, what your style of working is, how you work with people, then craft a story around that. Try asking a few trusted and honest people about how they perceive you. They might not be right, but it could be enlightening.

Most designers can sketch, render, research, etc. Those are table stakes. Think about the intangible elements about you: leadership, empathy, vision, persistence, and how that shines through in your work.

As soon as I defined myself, I got a new job, and everything changed about my role as a designer. How do I keep my essence as a designer when trying to expand a wide breadth of skills beyond traditional design? What is my essence in the first place? Hard questions to answer.