Finding consistent ID work in areas not considered design hubs

After some recent family events, I’ve been considering relocating to a different part of the country to be a little closer to home. One thing I’ve found over my career, though, is that industrial design work can be hard to come by if you’re not in the specific handful of cities around the country that are hubs for it - i.e. cities where there’s a concentration of large brands, ID-focused studios, or both.

For those of you who have settled in any of these less design-dense areas, what’s been your experience with finding consistent work (be it in-house or freelance)?

I spent the better part of a decade in Nashville TN-- not quite a design capital. I was not personally equipped to compete at the higher levels of design work at the time and I took up several jobs that were borderline relevant but usually pretty interesting in order to stay where I wanted to be while building up new skills. For me, this involved a lot of compromise, but I would suggest looking into specialty shops in the area. It could turn out you’re the only person in town for the job- or you could end up trying something new. I was involved at an artisan tile shop for several months and moved up to a company that sells the cheapest possible products to walmart and dollar general… But in the same city there were also much more interesting things going on that I would eventually work my way into. For me, I found valuable connections through odd freelance jobs, the local makerspace, and instagram. Best of luck!

I don’t know how effective it is for ID but I see 1 position listed currently on flexjobs.com - I’ve had other friends using that sight since they focus heavily on fully remote positions.

Scratch the itch with t-shirt and logo design, and do websites for local sports teams.

(I attempted being an industrial designer in Hawaii for a few months. Helps to remove the ‘industrial’ part.)

I don’t have nearly your level of experience, so please take this with a grain of salt. Right out of school, I was willing to take a good fulltime ID job anywhere – even if it was the only one in town (in my case it was in-house). Potentially that could be a pretty big risk if you have a family and home to worry about and if that single ID job didn’t turn out well. But in my case, that singular job served me very well for 5 years and it was just fine not being in a big design hub.

If you aren’t in a time rush, I would try to see which companies are in your target area. If you have a year or so head start, it could make thing easier. Obviously, the bigger radius around your area, the more possibilities there might be.

If it helps, even the hubs can be surprisingly dry sometimes – OK, besides that big one over on the West Coast.

This one hits close to home for me- I never thought I would find myself back in Virginia, since it’s far from a design hub, but there is work to be had all over. There are certainly more options to pick from in California, but if you dig a little, there’s usually something around even smaller cities. Plus, if it’s not a design-heavy part of the country, you may also have less competition in your region.

Look up whether there are any company headquarters near where you want to move. Some places have design departments that aren’t advertised through the regular channels. You can also check around for engineering jobs, graphic design, exhibit design, UX/UI, shop/fabrication work, etc. Even if you don’t want to work in those fields specifically, companies hiring those types of professionals may also have use for ID. I’ve been the first designer a company has hired on more than one occasion and it can be rewarding carving out your own job description. If you can illustrate your value to a business, they may find there is reason to hire ID even if they had never considered it before.

And, of course, you can always take a stab at freelancing and maybe pick up part time work or an hour here and there from somewhere local. Freelancing can lead to full-time if you don’t want to set up your own shop. Places that have never seen design work are often blown away by what you can do, even if it seems run of the mill to you. Designers have lots of useful skills—illustration, modeling, rendering, presentation building, graphics, prototyping, design thinking, project management, and so on…

If you’re flexible and determined you’ll find something—good luck!

Thanks for the thoughts and help. I’m not really on a timetable, so that helps, and I’ve started to identify a couple of targets that either already have ID roles or have the potential for some pickup work - be it product, branding, graphic, etc.

Along the lines of Cyberdemon’s suggestion of flexwork.com, I came across angel.co this weekend. There are a lot of remote options on there that could potentially provide a bridge to something more secure, too.