Finding your niche.

I have recently become really frustrated because I am 2 months from graduating with a bachelors and I still don’t know what I want to do. In the 4.5 years I have spent in the ID program I have not fallen in love with any one project, I may have enjoyed parts of some projects but nothing so much that I knew thats the direction I wanted to head in. I have a job lined up at a small start up firm that does a little bit of everything, the most exciting part of working there is I know there is room to grow and being one of the founding members I know I will have a say in what steps we take in the future but the problem is that I don’t know what I want those steps to be. I have an awesome opportunity and I want to make the most of it.

Who here has been unable to find your niche? How did you find one? Or did you? Please share.

If you don’t know which area of ID you want to work in then I would suggest working for a medium to larger size consultancy so that you are exposed to different projects, different companies, and most important different senior designers so you can keep learning and growing as a designer. After a few years try a corporate job and see if you like it.
At the end you will be designing and working with the same people 40+ hours a week so it will be the same projects, same work load, same process, same politics, etc. I would suggest getting a range of experiences/jobs the first 5 years of your career and build your relationships with clients and other designers.
Your wants and needs will change as you get older. All nighters will no longer be exciting, constant change will not be as appealing, salary may become a bigger issue, location and settling down will become a big factor.
You have 40+ years to design so don’t rush into it thinking you have a set path. Good luck.

Why pick a niche? Isn’t being a designer niche enough?

Don’t pigeon hole yourself. It would be a huge mistake.

I design furniture, but am doing a side project to extend my skills, and have dabbled in graphic design, photography and other areas.

Design is a varied profession which is why it’s so rad.

I don’t know that I agree with this.
Of course it’s great to be a Swiss Army knife of design skill but to target your portfolio a little when starting out can really help with landing that first job.
Portfolios that do a little of everything but nothing really great have of course a harder time attracting attentenion.

Portfolios for young grads are supposed to tell a story, communicate quickly “this is me and what I am passionate about”.
I think it’s completely valid if the OP is worried about not having that.

In my past I have always had that red thread that I continuously returned to in portfolios and selected projects that supported this “passion pitch”.
This thread though has changed many times as I have changed direction.

Finding “your thing” that sets you apart is a journey and changes but it’s important to get that initial stepping stone.
It’s maybe a little like climbing where you grab-pull-step-push-evaluate-repeat.

Don’t give up! It’ll happen.

I didn’t say don’t be passionate or communicate your value. What I said was don’t pick a niche. For example, when I was firing at Nike, nothing turned me off more than a portfolio that was completely footwear design. I never looked to hire “Footwear Designers”, I looked to hire fantastic designers who could solve problems and were passionate about footwear. Even if the person only ever worked at footwear companies, I wanted to see side projects, branding, packaging… more than just the tasks assigned. I wanted to make sure that the person was going to operate beyond a narrow bandwidth and cause trouble at the company with every creative output, and that they were taking hands on experience from outside the industry and brining it in.

That might read like semantics, but there is a pretty big difference. When I interviewed at frog design one of the interviewers sat down and said “ugh, a footwear guy”. I smiled and said, "nope, just a guy that works for one of the biggest brands in the world who solved problems for users that happen to take the form of shoes. "He leaned forward, I got the job.

Now that I am in CE I feel the same, and of the team I’ve hired all of them have done things outside of CE. It makes for a richer design culture. Fight the niche.

Another thing. I know a few designers that found a niche (designers of a specific product) and 5 years later got tired/bored/fed up and wanted to change markets and found it extremely hard.

I am a total left fielder myself and have been jumping from areas of design to other areas my whole career. And I believe that that actually has been a USP and gotten me into jobs where targeted portfolios struggled.
But what was important is that I had a certain POV that I could apply to whatever segment of design I was trying to get into.
An overarching interest and passion that while possibly crafted in one area, was easily transferable and relevant in another area.

I suspect the OP has a hard time defining what makes him an interesting candidate. He doesn’t seem to have quite figured out what his POV is as he hasn’t found his passion quite yet.

The “niche” might not be the right choice of word here as it suggests boxing yourself in and at the same time excluding yourself from other fields of design.
What the OP might need more is a strong personal position and voice. But that is difficult to develop if you are having trouble defining that as nothing really grab the attention during the education.

I think we are might be agreeing with each other just with slightly different mental framework and definitions :slight_smile:

I think the overall message is the same though. Follow your passion (trite and cliche, but true) and do the work to be amazing.

Agreed :slight_smile:

If you are not excited about what you do, you should probably take a hard look at why you are studying in this field, it’s ultra competitive, super fun, yet infinity challenging. If your not exited now, while your are in school and you have so much freedom, forget it, move on, ID may just not be for you.

Its interesting that you ask this.

One part of the problem is the consultancy model of the profession, so we focus solely on a specific project or problem. While this habit is excellent for focus, its not so great when it comes to doing inspirational work (THAT’S NOT TO SAY THAT THIS MODEL DOES NOT CREATE INSPIRATIONAL WORK). At the end of the day, ‘niche’ is a very subjective domain. Hence its fundamentally your call to define your ‘niche’.

Secondly, too many people read too little. Oscar Wilde once said, “Its what you read when you don’t have to that defines who you are when you can’t help it.” It doesn’t have to just books on design. It could be anything. For example it could be, what would be your imagination of Jorge Luis Borges’ famed Library of Babel or how would you apply Systems + Design Thinking to conceptualise Robert Nozick’s Pleasure Machine ? Inspiration to stimulate our best thoughts are limitless; its just that we have to go looking for it.

And most crucially, “don’t be boring”. The only cure to this will probably be an expansive mindset to see problems that others don’t. The first step to doing great work is to ask the right questions. If you ask the right questions and follow through there’s no doubt that you’d do the kind of work that’d do you proud.

Have fun.

Good question.

In my experience about 90% of design students still don’t know what they specifically want to do in design after finishing their Bachelor’s.
Many end up doing something completely different. I see a Bachelor in design more as an exploration, while developing the necessary skills, vocabulary, and some depth in the plenitude of design areas. In the process you develop some affinity and an awareness of where you may head towards, but none of this is probably definite for most people. There are some who are more straight-forward and specifically state what they want to become, but they may in the end lack the broader awareness to implement truly innovative concepts and working methods. There are pros and cons to all of these differences in people but in the end there is nothing to worry about and you will find your place.

What is important is that you set specific goals for yourself, follow through on them, enjoy everything in the process and develop a sense of where you want to head towards. And if things are not going in the direction you expected, make sure you understand the situation and then take action - spin it around, push the envelope a bit more, do something radical, or just leave and go do something else. You take the initiative.

I don’t see a niche as something you have to find, but I do see that most people want to end up somewhere where they truly feel they belong, and in the end yes, you will be doing much of the same work with the same people in the same way. So it’s good to actively develop a sense of what this will be for you. For me, I have a good sense where I am heading towards but I also know I can’t force myself to already be there. I currently work in many areas of design, sometimes because it is a good fit to my skills, sometimes because it is conceptually in line with something I would like to do in the future, sometimes it is just because I can do it and it pays, and some projects are just a lot of fun. A lot of things come onto the path but I keep evaluating and heading towards where I feel I want to go. In the process I naturally pay less attention to projects that are less in line with this and more to projects that fit me better. This year I am looking to profile myself more specifically and develop an own product, possibly a kickstarter initiative, that may lead to a more specific career niche. I have always felt I am not an inventor or engineer, or an industrial designer in the classic sense of the term, but a designer somewhere along the lines of people like Daan Roosegaarde. I would like to develop interactive products that rather than introducing completely new innovations, change the way people interact with their current environments. So far my brainstorms and explorations have so far not yet resulted in the vision that I want. So all I can do is keep working and reflecting on it as much as I can.

One of my best Creative Directors told me that design is about telling a story, I’d heard this statement before but never really seen it truly in practice. Countless tutors in school would say it but until I saw it first hand from being with that CD at the start of the project and then telling that story to the clients and explaining how we got from A to B it never really clicked.

So if design is a story, you should be able to tell that story no matter what you are designing - the way you got your teeth stuck in to the problem should scream through the project almost as if you were reading a good book and couldn’t wait to turn that page.

I had a portfolio come across my desk recently from a designer telling me he wanted to specialise in houseware, so thats all that was in his portfolio minus one quick packaging project. Honestly I was bored, granted he didn’t tell the story very well but still, I was reading the same thing no matter what project it was.

Whereas myself, even though I am now working in houseware and to get this job I had done a fair few houseware projects professionally I’ve also designed large office printers, tried my hand at designing a phone to test my abilities and it gives a bit of substance to my work. It also kept my now boss engaged and saw I had the ability to tackle something unfamiliar in a cohesive and thoughtful way.

So my advice would be to set your ‘niche’ at being a good designer, being able to understand what and who it is you are designing for and learn how to communicate the journey you took in an interesting way (the story).

Do that and it won’t matter if you are designing trash cans or racing cars :wink:

I’m still trying to find my niche.

I first started working at a place that does mostly design for manufacturing. Then I’ve worked at a startup consultancy working on exciting products like headphones, golf clubs and consumer electronics accessories. Now I’m at another small consultancy working on mostly conservative consumer electronics. I’ve worked on a wide variety of products, and I’ve learned what I liked about design and what I don’t like. I’ve also learned to adapt to different projects and scenarios.

One thing that also helps in trying to figure out your niche is “what you enjoy outside of work.” I really enjoy cooking and found that I’ve enjoyed housewares. I also enjoy street art and sketching robots. I’ve been finding thats been affecting my aesthetic style.

Exactly, the story comes from your own experiences and resonances and you can’t just invent one. What to me is more important than story is to have good ideas within what you do, or even one single big idea or vision as the fundament that can set you apart from others. This can become your niche as a designer, and later your brand or own company.