If you had to do it all over again?

A few weeks ago Peter C asked if the high cost associated with a design career is worth it. Knowing how much the cost of college has risen and the relative flatness of entry level design salaries, I have a hard time justifying the math. That got me thinking, what would I do other than design if I couldn’t have gone to design school?

Electrician. The first thing that came to mind was electrician. I randomly took a “home electrical” course in high school to fulfill a credit requirement and I loved it. I still do a lot of wiring at home myself. They are always in demand, get paid well, can go to a trade school so not much cost to become one.

How about you?

Teacher. 100% My mom was a teacher, and I have so much respect for the teachers that I have had that guided me in my life from grade 4 teacher who encouraged my creative approach (let me make a model of an oil rig in balsa wood instead of a book report), to the high school teacher that directed me to ID when I was interested in architecture.

They don’t make a lot of money. They aren’t given the respect they deserve. It’s not an easy job. But there are very few careers that you can make a difference in so many people’s life at once, just by doing your job.

I’m lucky to have taught at a few different levels from a grade 5 “Designers in the Classroom” 10 week program to ID courses at university and I’ve never felt so energized (and exhausted) after a full day at work!


Canadian teachers make good coin. When you factor in the time off they have, their hourly wage is very livable. Respect is another discussion.

If we’re discussing the idea that I would have had to pay for my school (I had a track & field scholarship) I would likely be in the trades as well. Electricity scares the carp out of me. Always has. I’m more of a carpenter or framer. Living in a fishing village on an active river delta, I am immensely fascinated by tugboats. I have even considered looking into what it takes to operate one.

Car restoration as the main gig, side gigs of sculpture and studio furniture.

Writer. I’d almost certainly end up making even less money, but it’s probably the lowest barrier to entry for a creative profession. Even if you can’t justify or afford the cost of a public university or tiny liberal arts college there are tons of resources out there to go the self-taught route. Just buy a crappy laptop and you’re good to go.

Economist. I actually debated going back to school and studying economics, but ended up having kids instead. I’ve found that I’m an extremely nerdy and bookish person for design, but I like fields that demand a lot of varied knowledge. I think economics ticks those boxes.

Probably a carpenter/wood-worker because I like building things, which is what led to ID to begin with.

I was all set for an electrical apprenticeship after doing a few weeks of work experience for a commercial electrical company during high school. Good money, paid hourly, paid overtime for every extra hour, always in demand. It might get boring pulling cables though.

At the moment I am actually in the process of recalibrating my professional life. What I am seeking is less marketing/ sales and more sketching / Design -thinking. But at the intellectual level balanced with teaching.

My parents both were teachers, my father and my maternal grand father being principals.
I did completely underestimate their work when I was an adolescent!

Having kids of my own showed me a lot about what our society (Western Europe) is missing or what is going of the rails, which send me into getting into a new love+business relationship with a wonderful woman, who has been working in a coaching context for years. In an ideal situation we would school individuals and teams in building healthy relationships , products and business models while sketching, modeling and thinking all day.

As the designer in the relationship it seems to be my job to lead to that place.


Nice mo-i! You can make it happen I’m sure. We don’t have kids but even just having a 4 year old nephew has shifted my perspective on things a bit.

Other jobs I always also kind of thought about.

Mail carrier. Seeing my post man everyday walking around in the fresh air Lise omg to pod casts. It has a certain appeal at least from a distance.

Politician. This wouldn’t have eliminated college of course. Most national politicians have law degrees. But it would have been interesting to work in politics if not as a politician then as a political strategist. To all those designers who want to change the world, it seems going into public device might possibly be a more direct route.

Musician. Or maybe just none of the above and go all in as a musician. Tycho switched from graphic design to music (I think he still might freelance/consult) so maybe there is still time.

Teacher. That also would have been a good one. Another way to change the world. If it were not for 2 very specific teachers I might have been a very different person. They helped me probably much more then they even knew.

I suppose this question is different for an Australian. University fees are covered by the government on a ultra-low interest loan arrangement and you pay it back progressively once your income reaches a certain level.

I no longer work as a designer and work as a Design and Technology teacher in a school. That said, I find that my design education and experience working as a designer give me a pretty unique skill set and perspective on education and within education. One particular example of late is collaborating with other staff in planning a large-scale, project-based, design project for all students in a particular year level as an end of year activity (school finishes up for summer in the next couple of weeks). By having a design education, I was able to counsel my colleagues to not show a design process to be a linear activity; there is constant review, updating, and backtracking throughout.

So to summarise, I would totally do what I did again. I wouldn’t want what I do to be any different.

Definitely a trade (electrician, plumber, drywaller, auto mechanic or HVAC - probably not flooring/tile, construction, roofing or landscaping). I’ve done it all - I’ve renovated a number of residences, sold or rented them with great success. I’ve done the demo work, the carpentry, the electrical, the plumbing, the drywall, the HVAC, turned a car into a track toy and I’ve done those four above that I don’t recommend!
I’m biased because I enjoy working with my hands and I feel a great sense of pride with the end-product. Now that I’m older I choose what I want to do and know what I’m not the best at - in my phone contacts I have a tile guy who is an artist, a creative master electrician, a detail oriented plumber, a drywall guy who might as well be named DiVinci, the best roofing guy I’ve ever seen, an affordable landscaping guy, an indy mechanic and a friend who is a homebuilder and carpenter. Not a single one of them are ever searching for work. None have to advertise. The electrician takes two weeks off every three months to take diving trips in the Caribbean. The HVAC guy has a few rental condos. They’re all doing very well.
I agree with Michael, if you looked at ROI, any of those trades are hard to beat. Then if you look at demand and growth the trades win yet again - we are a service nation and our level of discretionary income allows us to hire people to do tasks. BUT…as with any discipline, if you want to make money in those trades you need to have business acumen - working FOR an electrician is much different than owning an Electrical service.

I wonder if part of the success of the trades right now is the generational change. It’s harder for a 65 year old to be a roofer than a designer. I think I would have enjoyed doing any construction trade when I was 20. Now at 41, it appeals less as a full time job. Therefore, perhaps the boomers have exited that labor market and Gen X is making hay while the sun shines.

Bueberry Squishy: Changing careers as an experienced professional is extremely costly even without considering education costs. According to the Gov. of Canada, an entry level designer makes around $35k and the median for the profession is $56k. That means that every year at school for someone that has experience is going to have an opportunity cost of $21k just in lost wages. It adds up quick!

A Chef. When I graduated in 2002 it was actually a really hard job market. I had some struggles early on. I spent years working in kitchens before, during and after school. I loved it and still have a passion for food. During those tough times, I contemplated going to culinary school and jumping in.

Ironically my design career was centered around food for the first 15 years. Working for Mars and PepsiCo I did a ton of food design and design strategy on the emotions and traditions of how consumers enjoy food. It was some of the best work I have done.

That being said, when I was seriously thinking of doing culinary school, I reminded myself that the lifestyle is super hard. Nights, weekends, holidays… it’s nothing like how it’s glamorized on tv. I would not have the life I have now if it hadn’t been for my design career. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Machinist. CNC or traditional lathe/mill. Since my father owns a metal workshop I got into making things out of raw material since very little. During college I involved a lot in the business and learned to G code some nice parts on an old 3-axis Deckel before discovering CAM. Not as rewarding from the creative side but takes a lot of practice and craftmanship to deliver nice and proper machined parts.

Musician. I’ve been playing in a band since I was 15 until I got 25, the band changed the name several time as we were finding our sound and purpose but then got to a point where it needed a jump but I was the only one (out of four) willing for it. So, got discouraged at the same time I was about to get my ID degree and decided to quit music and focus on my career. Was really hard to gather ID school and the band but I could see myself pursuing a solo artist carrer or maybe producing.

I guess if we are considering we could never go to university for any course and we’re choosing a course that doesn’t require a degree then cabinet making would be a good one, you get to make things and solve issues with manufacturing still.

Landscape architect, or just plain landscaping designer/builder. I’ve found that I really appreciate good PARKS, pathways, subtle terrain changes. I imagine that as a landscape designer I would just design water-wasting environmental atrocity golf courses…but work in the sun in cool places.

Otherwise I think I would have liked being in the Coast Guard. Its a branch of the military but not one that has to get shot at (much), and again, you get to live by the ocean or bodies of water. My step-father-in-law (recently passed away, RIP) was a CG physician and he had some really amazing experiences.

I had a roommate for a little while that worked for the California state park service doing things like trail cutting, building maintenance, etc. He worked and camped on-site for eight days at a time and then had six off. Sounded like a pretty great gig to me, though at the time it meant he spent a lot of nights camping in California winter rain.

My wife asked me why I wouldn’t want to be an engineer and thinking about it, civil engineer would be good too. I had no idea what they did when I went to college, but I think I would enjoy it today.

Kind of like the adage about the worst day fishing/biking/skiing/camping is better than the best day at the office. Not true for designers of course :slight_smile:

I started school in computer engineering, but switched to design because I could quickly see myself getting burned out on coding. I’ve had an internal struggle with myself ever since, knowing what i could currently be making had I kept up in Cp E… but alas, that’s not happening now.

If I was to go back, I’d likely consider psychology or some other form of mental health therapy. I’ve spent a lot of time with therapists in the last several years (both for myself, and for my kids) and I could see it being incredibly fulfilling work. And talk about problem solving…

That and I’d probably make furniture in my spare time.