Is it a liability to still call yourself a "designer?"

We’ve all seen the write-ups the past year or so about the death of design thinking. While I think we all know that these things are cyclical - that the principles of design thinking aren’t out of fashion, just the buzzwords - I’ve personally experienced something related enough times of late that I can’t ignore it as happenstance or coincidence. Branding yourself as “designer” may have become a liability.

I can’t tell you how many job postings I’ve seen of late for Product Directors, Category Managers, Innovation Experts, etc. that don’t want anything to do with designers. Instead they want engineers, marketers (really?!), or people with weirdly amorphous business-y titles - but definitely not designers.

I have had multiple interviews where the interviewer seemed genuinely skeptical of claims about the work I’ve done over the course of my career because I was “just a designer” and “designers don’t do (real meaning: can’t do) [anything other than styling.]”

I have had others where I’ve gone far down the candidate process for a role specifically geared toward someone with a design background only to have the company change their minds and decide they want an engineer, or a developer, or whatever non-design title they value more for…reasons.

In my experience, in the current climate, calling yourself a “designer” is a liability if you’re looking for any role beyond that of an individual contributor/stylist. It’s borderline infuriating.

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Sorry to hear this.

My hot take is that the design market in California is defined by three institutions: Art Center (traditional 20th century styling), Stanford (Innovative engineering and graphic design) and Berkeley (socially engineered design). I lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years and worked with people from each program; both inside design and outside of design.

It sounds like the design market has coalesced ever since the UX Design trend dissipated and tech firms are now laying off pixel jockeys and supercilious “fake it till you make it” types. You could argue that is where the title “designer” went to die. And they and their $100K+ salaries helped in doing so.

At play are socially engineered Human Resource departments who draw from an algorithm when they select candidates nowadays. Gone are the days when you could bring in something novel in from outside of California (on your CV) and add value.

The California market for jobs has become tightly scripted (thanks to Google, Meta HR). If you fall outside of their specifications, they do not understand how to deal with ambiguity in the way firms used to be able to. I hear this from old colleagues and students.

This is a big subject and has many, many variables shaping it. Let’s see what others have to say.

Recent Meta job opening for “Industrial Design Architect” - almost as ID isn’t an identity just something that is performed…by a variant of “architect”.

I just had something like this happen to me.

This medical device startup company had an opening for an industrial designer with experience working on medical devices. They’re well supported by investors and have some cool science behind their upcoming product. Sounds good, right?

In the preliminary ‘screening interview’ with HR, I learned that designers were some of the first hires, and design is a core strength of the company. Pay rate for the position was too good to be true. Also, supposedly when they like a candidate they usually receive an offer within a week of interviewing.

I’m told to wait a day for a response from the hiring manager. A week goes by.
Eventually I’m asked to book a time to meet with the hiring manager, and I’m sent a 12 page interview prep guide. I prep every night like it’s finals week.

Day before the interview, he emails me to say he’s overbooked himself and has moved the interview to tomorrow. Sure, no problem, it happens. Then another email after hours, oh, he’s moved the interview again.

Finally, the interview happens, and it seems to go well. We discuss next steps- he’ll get back to me in a few days. Two days later - there’s an email. I’ll paraphrase.

They are thankful about my enthusiasm but had some internal discussions, and decided they instead need a mechanical engineer, and are closing the ID position. But they’re maybe re-opening the ID position in the fall, they say! So things are looking up!

I look at their website, two ME positions are already posted.

I’m partly stunned and I partly saw it coming.

So what’s really going on?

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I’m not sure if it’s a global phenomenon, but at least in Brazil, the design community has been feeling somewhat saturated by the trivialization of the term.

Here it’s possible to find people who self-identify as designers in rather… peculiar areas, such as “eyebrow designer,” “nail designer,” “designer who uses Canva (solely for creating social media posts).”

I think this situation arose because people started to believe that design is merely about aesthetics, making things pretty, and not about functionality and problem-solving. Perhaps we’re witnessing a movement where the term “designer” has become so saturated with non-design elements that designers themselves want to be recognized differently (although I’m not sure if that’s the right path to take, honestly).

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I’ve applied to a few product manager / product owner kind of posts. I did get an interview or two, but they always end on, “but you don’t use excel all day? we need someone that does.” The interviews were in fields where I have years of experience and a fairly deep understanding of the customer. I have no idea who they found. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this!

I do think there is something happening, it’s why I posted about ID perhaps having peaked a few decades ago. I would tell anyone to only go into ID if you need to be an industrial designer. As Randy Bachman said about starting his career as a guitarist, “Plan A was to be a rock star, plan B was to be a musician”.

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Reading through all the comments and the OP, then stepping back for a quick moment to reflect, makes me wonder if this is the outcome of the big design thinking and design will save teh world trend started by IDEO+BusinessWeek circa 2005 now circling around to bite us in the ass with “everybody can be a designer w00t”?

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That’s been my exact thought. Misplaced as the blame may be, “design” and “design thinking” seem to me to be almost taboo in the business world these days.

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More than likely IDEO’s well documented public and expensive fails have begun to pile up too high to ignore under the rug - add AI and we’re seeing what’s happeniing

I should write this up into a “While you were out, here’s how the design industry changed”

One thought: Wouldn’t good old fashioned industrial designers more or less qualify to be called design engineers or industrial design engineers? Might be time for a rebrand

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Maybe we should appropriate the “Creator” title the kids are using. Everyone loves that. haha.

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Going down the rabbit holes of the links in this article by a former VP Creative of Frogdesign (February 2024) led me to older articles, which I feel should also be give a looksee in the context of the OP’s question title - in fact read them all for an idea of what’s happening for the industrial design industry/sector as used to represented by Frogdesign and IDEO and Jony Ives

https://www.fastcompany.com/91027996/the-big-design-freak-out-a-generation-of-design-leaders-grapple-with-their-future

This from November 2023 - implies author was talking to laid off ex-IDEO guys or looking for a new job himself - is rather informative of the business landscape within which IDEO is restructuring itself

also note the new CEO is someone who can speak the new owner’s language (Hakuhodo is an immense advertising conglomerate, a recent master’s student of mine interned there in Indonesia)

https://www.fastcompany.com/90976682/design-giant-ideo-cuts-a-third-of-staff-and-closes-offices-as-the-era-of-design-thinking-ends

which then led me to this article from October 2022 - paints part of the landscape against which this OP exists on the Core77 boards and against which older guys with massive tuition fee commitments and mortgages are freaking out

https://www.fastcompany.com/90779666/why-corporate-america-broke-up-with-design

What can we find in here that might shed light on the liabilities of being a designer by name?

Design may be an important part of creating a product that sells, but it’s no magical solution for transforming companies and conquering competitors. “It [went] from ‘Wow, design can save the world!’ to ‘Shit, this is hard,‘” says Robert Brunner, founder of the San Francisco design firm Ammunition. “‘We’ve made this investment. Now what?’”

Yeah, who sold them that bullshit that change was a easy peasy but expensive 12 step process with the silver bullet at the end - just paint your walls purple and add some colourful cushions - Voila! billion dollar design-driven business. I’ve seen a company with an excellent engineered and designed product that met the needs of the market die a slow lingering expensive death from pushing it like an FMCG instead of a white good it was perceived as by their customers

But for all of design thinking’s appeal, it didn’t always produce exhilarating results. “People were like, ‘We did the process, why doesn’t our business transform?'” says Cliff Kuang, a UX designer and coauthor of User Friendly (and a former Fast Company editor)

Bingo

Less than 18 months later we’re here at OMG should I call myself a banana?

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“I’m a multi-channel, new media, socially connected physical product creation influencer.” Nailed it :rofl:

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:face_vomiting: