is the ID grass greener? (aka reality check)

hello all,

i’ve been teetering on the edge of switching careers for too long and need to figure this out.

i have been wishing i had majored in ID instead of Architecture for years and it’s reached a head (i graduated 10 years ago).

my current work life is spent drafting at a computer - and that’s pretty much it. i’m really confident i would love doing an Associate degree program for ID - and love product design, environments and human factor research, etc. i’d be better suited to ID vs Arch and have just been trying to make it work for years. It isn’t - pretty much over architecture (have worked in big and small firms, public residential, retail, healthcare, etc.).

BUT! is the grass greener or no? i don’t know anyone in ID to ask about the realities of the field. will i spend tons of cash and attend school for 2 years only to end up spending day after day locked to my computer monitor? as in, no drawing, never getting out there in the world and trying out products, etc.? cause i already get paid to do that. hoping to hear something affirming:)


I suppose the answer is “it depends”.

Do some people sit at a monitor and spend most of their day pumping CAD or some other product related deliverables? Yes.

Could you probably find a job in architecture that was more hands on then your current employer? Yes.

There are always going to be new opportunities out there. If you think the problem is in your field, then I’d say make the switch. But I know plenty of happily employed architects, so maybe you just haven’t found an employer that is the right fit? You say you’ve been at a lot of firms, so it sounds like you know the answer to that already but I figured I’d point it out again.

If you love design then go for it. You might be able to get a masters in ID, not sure if there are any associate level programs around.

thank you for your reply - much appreciated!

i agree that there is variety in the arch field and perhaps i could stay the course and find new opportunities when the jobs are there. i think that i am simply realizing that perhaps it’s just a poor fit for me. i’ve tried to be “into it” because i have the degree and feel i should use it, but i’m just not able to rally.

i am attracted to the scope and scale of product design - researching what’s out there and how to make something work better for users and clients. more so than drafting redlines/other peoples work and picking out vinyl flooring.

i have been considering that Art Institute of Seattle - which has a 2 year associates program - the quality of which i still need to confirm though local firms. the impression i received from researching online was that Masters programs in ID were largely theoretical and i would miss out on the actual skill/studio stuff that a BA covers. a 2nd bachelors is a possibility but it’s harder to be admitted into small programs - and requires 3 years probably (and that pesky GRE).

i agree that “it depends” is probably the best answer to my question:) nothing is a sure bet. i just want to be better informed before i make a decision - especially since my attitude toward arch has dwindled to a pretty low level - no rash moves.

thanks again ‘cyberdemon’

  1. It sounds like you would prefer ID. Everything is a little smaller: the product and the teams.

  2. I’d keep checking on the associates degree, but my recommendation of further education would have to be balanced with where your skills are. Can you do exploratory sketching? After that, I would just recommend reading a few books on user research and marketing. Maybe take a marketing class if you didn’t have to take one in Uni. Personally, I think within a year you could have an interesting portfolio on top of your resume.

Lastly, you might want to start looking for companies that would be attracted to bringing someone with a little architectural/building knowledge on board. Think construction equipment, HVAC, electrics/lighting. You might find managers there more open to the idea of an architect coming in.

Good luck!

I’m going to chime in and say “no” the ID grass isn’t greener, well at least not for me.

I currently sit at a computer all day and pump out Solidworks drawings. This is not what I had envisioned when I went to school. It seems a lot of jobs out there are ‘Mechanical Design’ jobs.

Also, once you pick a career stream, I find it very difficult to transition into another. I’ve been working in sheet metal and it’s pretty much impossible to transition out of sheet metal. Although I have 3 years experience as a designer in sheet metal, I have 0 years experience designing shoes, cars, furniture, clothing, toys, electronics, etc etc. Design skills are not as transferable as they lead you to believe in school.

I would say stay in Architecture…probably more money anyway.

Bartok: I’ve got a completely different experience here. It’s very hands on in small to large teams, with lots of time spent in the shop hacking together prototypes. Yes, we sit at the computer to do surface CAD and renderings, but not until we’ve figured it out by hand/when it’s appropriate to.

And no, I don’t think architects make more money. I think it’s the same (low) amount… we get paid internships, unlike most architecture internships.

For me, it’s about ‘what’ you actually work on, not ‘how’. You could always switch to another firm for a different ‘how’, but the ‘what’ is much harder to change. While I appreciate architecture, I don’t particularly want to design buildings. I like products, both physical and digital. So are you content with the ‘what’?

these responses are great - i hope more people chime in as well!

it’s definitely not about income - architects look wealthy in the movies but that’d be largely mythical.

i’m more examining the fact that i’m going to be working for 30-35 more years and i really can’t see myself continuing down my current path. but i should keep an open mind about that. it coincides with an inner-discussion about whether i’m going to work simply for the paycheck (whether i can even stand to do that). or if i don’t give up on myself and having something to really give in the design world and take a risk to make a change. being 33 - it feels a bit late, but given the amount of time i have left in the workforce i suppose it really isn’t.

not sure if i would be able to transition into ID from architecture without specific training/degree.

hope others keep sharing their experience - i really appreciate the input!

Well there you go, two different people, two different experiences. So I guess it could go both ways. However, I should say that I don’t actually like the product I’m designing, so that probably coincides with my lack of amusement for ID in general.

Basically you have to do what makes you happy. 30 years is a long time to be unhappy.

I work mostly on action sports products. Which is mostly just making technical drawings called techpacks. Then reviewing samples and making changes till the products look and work the way they are suppose to. It is a mix of building, sketching and computer work. I found that I use quite a lot of the skills I learned in school which makes the work feel very satisfying. But still there are some frustrating aspects like doing techpacks and endless revisions with little improvements each time because of miss communications. But overall I find that the work is very hands on and has a good turn over so a lot of new products to design.

I know it’s expensive, but a good environment for you to make the shift would be Art Center. A large percentage (or at least it used to be) of the undergrads there are actually transitioning from another career. Average age is mid-high 20s. You can take terms in whatever order you want, so you could actually suspend school for a year if you get a long internship halfway through. Any Art Center alumni on here could give more valid/current information. The only caveat is that it’s disgustingly expensive.

You, and everyone, should definitely pursue what really interests you.

Architectural practice seems to generally remain stupefyingly hierarchical, male, and technologically stuck decades to centuries in the past. I have heard similar to your story - junior partner after 11 years checking and editing pencil drawings, serving the god-like senior partner, 3 computers in a 50 person office…

However, after 10 years, you are probably experiencing typical human dissatisfaction from long term career self realization ‘is this all there is?’ Also after 10 years of regular paycheck going back to school can be tough.

Throwing away 10 years of architecture is probably unwise, build on it, use design as a ‘bend in the road’ metaphor. Try and get as many relevant courses after-hours while still working. Try a few of your own projects, start to build a portfolio of design projects, network - go to some design related events and participate, don’t just observe otherwise you’ll end up with more questions.

the experience and knowledge from architecture won’t be thrown away when going into related design fields. furniture, lighting fixtures and so on were mentioned.

i could imagine that you don’t even have to go to uni again if you find the right company with the right boss willing to give you a chance.

I just saw “Urbanized” and it made architecture and being a part of urban design and planning pretty cool. The film really focused on the human scale projects. Go watch that film and check the color of the grass.

I think you have the right perspective, you have a lot of your career left so keep pursuing fields that interest you.

I can relate to both sides. ID is a very competitive field if you are looking for jobs that give the designer creative freedom and understand the product development process. You have to be very talented. The good thing is that with dedication and passion you can get your skills and knowledge there. But, if you are not in the top caliber group you’ll likely be in your current situation or out of the field.

I’ve managed to keep learning and remain determined to work in the “cool” design jobs. Eventhough i’m not completely there yet, I see my dedication paying off. If you are serious about it and make design your lifestyle, it’s possible.