Leaving Industrial Design

The funniest part is that I am still in school doing ID and I am already asking myself if I really want to do this. Sleep deprivation, stress, almost constant pressure, and not much time for family are my problems. I hear from graduates that it doesn’t get any better in the “real world.” Do I really want this to be part of my life? I love sketching, coming up with new ideas, creating, learning, working with my head, as well as, my hands. Is it all worth the price? I love it and I hate it. I don’t want to be a landfill designer. How much more stuff do we really need? Do I really want to contribute to this money driven society? I guess I have a utopian outlook on life. I want to help people with design and not for corporate profit. Am I insane? Speed of life is catching up to speed of business. Where is the enjoyment in life? This thread really makes me think.

Just some ramblings, take this all with a grain of salt…

The issue likely isn’t about ID alone. I’ve been a software engineer for many years, and it’s been a long time since I showed up to work in the morning with purpose and excitement for my craft. In the beginning, there was so much to learn - I thought being into computers was something that was interesting and challenging. It was like solving cool puzzles… It felt creative and useful, like it was my calling… The field has certainly changed since then, and while that may be part of the reason I don’t want to do it anymore, it’s likely that I’m just tired of the same old crap day in and day out. Human’s just weren’t built to sit in front of computers churning away like rats in a cage forever.

Mark Twain wrote that he was fascinated with river boats as a young man. When he became a riverboat pilot and mastered the craft, he wrote about how it lost something… It wasn’t the same passion anymore.

Everyone wants to be in a field that is creative, passionate, rewarding and collaborative. The problem is, many seldom are forever. I won’t argue whether ID has a longer or shorter shelf life than other jobs… frankly, the pay sucks and most companies don’t get the talent and dedication required to do it right… it’s a game of supply and demand. What I will say is, your dilemma is one that affects lots of people in all kinds of areas. You aren’t alone, and a career change may stave it off, but for how long?

Personally, I think the days of one-person-one-career are coming to an end. There is a staggeringly high rate of adults returning to school now to train for second or third careers… it’s rare for a person to remain with one job for more than a few years at a time… jobs are moving overseas, requiring US employees to retrain and re-deploy to other jobs to maintain a standard of living…

Capitalize on your talents and move on to the next challenge - the panacea of ID probably never existed in the first place except in an ethereal dream.

On the other hand, maybe what we all need is to work in a carcinogen filled sweat shop in China to appreciate what we have and stop the incessant whining about how hard our lives are and how little respect and coddling we get for showing up and doing a job that doesn’t end at age 20 with lung tumors.

It’s all relative I suppose. I sure don’t have the answer…
-Dan

Well I’m all the way over on the other side of the pond in the UK. I used to work for James Dyson but got tired of the ‘in-house’ mentallity.

I now work as a freelance ID consultant and have been (well lets say exhausted for a while). This would be putting it lightly, but it pays the bills. The peculier thing is I have finally discovered what it is I enjoy doing something that I had forgotten since leaving university, being creative. Computers, paper & pencils, even RP are just skills sets (if you can call them that) they help you achieve that final goal. As an ID I have always believed in the ethos that we are trying to change something for the better both functionally and aesthetically i.e. is the best way to get from A to B to use a car or should we rethink this ideology, but no what the ‘PAYING’ client wants is a restyled car. These are just my thoughts in brief I would like to discuss further, however got to get back to the Pro/E. The irony of it all.

Anyway before I digress any further I did think about having ago at the camel trophey…

as far as camel trophy goes do you drive a d90?

This sums up my life so well.

…the sublime becoming mundane isn’t uncommon…the joy is in the pursuit…stop striding and you die…

Do I really want to contribute to this money driven society? I guess I have a utopian outlook on life. I want to help people with design and not for corporate profit.

… anyone remember the name, Victor Papanek?

i just got back on this site just a brief intro…

been designing for approx. 5 years and after being laid off started my own non-design related business which took off so i stopped hunting for ID jobs and there weren’t many at the time (early '02).

at first i was ok with doing something else worked for a corrupt corporation not much appreciated as a designer but got good portfolio work and real-world experience out of it. my plan was to pursure my current business and use it as a means to save up some cash to start devleoping my own products.

well, it’s been a few years now and my business is doing real well and i haven’t had any time to pursue any of these designs i wanted to create. now i find myself with a dilemma - i miss the creative profession yet i have a stable business to run. i want to get back in to design but not by working for another corporation with no job security and little control of your own fate. it’s also fair to assume i’ve ‘lost’ some of the design skills or am at least a little rusty (alias, sketching, rendering…).

one option i’ve considered is going back to school, hopefully outside US to get re-invigorated into design. it also seems to me that overseas design school have a more pure design approach versus a more technical education/ID profession here.

anyway, just my .02, any input?

I am in the exact same spot as you! I’m a student graduating in May and I’m wondering if this is really for me or if I’m cut out for it.

Me and design have a love/hate relationship. I’ve loved it all along through school and have learned so much about design as well as myself. But at the same time, I look around and think “Is this really what I am meant to do with my life?” I don’t think it it is. And I’ve finally come to terms with it.

On the bright side it has opened up so many new possibilities for me. Sure I’m going to look for a design job when I graduate, but if it doesn’t work out, it’s not going to break my heart. I know there is something better suited for me. What that is…that’s a whole other question. But I feel confindent I will get there sooner or later and I strongly feel that even if I may not end up in design, it was still the right education track for me. It teaches you so much about working with people, standing up for your ideas, thinking outside the box and most importantly, problem solving. All of these will help to get you any other job or at least to that next step in your life.

Good luck to all of you!

This post is interesting because It really has hit in a spot that I’m in. I’ve been doing ID for six years and have been in three different positions in that time mostly because I’ve either been lured away, or have moved on by my own perceived need for more of a challenge.

I have no lack of leads or offers for work at other firms/places, in fact, I’ve been told that my resume, portfolio and experience could write me ticket just about anywhere.

Now I’m not plugging myself or calling myself a god of design or anything but, I really do not enjoy doing this any more. Its hard to go to “work” in the morning to work on projects that I really have zero enthusiam for; and by “enthusiam for” I mean no desire to really, really go to the wall exploring for, developing or defending a concept to a client. I have become a pessimist about design, especially consulting, as I have just been drug along by numerous clients for the bottom line, with zero risk, turn-churn-burn, type of projects.

But I am just wondering if any one else who has had success doing ID feels the same way I do about it?

In response to mea culpe.

Yes I do have the same feelings at this point in my career. However, I carry a little more modesty than yourself.

I apologize if I come across as “immodest” or with a glaring ego. It was completely unintended.

How do you deal with being “successful” at what you do, but at the same time feeling like you really don’t care anymore?

How do you deal with being “successful” at what you do, but at the same time feeling like you really don’t care anymore?

well, you might consider donating some of your time to a local, national, or international, organzation/cause.

a professor of mine used to donate/volunteer 10% of his time to UNESCO. of course being an educator meant that he had 10% of the year to do that.

are there an civic groups in your area that could benefit from your expertise? even if they are not “design” oriented it might fill in that empty spot and provide a little recreation (in the literal sense; to re-create your enthusiasm for other things).

[quote=“topaz”]i just got back on this site just a brief intro…

been designing for approx. 5 years and after being laid off started my own non-design related business which took off so i stopped hunting for ID jobs and there weren’t many at the time (early '02).

at first i was ok with doing something else worked for a corrupt corporation not much appreciated as a designer but got good portfolio work and real-world experience out of it. my plan was to pursure my current business and use it as a means to save up some cash to start devleoping my own products.

well, it’s been a few years now and my business is doing real well and i haven’t had any time to pursue any of these designs i wanted to create. now i find myself with a dilemma - i miss the creative profession yet i have a stable business to run. i want to get back in to design but not by working for another corporation with no job security and little control of your own fate. it’s also fair to assume i’ve ‘lost’ some of the design skills or am at least a little rusty (alias, sketching, rendering…).

one option i’ve considered is going back to school, hopefully outside US to get re-invigorated into design. it also seems to me that overseas design school have a more pure design approach versus a more technical education/ID profession here.

anyway, just my .02, any input?[/quote]


topaz, what line of business are you in? Product or service? No need for specifics, just a hint, I too have gone this way given the drying design services pond has become a sham and a fraud. Boy, what a sad thread this is becoming, though not entirely unexpected. There are simply too many star-gazing portfolio peddlers out there for the number of jobs or contracts available, simple issue of supply and demand in these days of Asian everything. Someone please ring the bells in our design schools so disconnected from reality and tell them to stop churning out product stylists by the thousands each year. Creative career shelf life: now under 10 years (and I’m being generous).

As for the many designers logically contemplating career changes (some unusually early in their lives), going into business for oneself is often a more rewarding option than either teaching or any form of corporate climbing ressembling management and other soul-killing work of this kind.

Designing a working business model is likely the most complex and challenging project you can ever work on. Manufactured products, in comparison, are child’s play. If you have the creative fiber, it never leaves you and eventually you just come around again creatively solving problems others consider impossible to crack. If original thought is the core of the design profession, it certainly applies to a lot more in life than product projects served you by a boss or client.

Kinda funny, I came to the message boards to start a discussion on this topic and here’s many designers contemplating leaving design the same as me. I recently left a design job in a large manufacturing company to work in the consulting environment, thinking I would have way more creative freedom and would no longer have to deal with the continual frustration of being outnumbered by engineers 62 to 1. To make a long story short, I’m more frustrated than ever, and my biggest challenge in the past 9 months has been where to find the best images off the web to put in my boss’s presetations. I’m really staring to wonder who actually gets to do design and is this frustration worth it. The little design work that does come in is the quick, mid life cycle re-skin. In my book thats styling, not design. Does anyone have any positive stories about staying in the design field? You know, you were going to leave but then something spectacular happened? I could use that. If not maybe suggest something else to pursue

:unamused:

For a lot of the reasons that people have already mentioned here and because of others I’ve made the decision to get out of doing fulltime design work. I just can’t take it anymore.

I’ve started getting equipment so that I can do freelance at home but I think a new career path is in order. The work that Ive been doing lately is so soulless and cheap that I feel like I go to work everyday to produce garbage. On top of that Ive noticed that my employer has started drifting from the usual business BS to straight up lies when it comes to our capabilities. Worse yet is that many of their so called “capabilities” are things that only I do for them. There is nothing worse than hearing someone say “oh yeah weve done tons of projects like that, we have an entire department of experts devoted to producing XYZ” - when really that means “oh yeah we’ve got ONE guy who did this ONE project a while back and I’m sure we can force him into doing it again.”

I’m so sick of it.

I’m going back to school for a grad degree, I’m not sure for what, but my first guess would be “not an MFA”.

this thread is fascinating. many of you are echoing the same sentiments, and i’m sure that many professionals in fields other than design feel the same way. i’ve recently exited the product design scene, and in general i feel an overwhelming sense of relief. i think that product design attracts mutildisciplinary, adaptaive, creative, and passionate individuals, but that the field is ultimately a very small box that big thinkers sometimes do not fit into.

i decided to leave product design after asking myself the following question: imagine the best-case scenario–a perfect design firm, at which you are respected, rewarded, and have a constant stream of top-notch projects for fortune-500 companies–how different would your daily activities be than they currently are at your unsatisfactory job? if there wouldn’t really be enough change, then the potential of the field is not enough for you. equally important to this conclusion is this idea: it’s OK for you to grow, and even outgrow your profession! what a relief to realize this!

instead of agonizing that you may have wasted time in product design, realize that you now have an amazing set of skills. you know how to immediately communicate, respect, and interact with people in any field. you have a proven problem-solving process that can be applied to any challenge. you are fun to work with, and have an unmatchable work ethic and ridicluous learning curve. now, take a minute and think about how many different industries out there are looking for those skills–the answer is every industry!

so, remember that your path to product design was a journey, and moving on to do something else is just another step. we are the people who challenge traditional approaches, bring energy and creativity to any problem, and generally know how to get stuff done. most of the CEOs, entrepreneurs, and inventors out there have taken a long and winding path–and they’re the people that make the world go round. maybe you’re just one of those people and product design was your winding path.

i know that i, for sure, will always be most excited to work with people who’ve come from a creative background, no matter what i do in the future.

This is surely one of the most interesting and relevant discussions on Core in a long time. But instead of joining the growing lamentative chorus of professional epilogues here I’d like to add some perspective to the situation and perhaps pull this discussion back from the brink of suicidal despair. For designers at least, it should be more gratifying to solve a problem than just point it.

There can be no doubt, judging from experience, this thread and others on Core, that industrial design is ripe for a major overhaul, from the way it is taught to the way it is practiced, promoted and finally sold. If ID were itself a product my guess would be we have some serious issues all the way from initial problem definition through manufacturing and marketing. Let’s say we have at least an image problem, if nothing more. How, in 2005, we got where we are is a topic rich enough for several books we should leave for a separate thread. It is more productive now to try to find solutions to reverse the current trend that has talented designers still in their 20s decide they are beating a dead horse and throwing it all out after years of hard (if misguided) schooling and professional practice.

The biggest paradox of this discussion, by far, is to hear so many of us throwing in the towel in disgust over what has become of ID when in fact the absolute need for good product architecture has never been greater and, if anything, is increasing exponentially. It is important not to confuse what is being done with what, had most designers been “allowed” to practice what they learned, SHOULD have been done. The ugliness and sameness of most of our generic, standardized and cheap material environment is, fortunately at least, not of our doing. That we know. The problem is - others don’t, and assume it is trained and responsible industrial designers that fill their lives with cheap junk that all looks and works the same no matter who they buy it from.

The need for good design has multiplied a hundred-fold over the past decade alone as technology and complexity in general is galloping at a pace far beyond the general population’s capacity to adapt. Unfortunately for us, our clients and employers always knew best and, racing for the quick profits, trampled over precisely the qualities that make design relevant and useful to their own clients. What I hear most often in design practice is experienced designers leaving, not so much for lack of opportunities, but for lack of QUALITY opportunities. Few firms out there are willing to invest any amount of time or resources in thoughtful, intelligent design that truly adds value to the business equation, from where our second big paradox.

Companies large and small are everyday signing their own death warrants with this myopic and scaringly simplistic outlook on their own tough playing field, preferring to dump anything that is legally safe on the market (and even then) over spending to actually affect their customers’ lives in ways that are measurable and lasting. To those claiming the disappearance of customer loyalty is the very reason for this condescending treatment of the gullible flock marketers label “consumers”, I say baloney. If anything, it is the other way around. When Mercedes Benz starts having major recalls year after year it certainly doesn’t buy brand loyalty. It is not “consumers” who have demanded this cheapness and corner-cutting in everything, it has been imposed on them by the business world’s mantra of “sell-it-now-fix-it-later” over several decades now.

Walk into any of these eyesores popping up everywhere called dollar stores. I agree the 70-year old grandma only needs a pair of pliers once a year and she’ll get excellent value for her needs from that $1.99 immitation of a brand-name even if it only lasts a few uses. Problem is, humans are animals of habit and for a large majority now shopping for a pair of pliers, all of a sudden these HAVE to cost $1.99 or less. This is where major, irreparable damage starts occuring to the quality manufacturers in hardware stores. The point here is QUALITY itself is fast becoming a rarefied niche market. Yet our profession was built on providing quality thinking, and this is exactly what (1) industry doesn’t want to pay for and (2) customers have been “trained” to expect for free. It goes without saying that you will have to pay much more than $1.99 for a long-lasting, ergonomic and feature-rich pair of pliers cast in state-of-the-art alloys, but dollar stores and cheap Asian imports have taught buyers they don’t have to anymore. This is the dumbing-down of design first hand.

In life you really do get what you paid for. What most people don’t keep tabs of is how often they buy the same thing over and over. People see the store “savings”, not the landfills. This is understanding consumer psychology at its best - business has done its homework, designers not. It is the reason why industry, despite all the glowing but hollow media hoopla, still only requires industrial design for visual and tactile effect and rarely more. We’re like the “special effects” people in film, only we don’t make anywhere close to what they do. Cosmetic jobs are cheap and quick, as is the entire product development cycle today in most firms. For anyone here who has spent years close to the shop floor, million-dollar mistakes in manufacturing due only to lack of time for proper setup are not news. The conceptual end of things (our business) is itself caught on this merry-go-round spinning at high speed and, soon, out of control.

After all, how FAST can one think, validate and create anything of value, let alone a new product? And then, since when is design SPEED a measure of professional success? I have an idea - given product design is largely commoditized by now (all things being equal), why don’t design consultancies simply start competing on project execution speed alone? Say, 15 hours for production files of a retractable pen, 25 hours for a chair, and so on. Generic pen, generic chair, generic everything, since most clients only want to be as successful as the other guy, that is “don’t overcharge me”. Ah, you are saying, but we are creative types, we can give them more, we don’t just copy-paste stuff. You’re wrong. Whoever pays your salary says that is ALL they need and screw your inner artist and professional integrity screaming that is wrong, hideous-looking, unresolved or plain stupid.

We are servants to the whims of the only money-maker in this archaic business model - the middleman - though school had taught us there is money to be made from ideas. Flash forward to 2005 - money is made from SELLING your ideas and designers suck at this big time. Clients and employers are the middleman for us in the current scheme. No matter how smart, talented and ingenious you are, the glass ceiling for designers playing the creative card alone is low and will stay so.

So back to the several paradoxes of modern day ID. Increasingly high numbers of frustrated designers are bailing out of a profession for which the physical need is arguably increasing in all markets while those now in power of utilizing design for all it’s worth keep shortchanging themselves by reducing creative designers to cheap CAD jockeys, thus forfeiting any future possibility of solid bonding with their target client base. Designers lose, companies lose, but ultimately, the buying public (yes, the very God we were trained to serve first) is the biggest loser. Then there is the environment. So what we are really looking at in ID today is the good old “garbage in, garbage out” scenario, a rather reliable circle of cheapness feeding cheapness, temporarily profiting a select few while permanently damaging for a large majority.

There are realistic alternatives rooted in current experience and societal trends to the dominant designer-client model undeserving of its uniqueness and now in danger of running over the relevancy of the profession itself. There are also collective ways to at least attempt to repair this model with the aim of breaking the cycle mentioned above.

Wherever you live and whatever your experience, let’s make this discussion a constructive brainstorming session instead.

Funny, it is the swiss army knife that I love about design. Keeps it fresh. I have learned more about color and printing than I ever expected I would have when I left school. I have learned more about manufacturing and engineering than I expected I would.

What I DON’T like about the Swiss Army Knife aspect is that you are TREATED like a Swiss Army Knife. Something that you pull out of your pocket occasionally, but don’t really give a second thought to unless you are needed. I love design. I hate how it is treated in industry.

So far, this thread has inspired me to know that there are opportunities opening up in Design. Not in the sense that people are leaving, but that the industry seems to be in a huge flux. “Traditional” design isn’t what it was even 10 years ago.

What was an opportunity 5 years ago is closing up, but it is leaving a vacuum to fill elsewhere. I have an idea what one of those vacuums is. Do you?

Reading through everything that has been posted this really is one of the more interesting threads Ive seen in a while. One part venting of frustrations, One part finding solutions. I agree with others that there really are a lot of opportunities here for the design industry to be taken in a different direction, especially for Industrial Design which is so intimately linked to manufacturing.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and soul searching lately and I’ve made the decision to get out of doing design fulltime but not to leave the game entirely. After reading Seismic Shift from Niti Bhan my most recent thoughts were confirmed for about the 100th time that now is a good time to take on design from a different angle. I’m sure some people will give me shit for this but I’m seriously considering going to graduate business school to learn more about international business, logistics, finance and other areas.

Ive read so many articles, stories, etc about how business needs to be more like design so I plan to actually do something about it. For me it isn’t really design that I love, its solving the problem.

If anyone has experience or advice on going down the business path Id love to hear it.