Location+Life or Experience?

I was hoping for advice on a current job situation I’m in. I’m having to choose between two positions, the pros and cons of each being:

Job 1:
+Located in NYC (first-choice location, most of my friends are there, and I miss living there terribly)
+Large, iconic, household name company
-Being a design drone in a large company

Job 2:
+As the company’s first and only official product designer, I would have free reign and creative authority
+Hefty learning experience (sourcing, spearheading product development processes, start-up like atmosphere at an established company looking to revamp and willing to take risks)
+Responsible for redesigning entire product line, and considering product expansions and strategy
-Located in the middle of nowhere–seriously, like cows and farms and quarries.
-Brand not as well known, but maybe I can change that!

I am 24, 2 years out of school, and have only interned, freelanced and consulted so far, so either job would be the first “official” full-time position for me, and could set the tone for future employment opportunities.

So at this early stage in my career, would it be better to take the meatier, more challenging position in the middle of nowhere, or the less-demanding position in my favorite city and actually have a better “quality of life”? Should I suck it up for a few years? The thought of spending my mid-20’s in the middle of nowhere makes me really sad, though I’m trying to see the bigger picture.

I can see both experiences leading to opportunities and opening doors, but in different ways. I’m more excited about Job #2, but being able to live and work in NYC would even out the cons against Job #1.

And money and compensation are not as important a factor right now for me in this decision as they maybe should be…

I would appreciate any thoughts or advice you guys can offer!

My advice is to not take position number 2. You do not have the level of experience you need to be the first designer in a company in my opinion. In this case total creative freedom means no one to mentor you, no one to learn from, no one to compete with. The designers I know who have taken these kinds of positions right out of school have struggled and had to work twice as hard to learn. Leaving is difficult because what they do learn is often by mistake and not up to industry standards. It can work, and of you had nothing else I’d sa go for it, but with the option to work for a well known brand in NYC on the table I think the decision is clear. Take the better learning and resume builder.

Ditto what yo said. Good advice.


Exactly, when I got down to seeing your age and more importantly that this would be your first official job after graduating, the decision seems clear and no offense to you, but a company that is hiring someone straight out of school to start/lead their design department may not be one that places a real value on /or have a true appreciation for design. I bet this company would not hire someone straight out of school to run their Finance, Marketing, or Engineering Groups.

Generally speaking I say live where you love. Life is important, and you’ve got to live in the city/town that your job is in, so choose your job and its location carefully.

I’d rather make $5k per year in a town that I love than $500k per year in a middle-of-nowhere town with no dynamic culture, no interesting geography, no delicious cuisine, no nice/fun people, etc, etc.

I’d hold off on the startup option too - the NYC position sounds like a good opportunity to be exposed to a professional design office environment and put a known name on your resume.

Even if you aren’t just starting out, a position like that might not truely let you have complete creative control like it seems - there’s always MGMT input, un-realistic deadlines, and numerous other factors that play into the reality of making nicely designed products - all of which may not exist at a startup or a company with no established design dept. Also it could drag you into a lot of responsibilities that aren’t focused on design, putting you behind your competition (as some have said above)

don’t forget, no job is forever and there’s also a third option… hold out for a consultancy design position, or take the corp position for a year then move on.

Taylor - I totally agree with you about loving where you live ( I love Austin too), but there’s a lot to be said for getting a good foundation of experience wherever you can get it, then moving where you love

I like how all the seasoned designers here think along the same lines. And in the whole I do agree
with you lot. But. But I think we could use some more facts. Basing a career decision on where your
friends live doesn’t sound so smart. “Design drone” already sounds like a negative prejudice towards
that opportunity. And I do miss some entreprineurial spirit.

no offense to you, but a company that is hiring someone straight out of school to start/lead their design department may not be one that places a real value on /or have a true appreciation for design.

Good point!

A professional dealing with them would look into their business plan for the next 2-3 years. How do they
think they could reach the shift. How much money are they willing to allocate to Design?
It’s a clear case of money talks. If the are willing to fund the new strategy seriously it might be a good chance.
It’s likely so, that they won’t and that all senior talent they approached signed off.


First, congratulations on the two opportunities in-hand! I like how you are breaking it down into a ‘design problem’.
I agree with ‘mo-i’ in that you do appear to have that entrepreneurial spirit which is probably why Company 2 may be more appealing to you. Only you can decide what is best for you, and it is striking a balance between the rational (cost of living, face-value of position), and the emotional (your ‘gut’, desires, dreams and future potential): Live to (work) design, or (work) design to live.

My only advice is not to discount compensation so quickly, or … burn any bridges when you decline one opportunity!

Good luck!

I felt the same way as you after graduating - joining a big company and being just one person amongst over one hundred designers filled me with dread… But an opportunity came up that I knew I’d be nuts to miss, so I ended up being that person I thought that I would never be. The first six months were pretty tough - it’s a hell of a thing to learn how to network when the organisation is spread around the world in multiple different locations, and the work was very different from what I had imagined that I’d end up doing when I was at university (I actually ended up in colour and materials, not pure ID), but eighteen months later I now realise that the opportunities I have been given to grow as a designer have been way and beyond what I would have most likely been given if I’d gone for that small company role - I’ve visited factories in China, speak on a regular basis with designers around the world, and have been involved in some really exciting projects where I’ve been given a chance to feel like I am really contributing to the company’s future.

Sure, one day I would love to experience working for a tiny start-up, or even set out on my own, but right now I have the chance to really develop my career and have the support around me to do it. So…

Don’t see working within a big company as a negative, you may actually find you get more out of it than you think… just my 2 cents anyway :slight_smile:

Wow, thanks for all the really useful advice. It’s really helping me put things into a different perspective, and consider things I haven’t yet.

A professional dealing with them would look into their business plan for the next 2-3 years. How do they
think they could reach the shift. How much money are they willing to allocate to Design?
It’s a clear case of money talks. If the are willing to fund the new strategy seriously it might be a good chance.
It’s likely so, that they won’t and that all senior talent they approached signed off.


Those are really great points, and I hope I can elaborate: I asked similar questions during my interview, and the opportunity to rebrand and restructure their product offerings contributed to why I was interested in the position. I spent some time doing branding, and I loved the strategy and design implementation aspects of it. They brought in the CEO, and we talked about the company’s plans, and where I can contribute. The company is a few decades old, but so far has been very function, business, and engineering-oriented, and they wanted to “sexify” their products and start taking some risks and innovate (they’ve already lined up a branding agency to help, and wanted me to get involved w/ that too). With the understanding that we both knew I was a bit “green” but ambitious, he reassured me that if I wanted to consult for example, a plastics specialist, I could do that, and he would allocate budget to do so, as well as give me some wiggle room for failure.

With that being said, it sounded like a dream job to me. And I got so pumped! But with the advice I’m getting, I’m wondering if I’ve bitten off a lot more than I can chew, even with the bumpers up.

I just talked to some friends who had worked at the NYC company, one of them who had the exact position I was vying for, and the reviews weren’t too good and they were pretty miserable (aka quit). And they actually warned me against even considering them. Yet still, I am that desperate to move back to NYC. And unfortunate truth is, I haven’t received any other offers yet, moreso since I’m not local anymore for freelance jobs.

I’m supposed to call the CEO tomorrow to let him know how I feel, and I’m kinda torn and not sure how honest I should be with my feelings towards this situation, which he knows about and understands. I don’t know how much of this would change your guys’ opinions on the situation. Would you still recommend the NYC post?

In my experience it’s a double edged sword. Those brands that have have the most potential and could use design help areodten the ones where there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what design can do. You have to ask the big question of what is different now. If all they want is more s3x product I think it is a red flag. That’s not what good design and strategy is about and No matter how much perceived power you have you cant change anything. B


Company 2 looks to provide a better opportunity for you to make a difference in the short, and even long term. You appear to have the ambition, drive, confidence, and the company looks to have an innovative and supportive culture (it is OK to fail). You already have the CEO engaged, and out of the two it is the only one you exhibit passion for. Company 1 (NY) seems like a lower risk and possibly like your friends’ experience - lower reward. You could always work in NY trips for work related research, etc!

Be the drone. Have a life in NYC, find a spouse and settle down after a few years.
But for the love of all that is holy, save some money for the long term. Trust me.

So true

Option 2 is certainly high risk, but with that comes high reward. Do well there and in 3-5 years, before you are 30, you can come back to NYC as a king and get a great job.

Option 1 sounds like a tiny garden apartment in Queens and with 3-5 years of grunt work you get a tiny garden apartment in Brooklyn.

First, I think you are too inexperienced to do what the in-house team wants, although maybe you know something we don’t. If the CEO gives you the resources and authority to hire a team of people who are more skilled and more experienced than you, it could be a good opportunity. One thing I would also get some specifics about in your conversations with the CEO is the evaluation metrics and timeframe. How quickly are they expecting results? Since you have relatively little experience with implementation, product launch, etc, and their company has relatively little experience with design-driven work, and NPD takes a long time, are their performance evaluation criteria realistic, e.g. they’ll measure you based on how your work, maybe first 3 or 4 pieces, performs in the first three quarters after launch or something along those lines. And if they sell $X of product today, but they expect your work to result in $10X, you need to know they are being realistic with themselves. With so little experience, you need some solid performance metrics in place so you don’t find yourself swimming or working toward completely unrealistic outcomes.

Saw the OP wrote a post last night but now it’s gone… no matter.

You mentioned the company has been previously business and engineering focused and existed for 10 years and now wants to s3x up the products and bring on design (you) to do it. In my experience, this is a red flag. I’ve seen similar situations, where all of a sudden they come to design as a savior, and the initial impression (from the designer) is “great - i can only do good, it can’t get any worse! I can make some change.” Reality however is somewhat akin to trying to teach an old dog new tricks. Companies, owners, or the majority of the business people don’t wake up one day and all of a sudden change their priorities, how they see things, do business, etc. Design to be effective needs to be embraced and understood from the top down and integrated into all aspects of business from accounting and budgets to logistics and sales and marketing. Bringing in 1 designer, esp. a young inexperienced one, will never work.

I applaud you looking to take on a challenge and there is nothing wrong with that. My first design job I was brought on as a junior designer, and within 3 years was a product line manager and senior, as well as responsible for all development, marketing, branding and strategy. It wasn’t in the role or growth position for the job, but I saw an opportunity and knew I could do it, so grabbed a bigger chunk of responsibility.


:laughing: Totally channeling my mom, and I can’t deny this isn’t a factor to consider.

And iab, you totally nailed it.

Thanks so much again for all the great advice. I really appreciate it!

I just emailed the CEO with my concerns, and I suggested starting out as a contractor/consultant, and or if he would be open to having more than one designer. In the meantime, I’ll continue the job hunt…

It may take people twice as hard to learn, but it’s still possible, is this right? I guess if there is a will, there is a way. Also, what is industry standard in ID? How do you define it? That always mystified me. I’m in Ireland, and the industry standard for ID is different. For example, good product design is judged based on innovation by the Irish Design Institute (IDI). Also, based on my reading of core77 blog, I found that one company’s design culture may be completely different to another one. So transferring from one company to another can be just as steep a learning curve as being the only industrial designer in a start-up. Am I right in saying this?

I actually got a job in a start-up after my graduation, and I’m working as a part-time consultant. It’s not ID, I was hired to find a really smart way to integrate hardware with software. So it’s basically design innovation/R&D-type placement. I really like this job and the company. It is actually similar to the one which OP was talking about. I’m also the only person with my job title in the company, and it’s up to me to find a solution. The work is quite objective, but it involves an extreme amount of creativity. In your professional experience, do you think that I need a mentor for this kind of work? Or do grads need mentors for more subjective type of work, such as Industrial Design?

good advice… on the flip side if they have no performance metrics in mind, they may not know what to do with you, how to judge and just tire of the whole thing in time.