You see, here is the thing, you don’t know that you don’t know. That is OK, it is exactly how you should be, your only experience in design is what, 3-4 years in an academic setting and a few months on internship maybe?
They want to take some risks, but they don’t want to invest in an experienced design director and a design team, but instead only a fresh grad? This would be the first red flag to me. Sounds like they want to feel like they are taking risks without really taking much of a risk.
In the parlance of our times it is called paying your dues. Often the first job is not about glamour, it is about getting into a situation where you can continue to learn, contribute, and leverage that in a few years when you are ready to move on… then you can work for the guys with no design team, because you will know how to do it.
I know it is tempting. A few years ago a major European consumer electronics company asked me to consider being VP of design. VP at 33! Very, very tempting. I asked them a lot of questions, questions they had not thought of in terms of how I would be judged, the kind of team I could build, the reporting structure… and after weeks of agonizing I decided not to do it. I understood that I did not know enough, that I wasn’t done working at my level, and that a similar opportunity would present itself when the time was right.
This convo really hits home for me, but I have about 10 years of experience as a designer and design manager. I gotta say, go with Option 1, hands down, and “pay your dues”. Living in NYC while doing this will outweigh living in the sticks any day and compensate, for a time, the fact that you’ll be a “drone”. The networking opportunities in NYC alone will probably make the effort worth it. The key is to not treat the position as a rite of passage or take on the attitude that you’re just a drone, news flash, most design grads will have to go right into a position like this, humble yourself, learn, don’t be a dick, and in turn you may realize that it is an opportunity to lead by example.
Lots of fresh design grads come out thinking they can tackle anything and lead the way, don’t succumb to this false pride unless you really are a bad-ass designer and a natural leader. Option 2 isn’t just about being a great designer, it’s about being a design leader, and you probably don’t have the chops, with my experience I feel that I would barely have the chops, so don’t fool yourself.
If anything else, listen to Yo:
This all hits home for me because I am looking the possibility of an amazing position which would be very satisfying in a dead location vs. staying in a dead position in a very satisfying location…
There’s something to be said for paying your dues, but do it in a location where there is a positive relationship between your salary and the Cost of Living. If you can’t afford an adult living situation with a job/city combo, don’t go there, wherever there is. It isn’t your job to subsidize your employer and perpetuate the idea that design is cheap.
Was in a similar situation (but not completely, cause both were good locations with friends):
Full time industrial/interaction designer offer at startup with interesting work, ridiculous benefits and great location in the Bay. Would’ve been 1/3 (except one was more mech e/product development, and other was HCI), with no real mentors or ID experience in company (software startup pushing into physical world).
3 month internship at a big consultancy in NYC, low pay, tons of experienced ID, IxD, eng, to learn from, prototyping facilities.
I thought that I should learn more before pursuing a full time opportunity where the success or failure of a startup relied heavily on my experience (be honest: are you THAT good? I know I totally sucked at CAD/CMF and had no idea about manufacturing), so I took option 2. I’m learning a shit ton.