Even if many of us at least partly recognize ourselves in your otherwise well written tale of hurt pride, itâ€™s a good thing I came across your piece on one of my better days at the studio. And thanks for reminding me why I only answer to myself now to make a living.
That said, some perspective on your professional obituary (after only 5 years work?) is sorely needed. I too did some monkey POP work years ago and, yes, the semi-literate peddlers running these shops are aptly described in your letter. But so what? Most of us know it’s the bottom of the barrel. And confusing graphic, interior and product designers happens in other industries too because the design occupation is so loosely defined and the term misappropriated. I remember interviewing for positions where HR thought industrial designers were draftsmen or manufacturing setup technicians - engineers did all creative work. Right.
If you are familiar with Core posts you will find a lot of struggle for recognition but also that designers as a whole are a very passionate, energetic and resourceful lot. This is likely what got your self-pitying missive some laconic or less sympathetic responses. For many of us, advancing our professional standing is almost like fighting a war, so crybabies are uninspiring, to put it candidly.
More designers, especially unfulfilled ones, need to understand that modern industrial design in America was born as a government-aided artifice to help pull the country out of the Depression and drum up consumer spending through “beautifying” already engineered objects. Compared to even other applied arts fields, industrial design is still a baby in the woods in terms of professional maturity, especially because we have not had any more Loewys or Dreyfusses since the 30s to inject business with the same enthusiasm and optimism about the future. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to affect any durable positive change with stories like yours. And I agree you do not come across as spoiled or arrogant, but nonetheless you’re bleeding your ego very much in public and, to be honest, it doesn’t come across well. What’s more, we all heard the tune before and know itâ€™s messy out there.
Note we are talking about the role of design in America specifically, where for all the feel-good BusinessWeek initiatives, we still have a very long way to go and, mostly, to start putting our money where our mouth is. This IS happening, albeit so slowly it barely registers on anyone’s radar. In the meantime, countries like Holland and Switzerland have government positions to ensure the use of good design in society whenever possible. Western Europe considers design a social force for the betterment of life, in America it is strictly a business tool for now.
You and I can talk until we’re blue in the face about the design employment picture 10-15 years ago but I dare you to come up with solid evidence that the quantity and quality of good design all around us hasn’t increased exponentially since. I recall the consumer electronics market of 20 years ago where you had overpriced Sony at one end and literally tones of instant junk from what were then emerging Chinese factories. Anyone here ever cut himself on flash from crappily molded plastic trinkets, for instance? Pressed the Play button once and it stayed there? Well, you did then.
We must admit product design as a professional activity (wink to residential architecture) tends to be a more refined, sophisticated endeavor than is the norm in America, historically disdainful of anything that smacks of European elitism or “bourgeois tastefulness”. We’re a young, gung-ho, action-oriented society with little patience for the million details needed to elevate humans from a pragmatic life of survival to one on a higher plateau. In many ways, design in America hasn’t progressed much in how it is applied since its streamlining heydays. As for the buying public, it knows quality and value when they see it but, no matter, they are far less in control of what ends up on the shelves than they like to believe. As designers, we can do either of two things in the desert - keep walking in search of water or plant a tree and start an oasis. Neither is easy or free of risk.
Right after school I worked in quick succession at a variety of tough jobs hardly related to product design but wherever I was I tried to make a constructive difference in someone else’s life and learn from it. That was always my supreme goal in design school, not the six-figure salary, fancy lofts and cool company you mention. In fact I thought â€œcoolnessâ€ the very antithesis of responsible design and strictly another profitable corporate scam of monumental proportions. I returned to product design almost through the back door but I always sought out the less traditional applications for it and practically made it a point to avoid the places designers flocked to. Although I took a great deal of peer flack for it at the time for preaching to the unconverted, and paid a high personal price for some decisions, in retrospect it was the best thing to do professionally and I never lacked interesting paid work since.
Granted, each story is an individual one as is each life lived. Your questions are too broad to receive a complete answer on this forum but I encourage you to read through Core and other design sites and not naively expect an endless outpouring of ready made solutions, quick fixes and unconditional support with a single post. People not only don’t have the time but none of us is in the privileged position to be your Oracle and guide you. And if I were, Iâ€™d charge you serious dough for that too.
Try a talk with your ex professors and school director about your situation. This is also a great opportunity to blow off some steam where you can at least make a difference. Schools should really keep track of how their graduates fare over time, if only for their own marketing purposes. If ID schools don’t, well, we now know why.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. This was hardly ever a field for the job-begging kind, more for the independent minded who can think beyond the severely retarded design school curricula and its obsolete definition of ID. There are tremendous lucrative opportunities opening up for designers all the time but they require individuals who see the larger picture and are willing to go up against the flow, not with it. Too many expect the world to change for them but are unwilling to take a good look at themselves first. See if this is not your case too.