When you're no longer designing...

Although hired to be a senior level ID’er, I’ve found myself doing little if any actual design work. Rather, I’m doing everything related to bringing a consumer-electronics product to the end customer. Worked with a software firm to get the PCB designed but other than that, I did everything else. FCC applications, software testing, CAD for the plastic body, tool drawings, graphic design, owner’s manual (including legal lingo,) sourcing parts, production set-up, materials inventory, packaging, etc. Literally everything.

Now granted, it’s excellent experience as I can now say that I know just about every facet of what it’s involved in bringing a concept to life. OK, lesson learned, but I don’t want to do this anymore!! My background is product design and development, not manufacturing support, logistics, customer service and product-line management. Let me do what I’m good at (well, reasonable at least) and that I actually enjoy. All this other stuff is mentally draining and makes Sunday evenings extremely depressing.

Have others fallen into this career trap? How can you tell your employer that you don’t want to perform roles that you weren’t hired for? Since I’m tied up with all this other stuff, I never get a free minute to actually work on new products, though they keep asking for it. I mean, you shouldn’t be expected to do your job (i.e, designing the product) in addition to 4-5 other jobs that really need individual focus.

I feel your pain in a different way. I was brought on to improve the product line of my employer filling it out and just really giving a complete design make over. In the process I manged to create a hit product for the company. It very well might be there best selling and most consumer friendly product ever. But in my review they completely brushed over this and just generally complained about me not doing four or five other jobs. I have felt really let down. This is why it is similar to your situation your doing work that is needed but not in you job description. I am doing what I was brought in for but not getting respect for that work because apparently that was not what was needed. Should have gone your route.

That’s where you and I differ. I consider it a career opportunity as I got bored with the ID thing.

But back to your problem. Do you have any power to outsource those activities you don’t like? If not, it may be time for that come-to-Jesus talk with your manager. Also, managing those activities instead of doing those activities would be a boost to your career.

You will need to structure the conversation to “what’s in it for the company”. For example, by adding 50% more resources, you can be 300% more productive, blah, blah, blah (put in whatever numbers are actually correct). Changing your obligations may make 6ix a happy camper, but that is a “what’s in it for you”. While employee satisfaction is somewhat important to a manger, the bottom line is an easier sell.

I’m not quite there yet, but I work at a small firm and it’s unavoidable to end up doing a fair amount of non-design “office work”.
I’ve found freedom and happiness in personal projects outside of work. It’s so important for me to have that balance, creative outlet, and control over a project. The hardest thing is finding time, but when the project is fun it’s easier. And when you start seeing results, it’s all worth it.

Like iab hinted, being resourceful is a gift and a curse. At the end of the day most of us got into ID thinking we’d be sketching the day away on cool new ideas, but the reality of it isn’t always as glamorous.

Case in point: I spent 2 hours of my day on Friday re-mapping ports on our Keyshot license server so our designers overseas could use the network licenses.

Now it was never in my job description to be the IT Admin. And it would have been very easy to just go to my boss and say “Hey, these guys need 2 seats of Keyshot, that’ll be $5k” but at some point you as a person found ways to get stuff done that other people may have passed off, and that’s a good quality to have, even though if it becomes draining.

If it impacts your core ability to do work, then it is something you need to discuss with your boss. Not because you don’t want to do it, but because you see yourself ultimately bringing more value by doing new products. The real question is someone still needs to do all of that work, so it’s up to them to decide how to handle it. It could be through outsourcing, it could be through a new hire, or perhaps it’s just a matter of time management where he needs to say “1 week a month you get to ignore all those responsibilities and focus on new products” - even if that means backlogging the rest of the pipe.

At the end of the day if you’re resourceful enough you should be able to go to him with a clear plan that he just has to say yes to, rather than a general “this is hard and I don’t want to do it anymore”. An already thought out solution that you prefer is better than presenting a problem and letting him decide how to handle it.

Good thoughts above. Think of it like this, the company does not pay you for what you want to do, they pay you for what they need you to do. If those two things don’t align, the design problem is how do you convince the company that it would be more beneficial (fulfill their needs) for you to be working on more design centric tasks, and those other tasks would be better completed by someone who finds that work fulfilling.

Unless you work for a large design org at a company or firm (and even if you do) this will always be a continual effort. I have similar pulls. Coming to a company that had little in the way of design and building out a team, I am continually delegating requests to us that are better served by another group or discipline and crashing into tasks that were not assigned to us but that I want us to handle. Saying it is tricky is an understatement, but once I accepted managing this work flow expectation alignment as an ongoing part of my job I got more patient about it. Instead of feeling like those situations were weighing me down, I started seeking them out as opportunities to proactively teach the organization where design could contribute. The result has been pretty interesting as design has been wading into mapping the org structure as a result.

Make the rules. It’s not easy, but it is more fun.

It’s up to you to own your job responsibilities and take advantage of opportunities. You have 3 choices.

  1. Embrace the non-design tasks and effectively position yourself as a project champion that owns the entire process, design and all. This is a great path to larger management and more responsibility.

  2. Tell the organization that you don’t want to/can’t do the other jobs, delegate to someone else, or find another job.

  3. Do the other jobs, but do a crappy job, so they won’t give you the work anymore. You may also find yourself without a job quickly.

If you can be master of your own destiny, and find a way to get a balance that workds for you, despite being in a situation you didn’t plan on, you can come out stronger. If all you want to do is sharpen pencils, sketch and do CAD all day, that’s fine too, but I would think bigger picture.

I probably do hands-on design work 10% of total time.

With your experience bringing your own product to market, I would think you could easily become a big picture expert and have much more value than being “just” a designer.


Career trap? Sounds like the opposite to me…

Thanks for the comments and suggestions. As always, very helpful.

Been professional ID’er for 14 years and have no visions of drawing pretty pictures all day. As rkuchinsky noted, it’s certainly a great resume addition to say I handled the entire design process from concept to store shelf. What I really can’t stand is having to deal with customer service issues, inventory control of components, payment terms, shipping, etc. Just like you guys, I have a unique set of skills in the company. There are others that can perform these tasks and are actually much better suited to them than I, but they can’t design. So why have me do those tasks and keep me from doing new product?

At my current place of employment, it is up to the npd department to do all of the tasks you listed to obtain first lot to stock and until launch. First lot to stock and launch are very typically done concurrently.

Prior to launch, we have a series of meetings to transition those duties from npd to accounting, sales, customer service, purchasing, QA, etc. We tell them what we learned and will assist in the transition period. At launch, it is a clean break, we are back to npd and they do what they do.

Are you doing their duties after launch? If you are, you will need to go to the boss of bosses to discuss roles and responsibilities of your department and other departments prior to and after launch. Saying you will assist in the transition will help your case.

Nice post!