When I was a young girl (a student), I wanted to have a creative job that will be my personal passion, not just 9-5 work. Here is what I learned working as a designer for big companies as well as for small design agency and why I decided to switch to development.
What I wish I knew before…
– Design is not art. This means that the job itself has too many constraints to actually be “artistic”. Yes it is creative, but only within the limitations of budget, technical systems, company workflows, etc. It gets dry very quickly and in many places it daily work can revolve around tweaking and patching things up instead of actual product/content creation. This means that with each work experience you kind of get limited in your design exposure.
– Design is underpaid. It is also undervalued. Everybody thinks that they can design or at least have an opinion what a “good” design is. Unless you are very established in your field so the company wants to hire exactly you to promote and put extra value to the brand, it means that you can quickly become a glorified design assistant if you don’t have the pushy mindset.
– Once again, it is underpaid. This is not important when you are young, because you think future will be better. For many people, it just stays kind of the same unless – I repeat – they become very successful and established so that their name becomes a brand in itself. Is this possible? With hard work, certainly yes. Is this realistic for everybody? Not really, as not everyone has equal life opportunities and mental persistance to resist all odds all the time. At some point I felt that my desire to make it in creative field is outweighted by external factors that are beyond my control. Many times it is expected that designers will work for free (design challenges during the interviews) or when you get employed, you need to lower your salary expectations in order to stay competitive. Which, again, is ok for some time, but not for extended period. – Everyday work is more often than not as dry and boring as creating & managing an SQL database, lol. So, I would rather be drilling my knowledge in IT field where this kind of work will at least be valued than working under the same (technical) principle in a field that is so undervalued and which most companies just see as a “dessert” on their food menu.
– Life doesn’t stop at first job. Yes, with lots of persistence you can indeed get a job in not-in-demand field, but then? Your opportunities for career improvement, advancement and career change will still be low, or at least much lower than if you were building your experience in an in-demand field! this is something that I did not realise as a young person, because I was so focused on getting the very FIRST job. In the not-in-demand fields often the fist job could be your last job IF you are not careful and build extra skills in a different, more attractive areas.
– When I design, I design for the company according to their requirements. It can be brilliant, but it still has a scope. When I write / make art, this work is only mine. I own it 100%. There are no constraints except the constraint of actually producing HONEST and AUTHENTIC work – even when not technically perfect! For this reason my personal preference will always be “pure” art, because wherever money is involved, there is no freedom to really own the product. And this owning the product is a dream and motivation of most of art/design students, I would say.
– Development is paid more for a reason. It is more difficult. There I said it. Yes, I am aware how hard design is to learn, how much sacrifice it takes to train your eye for nuances of typography, colors, layout organisation, etc. but the level of “hardness” is just not the same. In design you can improvise, play around, it generally has lower entry barrier in a sense that average person can become mediocre designer with much less effort than a mediocre developer. Honestly, to become even a completely mediocre developer (carbon copy of other developers) is technically HARD – you are not allowed to improvise and are facing mysterious errors all the time. Design handles improvisation much better, but in capitalist system the consequence is that many people think that they can design, while only very few rise to the top and have creative freedom that each designer strives for.