The Reality Check
I’ve been laid off multiple times during three different economic downswings. It’s a humbling experience, to say the least. You start questioning your skills, your worth, and even your career choice. And now, as we step into an era where generative AI and other cheaper alternatives threaten to replace many aspects of a designer’s work, the need for an escape plan becomes even more crucial.
When Companies Don’t Value Design
We’ve all been there—working for a company that just doesn’t get it. They see design as an afterthought, a “prettying up” process rather than an integral part of product development or branding. In such environments, it’s tough to demonstrate the value you bring to the table. So, what do you do?
The Escape Plan: Internal Shift
Speak Their Language: Learn to translate your design decisions into business metrics. Show how a well-designed user interface can increase user engagement, for example.
Find Allies: Connect with other departments that understand the value of design. Marketing teams often get it; they know that good design equals good business.
Upskill: Learn adjacent skills that make you more valuable. Think about mastering UX design principles or diving into front-end development.
The Escape Plan: External Shift
Network, Network, Network: Keep your LinkedIn updated and engage with your network. You never know when an opportunity might come knocking.
Freelance On The Side: Build a portfolio of freelance projects. It’s a good safety net and also a way to diversify your skills.
Consider a Career Pivot: Sometimes, the industry itself may not value design as much as it should. In such cases, think about pivoting to roles that encapsulate design thinking but may not be design-centric, such as product management.
The AI Threat and The Future
Generative AI is fascinating but also a bit terrifying for designers. While it can handle repetitive tasks, freeing us to focus on more creative endeavors, it also poses a threat to entry-level jobs in the industry.
The Escape Plan: Embrace the Change
Learn AI Basics: Understanding the technology that threatens to replace you can offer insights into how to make yourself irreplaceable.
Focus on Strategy: AI can create, but it can’t strategize. Your understanding of business needs and user psychology is something no AI can replicate.
Be Human: At the end of the day, design is about solving problems for people. And who understands people better than other people?
Having an escape plan isn’t about admitting defeat; it’s about being prepared for the uncertainties that life throws at you. As designers, our work is often misunderstood or undervalued, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt and thrive. So, let’s be proactive rather than reactive and navigate through this ever-changing landscape with confidence and resilience.