This is the last article in the Designer Down series. I hope this series has inspired you and given you ideas about how to overcome the more challenging moments in your design career. If it's helped, would you hit reply and tell me how? I'd love to hear about your next career goal and how you're working towards it.
Oh, and remember how this series was supposed to lead up to the second edition of Design's Iron Fist, my free design ebook? I'm sending the ebook to you next week, so watch for it!
Anyway, the last article is about the mid-point in your design career where you start experiencing all kinds of new frustrations: revisions, creative stagnation, and worse:
3-5 years into your design career, your skill will plateau. One day, you will look back over the past few designs you've made and realize you are just recycling the same ideas.
And then a client/boss will ask you to make the logo bigger. Again. And you will think about all the times over the past year when you've been forced to sacrifice your design vision, knew it wouldn't work out, but had to go along with it anyway. You'll remember how when each design launched, it was a disappointment to everyone. You'll remember thinking "I told you so."
So you try to make a change and get a new job or client, but it happens again.
You are frustrated that your skills haven't grown, and feel stuck. You don't know how to advance your career, or how you can find an opportunity to take another step forward and start making exciting design again.
Because you desperately want to make exciting design again. But your job, somehow, seems to have become a production line. You work in a design manufacturing plant. And that needs to stop because it is killing your soul.
You cannot overcome the design skill plateau by merely finding some new typography inspiration or interaction patterns to freshen up your work. The plateau is much more sinister: you are being influenced by complicating factors. You are being limited by your inability to adapt to your new environment.
Once you have managed to create a predictable design process working alone—you climbed that steep grade, fought your creative demons, smoothed out the creativity rollercoaster ride, and other metaphors—you will find that working with others becomes your biggest frustration.
Once you have finally figured out how to make great work by yourself, you will start finding yourself in new roles. You'll be seeing clients face-to-face. You'll begin presenting your work to decision makers. You will see these influences change the way you work, and you will resent it.
This plateau is normal, and it's actually a positive sign that you have grown significantly as a designer. But there is a hidden path that leads to the next peak. (Ugh metaphors.)
When I hit the plateau, I got stubborn, as I am prone to. And as so many of us designers do. I tried to enforce my way of working upon others.
But it didn't work, and I'm sure I looked like a jerk for trying to get my way. I wouldn't be surprised if some of my old coworkers thought I was arrogant or if I earned a reputation for being stubborn and not falling in line with the creative team.
What I learned over the next few years was that the way I had learned to work on my own had become a crutch. I needed to change my approach to making design if I wanted to continue to improve.
I had to learn how to make design with others.
As your design skill grows, the time you spend working alone decreases. You find that the way you are accustomed to creating design alone is not compatible to working with others. But, you need others to pay you and to unlock new opportunities for you. So you have to figure out how to work with them.
I hope I don't sound like I'm putting you in a box, but I think that many designers see ourselves as these creative adventurers. We are thinkers, explorers, provocateurs, and dissenters.
But this is what makes us seem difficult to everyone else.
To find more success as a designer, you have to balance those tendencies and learn to align yourself with others, so that they will pay you more for your art and give you opportunities to make even better art.
You want to deliver great design. You want others to appreciate your work.
In order to do that, you need to tackle a new skill: doing creative work alongside others.
Learning to design with others is the only way to move past the design skill plateau.