Alternative careers for graphic designers

If your design job has lost its shine, and you want to explore alternative career options, read on.

I can probably guess why you’re here…

Being a graphic designer is tough: clients are demanding, bosses want pixel perfection, and the hours are often long and stressful.

So it’s only natural to question your chosen career path from time to time.

But before you quit your design job, you need to be sure exactly what is currently causing you dissatisfaction about your career — otherwise you could find yourself feeling exactly the same about your new bob.  

Questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking about quitting your design job

If you don’t want to be a graphic designer any more, here are some things to ponder before making your next move….

What parts of the job do you still enjoy?
Maybe you’re a people person, and it’s the client communication side of being a designer that you enjoy most. Or maybe you’re a geek at heart, and it’s actually the technology that makes you tick. Thing about the parts of your job you find most satisfying, and write them down in a list.

What parts of your design job are you best at? This will help you figure out what transferrable skills do you have. Is there one part of your role that you could zoom in and specialise on? If you’re not sure, you can (discreetly) ask your colleagues/friends/family for their input.

What attracted you to being a graphic designer in the first place?
This one’s about motivation. What makes you tick as a creative person? (Or what used to?) Think back to when you first got started in the design industry… you know, before you got bitter and twisted… what did you believe in at the start of your career? And what still gets you out of bed in the morning?

Exploring alternative careers in the graphic design industry

The simplest option is to look for a similar job at a new company, maybe in a new country if you’re feeling radical. Sometimes this change of scenery (and of colleagues) is all you need to start feeling good about work again.

You also have lots of other options in the design industry — especially when you consider that the UK has the second-largest design sector in the world, and the largest design industry in Europe.

Become a freelance graphic designer

If it’s control that you crave, going freelance is a great way to get it. As a freelancer you’ll get to call the shots when it comes to choosing who you work with — but you’ll have more responsibilities as a result. So be prepared to spend up to 50% of your time doing non-design tasks like emailing, admin, accounting… and actually finding clients to work with!

Go behind the scenes as a project manager or account handler

As documented in Represent’s Behind the Design report, “project managers, account handlers and producers are the unsung heroes of the creative industries, working away behind the scenes making projects happen all the way from pre-pitch to post-delivery”.

Project management is a crucial role in any design studio, with a salary to match. Senior project managers can reportedly expect a salary north of £55,000 in London.

Intrigued by business? Switch to strategy

Behind any large-scale corporate design project there’s usually a strategist or three, responsible for determining not only how their client portrays themselves, but also how they operate as a business.

Work with words, as a copywriter

For me there’s something immensely refreshing about the limited toolkit available as a copywriter, compared to the almost infinite array of colours, typefaces and layouts that designers can choose from. As a writer, it’s just you, the 26 letters of the alphabet, and the basic rules of grammar; the rest is up to you. If a career as a wordsmith appeals, check out my introduction to copywriting for the web, and let me know how you get on.

Go digital: Become a web developer or information architect

Good news! After pushing pixels in Photoshop, you already have the eye for detail that’s required to make websites. Picking up code is easier than it used to be — you can learn online with the likes of Treehouse or in person at code schools like SuperHi. You can choose to become a hybrid designer/developer (aka the mythical unicorn), or make the switch completely — but either way your design chops will give you a unique advantage in the web development world. And likewise, a career in UX is a highly viable option as well.

Stop the press: print isn’t dead

Despite reports to the contrary, the print industry is still very much alive and kicking. Specialising in one particular subset of print can be a great way to stand out, like London-based designer/screenprinter Dan Mather. Dan specialises in water-based screenprinting, and has combined his print expertise with a design education from the London College of Communication to work with a diverse mix of clients in the design and cycling industries.

Life after graphic design — exploring careers in other design fields

If you still love the process of design, but need to quit being a graphic designer, there are a a multitude of other design careers out there for you. You get to transfer all of your skills (problem solving, aesthetic appreciation, the ability to work under pressure), but enjoy a new set of creative challenges.

You could switch from 2D to 3D, and work as a packaging, industrial or interior designer.

Or stay closer to home with the new field of service design. This involves planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service.

Other visual professions might appeal too, photography, illustration or animation roles are all common paths for graphic designers to take.

Not making progress as fast as you’d like?

Switching careers can be a long, drawn out process. (As someone who is several years into the process, I can assure you that it’s worth it though).

If things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like, remember that your job is never a trap, unless you see it as one.

It’s time to stop thinking about alternative design careers, and start taking action.

Here’s to your next step on a new career path.

— James

Further reading for grumpy graphic designers

PS. There’s more… :) … you can read all of my articles on graphic design here

Posted to graphic-design in 2017.

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