Hello Marina,

thank you for writing to me, and I am so sorry that you are now questioning your future in design. It is clear that you are committed to making things better, and that you understand very well, the purpose of design.

I am sad that you have been told you are too emotional in your job. I have read too many times, this accusation aimed at women in the workplace, as a way of undermining their experience and opinions. From what I can tell from your message, what you are actually doing is having a viewpoint, and asserting it, for the best result. That is not being emotional.

Aside from this, I too have had times, earlier in my career (probably around the same time as you — 8 years in), when I really wasn’t enjoying my job. Every design project was changed by someone higher-up in the organisation than me, or by someone who gave their personal taste as a reason for changing something. I did not have a way of successfully arguing for my design decisions, against the structures of the organisation I was working for.

The good news, is that design as a profession, has never been in better shape, or had more respect in business (and in government). The whole approach to design is now much more focused on users, and this is a great way to settle disputes. If you think a design should be a certain way, and a colleague/client thinks it should be another — test it! Get real evidence to back up your reasoning.

Apple — number three on the Fortune 500 companies list — has design at the very centre of its operations. Banks and governments around the world cannot hire designers quickly enough, to run user-centred design programmes. Everyone needs designers!

Of course, there will always be organisations that do not value design, or at least, know they need it, but don’t know how to create an environment where design can flourish. Whether that’s by standing over your shoulder, telling you how to change things (instead of agreeing some new outcomes for a project, for you to figure out how to solve), or telling you that your arguments are based on emotion, rather than your expertise. In those kinds of situation, you can either try and change the environment, convince people that there are better ways of using design to solve a problem, or you can decide the environment is toxic, and leave.

Having said all that, I used to get very emotional (angry) about projects where my input was not valued. It did not get me anywhere. Now I am older and (a bit) wiser, I do not get angry about difficulties on projects. I work out whether I can change the dynamic of the relationship, in order to get a better result, or if not, I do as I am asked, then move on. I have done this a few times as a freelance designer.

Not getting into arguments about projects anymore, does not mean I am less professional, or I just bend over and give the client what they ask for, instead of what they need. I am happy to make changes, if the client’s reasoning is valid, or if we have evidence from testing.

I care about my work, but I am not precious about my work. I can drop an idea like a stone (however awesome I think it is), if there is a good reason why it might not work, or if another solution is better.

Yes, design is a job, and having a ‘business head’ is helpful, especially when you are doing low-budget work. Choose those kinds of projects for the right reason. Are they interesting? Will you learn something from them? Is there an opportunity to work with an interesting person? You learn to set clear boundaries (how long you will spend on the project, how much input a client should be allowed, etc). But just because design is ‘just a job’, does not mean you should not put all of your passion into it. Just know when to step back and act like a business person.

I hope you will choose to give design another chance. It seems like you are a committed practitioner, and many organisations would benefit from your input. Sadly, it can be an uphill struggle for many, especially women. I am lucky as a man, to have benefited from the privileges in a male-dominated industry. It meant I could dedicate all my mental strength to improving my craft.

I am sorry you are questioning your future, but this is understandable, and most designers have been in the same situation. Good luck — it is a brilliant time to be a designer. I hope you find the right job!

Written by

Lead designer. Personal website: http://www.deanvipond.com

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