A reader writes...
"Hey Danelle, I have a bit of a quandary that I was wondering if you may be able to provide some guidance.
I've been able to maneuver myself into a position at my current job where I am starting to mostly work on the UI/UX of our new projects (web apps); however, there is no real value put in overall design or aesthetics of our apps, and I am feeling the need to be able to do work where the creative aspect of design is encouraged, but I'm not quite sure where to look.
I am working a freelance on the side, but I'm struggling with the question of whether doing side projects is enough to keep me sane, or if I need to just find a new job, where design and the creative is a bigger focus.
Any thoughts or questions to ask myself or breadcrumbs to follow that you could think of would be very much appreciated 😃"
This is a common situation I have not only found myself in, but am asked about often. I thought it may be helpful to address as a post for others to benefit or open discussion. I suggest a few possible approaches.
Work on improving the culture within your organization
There are ways to influence culture in large and small organizations.
- Educate yourself on how to align design principles with business objectives.
- Educate others
- Identify similar mindsets within your organization
- Push projects in the right direction and follow through to note the business results of your efforts.
Chris Cashdollar gave a great talk about this, which I recommend checking out. He mentions the importance of educating others and I agree strongly. Chris also introduced me to the book The User Experience Team of One. Attend local design events and discuss with other designers - you aren't alone. See how others have dealt with this.
Personally, I enjoy these types of challenges. Building workflows and teams knowing you are setting your business up for success in the long run can be satisfying. It takes time, patience and a drive to want your business to succeed. In my experience, it usually takes at least one other advocate in your organization. You may be surprised to know that there are others who feel the same. That can be very empowering in itself.
You also have to be ok with doing things without asking for permission. Sometimes all it takes it to stop thinking about your career as a servant, and more as a service you provide. Are you doing your best for the business? If you know you can do better just do it, even if they don't understand why yet. Make sure you track your work and find the right ways to measure outcomes.
It can be rewarding to go this route if you are willing to push for it.
Look for a new job
If you don’t feel you have any support for even your current situation, this may be where you are at. Maybe you have the support but you aren’t passionate about the company itself or investing in a long term culture change. If so, I recommend doing some side projects like you are. Outline ways that design could create value at work even if you aren’t able to execute them. This could be great starting points for interviews and even portfolio / case studies. If a potential employer knows what you can identify opportunities, this can illustrate your passion and understanding of applying principles.
Here is a related read that might be helpful in finding the right thing for you next: Working Within the Design Process You Support.
Side Projects While Working
Personally, I say if you want to do side work it should be because:
- You are working to find problems to solve in a new job and build your portfolio
- You are looking to build clients and solve problems to become independent. This could mean freelance work or building your own business.
- You are filling gaps of skills that you can apply to your work in your job, but won’t do this forever. Maybe in seasons as needed (this is what I do from time to time).
Whatever you choose, none of these options will guarantee you out of this situation for good. It's likely you will encounter it again. So take lessons, learn what worked for you and use it to set your sights even tighter on the career you want for yourself.