5 Career Challenges Every Designer Faces

Design is a career that has its own unique stresses and challenges. Many designers love what they do day to day, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where they want to tear their hair out. Many non-creatives assume that creative professionals somehow have it easier because they get to do something “fun” for a living instead of something more traditional or mundane.

Doing what you love, doesn’t mean you’re always in love with what you’re doing.

This is something most creative pros know all too well.

Here are five challenges that may be familiar to you if you’re a designer and some advice for coping with them:

  • Creative Burnout
  • Defending Your Work
  • Having Your Profession Disrespected
  • Missing a Deadline
  • Lack of Creative Control

Creative Burnout

Burnout is something that can happen after any period of time, but it is more common among seasoned professionals. Where a blank canvas once stood before you as a call to adventure and an opportunity to explore your creativity, it now is an adversary standing between you and whatever else you could be doing. Sometimes creative burnout is a direct result of doing something repetitive and not having other creative outlets.

To avoid creative burnout, many creatives take a up a different creative hobby outside of design, such as photography, writing or painting. This allows them to do something creative and enjoyable that is outside of their comfort zone and keeps creativity alive for them throughout their day to day work.

Defending Your Work

More often than not you will be working for non-creatives. This can feel frustrating if you end up in a situation where you are always defending your work and design decisions. The input and feedback you get, more often than not will make you cringe.

“Make the Logo Bigger.”

“Let’s go with this color; it’s my favorite.”

“Why can’t we just use [insert trademark infringing thing here]”

We’ve all had to deal with this, and the temptation could be to just do what you’re told, keep your head down and let the client or employer deal with the consequences. Orders are orders after-all, and what do you know, you’re just the designer, the person who actually has a background in executing on these things. There is also the other side of the coin, ranting and railing and insisting you know best.

The best thing you can do is this situation is pick what is behind door number three, go with empathy. Calmly and concisely explain why you made a certain decision, or what the consequences of their request are, offer reasonable alternatives and/or compromises that you think are in the best in interest of the project. Ask them legitimate questions as to why they want to go in a certain direction, you’ll likely find that they aren’t 100% committed to an execution so much as an envisioned outcome.

Having Your Profession Disrespected

This one is a bit more difficult to address. Nobody likes to be taken for granted or have it implied that their job is easy. Often statements like that are made out of naiveté rather than malice, but it still stings and can be infuriating. Maybe you’ve heard the following before as a designer:

“It must be nice to just make pretty pictures for a living.”

“I can get someone to do that on Fiverr, design shouldn’t cost that much.”

“Doesn’t Photoshop do most of the work?”

You’ve likely heard this or similar comments before. Instead of replying back with a snarky comment (like I normally do) you should probably take the high ground, and let them know, that while you love what you do it, it isn’t easy and remind them that from the outside their job looks easy too.

In the case of clients or bosses, you can gently remind them that everyone wants to be in charge and that nobody really appreciates the stress and the hard choices they have to make. Again, this is an exercise in empathy. Sometimes it is difficult to put aside our hurt of frustration at not being appreciated or acknowledged for our hard work. Ultimately what we want is to be understood, and getting there means understanding where other people are coming from and educating them so they can get to the place we need them to be.

Missing a Deadline

The thought of missing a deadline sends most designers into panic attacks. Ideally you will want to avoid this, but in the event that it somehow is going to happen or is beyond your control, you have to find a way to deal with it.

One of the first things you should do is be realistic about what this means for you and what it means for the stakeholder. In most situations, deadlines are self-imposed and have room for flexibility. These are what are known as “soft deadlines”. In the digital world, we have more of these than we did one or two decades ago. In the event something is a hard deadline to go to print, or some other inflexible situation, the only thing you can do is not lose your composure, be truly remorseful and accept the consequences.  The main thing is how you deal with it and how you are able to make the stakeholder feel. If they feel you are contrite and this is out of character or was beyond your control and that you handled yourself professionally, there is a real chance that the fallout for you will be very minimal. If you instead respond emotionally to this, the odds are it won’t end well.

Lack of Creative Control

Feeling a lack of control and ownership over your work can be the most difficult thing for a designer or any creative professional. Unfortunately, it is a reality of doing work for hire. The client or employer gets to dictate the art direction more often than not, and very early in your career you’ll likely be little more than an executor for someone’s creative vision. Instead of letting this cripple you, view this as an opportunity to hoard your true creativity for yourself. Use your free time to do personalized projects or even take on (non-competing) client work, not for exposure, but for the experience of doing work where you can negotiate full creative control and really explore your creativity.

This can help you develop your design sense, build your own style, and create a body of work you are truly proud of. It can be very rewarding to feel a sense of true ownership over your work and have a body of work that truly represents you.

Later in your career you will likely find that this work is what you become known for.

What are your creative challenges and struggles?

Did anything on this list resonate with you? Do you have an experience with a creative struggle that you want to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Also share this with any other creatives you know and remind them how real the fight for creative freedom really is!

Posted on: August 19, 2016

Roberto Blake

Roberto Blake is a Graphic Designer helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses improve their branding and presentations. Roberto also teaches Graphic Design and Adobe Tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. Roberto's Photoshop artwork has been featured in publications such as Advanced Photoshop and Photoshop Creative Magazine. See robertoblake.com

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