Thought

Stick or twist? How to progress your design career

Kully Sumra

An illustration of two gardeners, both mowing their lawns. They peer anxiously over the fence at the other's garden.
If you’re on a steady career path in design, it can be daunting to make a switch. But what if you know you’re not using your skills to the fullest? Following your instincts may feel like the best option, but there are a few things to consider first.

Career switches happen more than ever these days. People are chasing that feeling of fulfilment and going after what really lights them up.

Choosing a new career path is like jumping into a whole new adventure — exciting but kind of nerve-wracking too. Whether you’re itching for something new, totally over your current gig, or just want to grow in a different direction, switching up your career is a big deal.

After I left my first job, I had a major crossroads moment: “Do I stick with what I know, or shake things up?” My true interests were rooted in web and app design, and I knew deep down that pursuing a journey in print and editorial wasn’t for me.

As a designer driven by systematic approaches and a passion for intricate problem-solving, I recognised the need to explore the world of digital design. But I was worried about a few things, especially taking a hit to my paycheque and job title. (Honestly, I stressed about this a lot at first, but turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I thought).

As creative people, we’re quick to worry about what we lack, but give yourself props for what you already do. Recognising what you’re best at gives you confidence to do your best work.”

One big reason I shifted away from print and editorial was I didn’t see a solid career path there for the long haul. There was a lot of talk about ‘print is dead’ and there were very few jobs around, especially for a junior, that would allow me to create a high level of work. That’s when I started getting intrigued by the digital scene, especially UX and UI design. It was an industry that would allow me to transfer the editorial skills I already had over to a market that was booming.

Feeling stuck is a total vibe killer, and it’s not just me — lots of folks can relate. Keeping that spark alive is key to a happy, passionate and fulfilling career. We’re talking about the long game, so might as well make it a fun ride. Job satisfaction is incredibly important to me, playing a huge role in keeping my mental health in check, and shaking things up really made a difference in this aspect of my life.

Here are some of the most important things I learnt when deciding to pivot in my career:

Check what you bring to the table

As creative people, we’re quick to worry about what we lack, but give yourself props for what you already do. Recognising what you’re best at gives you confidence to do your best work. This instantly makes you a valuable employee, while allowing room for you to grow in a new environment.

Find a network you love

While face-to-face networking has always been a challenge for me, I discovered valuable communities on platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn and other social channels. These online spaces have provided me with immense opportunities to learn and connect with like-minded people. I’ve connected with some awesome creatives who’ve given me tons of guidance and support.

Learn a little somethin’

You don’t have to be a pro right off the bat, but a little head-start doesn’t hurt. Watch tutorials, dip your toes in some DIY projects, and soak up the basics. Scope out the studios that are creating incredible work — they’re your new inspiration. Never be afraid to reach out to your friends already in that industry to critique your DIY projects.

Get your hands dirty

Practical experience is like gold dust. And, if you’re between gigs, internships are your golden ticket (make sure they pay you though!). Another option, which worked for me, is to reach out to studios. You never know, they may be willing to take you on and help you grow. You can also take part in small design challenges on Twitter, and get feedback from people in the industry.

Now, back to the million-dollar question: stick or twist? If you’re itching for a change, do it! Your original skill set isn’t going anywhere, and you can always fall back on them if you want. Taking on this change could totally shape your career journey, put your happiness first and help build a path towards what you care about and where you want to go.

 

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Kully Samra

Kully (he/him) discovered the appeal of digital design and systems thinking while working in Stockholm. He returned to London as a Digital Designer at Output, where he wrote these articles exploring career progression, inclusivity and mental health in design. He moved to Saffron in November 2023, and we wish him all the best.