Designing A Career Path

By Julie Anixter, Executive Director at AIGA

Before designers can plot a direction for their careers, they have to understand the myriad opportunities available to them. The domains of design are as varied as the applied skill sets. You might be designing for a page one day and for an enterprise or service experience the next, and all of those opportunities are connected.

The career path for designers is expanding. Instead of imaging and depicting “pretty things,” designers are expected now to be strategists, managers, operational project managers and problem solvers.

Morphing With The Industry

The poet Frank O’Hara wrote, “Grace to be born and live as variously as possible.” Designers are graced in two ways: First, they are trained to solve problems – to imagine future state solutions and create them. Second, they can apply those same skills to the profession itself as it continuously morphs.

What does that “morphing” look like? Here’s just one example: A brand leader in a major Fortune 50 company said to me yesterday that they were, like “everyone else, in the throes of trying to figure out their content strategy.” When you factor all the choices companies have about how to connect with their audiences, coming up with a content strategy can mean a million different things. But no matter what direction that strategy goes, it will be informed, if not in part driven by, design. The research, insight, actual selection and representation of that content, delivery, channel and engagement opportunities, measurement, and indexing are all part of an experience that is either designed, or not.

Exploring New Opportunities

There are many career opportunities that serve the never-ending demand for content and holistic brand and user experiences: strategists, creative directors, communications/graphic/experience designers, UX/UI designers, coders, caterers, researchers, environmental installation artists, writers, illustrators, filmmakers, set designers, coders, producers, sound designers, information architects, color experts, educators, lawyers, accountants, and project managers for all of the above.

There are design entrepreneurs like Maria Giudice, Brian Collins, Dana Arnett, Joe Gebbia, Deb Adler and more, who create products and companies. Then there are great opportunities for true rebel individualists like Annie Atkins whose unique skill in creating high fidelity films sets has made her Wes Anderson’s go-to designer. Atkins and Gebbia will both be at our AIGA Design Conference on October 12-14. We use that event to showcase the breadth of design career journeys and the incredible AIGA community that serves as the design ecosystem that supports, sustains and connects them.

Preparing For Any Future

I always encourage designers to be curious and to never stop learning about the world, as well as their own profession. Also, I would challenge them to devote the time to becoming an expert in something, even though that could take 10,000 hours, according to Malcolm Gladwell. Designers also must be willing to treat their own careers like a design-thinking exercise or collage and continuously pivot, add, subtract, and edit.

The main thing is to not be afraid of being afraid, as the martial artists say, and to find people who you can hang with, talk with, and who you can share the journey with. Joining AIGA, the professional association for design, can be a great way to enter a community of people and who are generous in sharing their knowledge and experience and can help you discover all of the incredible options for a career in design today.


JULIE-ANIXTER_840 Julie Anixter is the Executive Director at AIGA — the profession’s oldest and largest professional membership organization for design — with more than 70 chapters and more than 25,000 members.