Are you satisfied?

There are no shortcuts to realising your design dreams. But set yourself some realistic expectations and you’ll get there, eventually, says Corey Holms

Unrealistic expectations end up being the source of unhappiness in both work and life. The vast majority of designers aren’t doing what they did in university. There you’re taught to find your voice; to be the author of your work. Few working designers will have that opportunity: they have to do what the client wants, often in a style mandated by their employer or the client. This dissonance ends up breeding a whole sector of people who are vaguely dissatisfied at work and don’t really understand why.

In school, the types of projects you do are not true depictions of studio work. The principles are applicable and correct, but the work is presented with so much more glamour than there generally is in working life. Students would likely rebel if they were told their first project would be to design a pizza menu or set an actuary table for an annual report. The project you’re given has a dream client that lets you do whatever you want, ignore budgets and make all the major decisions. You get to play creative director for those school years, so it’s not a big surprise that when your job in the design field doesn’t allow you the same kind of leeway, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

I recently saw a designer on a forum complaining that he had been unable to find work for over two years. The reason ended up being because he would only work in the public sector (museums and academic design). Over my entire career, I’ve worked for a museum only once, because that type of job is few and far between, especially in the States where art funding is different from in the UK. Restricting myself to a sector that offers a limited number of commissions and already has a large pool of designers to choose from would have meant that I missed out on working for some really great clients on some amazing projects. I’m not saying that those public sector jobs aren’t out there – they definitely are – but this kind of work is unlikely to make up the foundation of your practice. Again, we’re back to being dissatisfied because our expectations don’t match the reality of the situation.

All the stuff you want to happen can happen. It just takes a long time and there’s a lot to soldier through. There’s no shortcut, you just have to do the work. You have to meet reality on reality’s terms, not on yours. There are a few people who begin their career at the top and start an award-winning agency straight out of school, but the number of those can easily be counted. Divide that by the statistics of designers graduating annually, and you get a pretty scary number. If you just look at it pragmatically, chances aren’t good. But those who stick it out, work hard and have innate talent, end up rising in the ranks or getting a client list that enables them to go off and start their own company. It’s all attainable, just not as fast or as easy as you want it to be. Managing your expectations and having achievable, realistic goals keeps you going, and before you know it, you’re actually, kinda… enjoying it.