Designers: how to prepare for a recession

How to prepare for a recession? This is the question most designers and creatives are asking themselves as we stare at the news headlines. The experts at Figma are here to offer some tips on making yourself more recession proof. 

We've spoken with Figma's Design Advocate Luis Ouriach and Figma's Insights and Analysis expert Andrew Hogan, who share their advice for improving your chances of making it out of these hard times.

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Designers, how to prepare for a recession

How to prepare for a recession; a man working at a computer

Get mentally prepared for a recession or downturn in work (Image credit: Getty Images / holaillustrations)

We ask Luis Ouriach about his thoughts on staying resilient in the face of adversity, and he offers us some good advice for a recession and for generally staying in control in a design career that can be full of challenges.

"Design is (unfortunately) often subjective in nature, which means that we can find ourselves in situations where business authority can question our good intentions," explains Ouriach. "What makes designers great is our ability to have strong instinct, research-driven solutions, and a natural flair for creativity, so it can be really hard to feel that rejection of our ideas when it does happen."

He continues: "Something I try to say to all designers is that the first thing we should feel comfortable with is discomfort. It’s easy to attach emotion to the work we produce, but this only increases our chances for disappointment. This means that the less pressure we place on our ideas, the less of a blow it will feel if one doesn’t make it to production."

This is good advice for any one who is new to freelancing too, as you need to learn how to take criticism of your work. We have a great series of helpful videos on 'How to overcome freelance hurdles' that you should look at, too.

Ouriach says he has two golden rules to work by in order to overcome the hurdles he outlines above, and can help when you're asking yourself, 'how to prepare for a recession?' These are:

  • Always be two steps ahead
  • Expectations lead to disappointment

Keeping these rules in mind and using them daily, Ouriach says he you can "protect myself from this adversity by making sure that I’m aligned with what I value". This means in practice he can allow himself a moment of failure (which we all have at some point) in order to be able to rethink an idea and approach a project in a new way.

"If there’s a creative setback," he says, "I know that I wasn’t expecting the idea to be perfect from the outset and can move forward with different directions without too much pain."

The rules above are Ouriach's own, but he suggests creating your own to reflect on when times are hard or when you doubt yourself. Below are a series of questions he suggests you ask yourself in order to frame you own personal Golden Rules.

  • When do you feel most comfortable at work?
  • And least comfortable?
  • Have you recently received praise? What was it for?
  • Do you have a 6, 12, 24 month goal?
  • How would someone else describe you?
  • What’s your preferred communication style?

"These questions should help you rationalise what it means to be you," explains Ouriach. "Once you’re there, you can rely on those answers to provide a strong backbone when adversity strikes. Someone left the team? Maybe your strength comes in uncertainty, and you see it as an opportunity to drive the team forward. The last feature you designed didn’t do as well as expected? Maybe your preferred communication style of writing can be used to start an action plan document for ways it could be improved."

Build a recession proof network

How to prepare for a recession; an illustration of a person at a computer with a network of friends

Build a good network to help you when times get tough (Image credit: Getty Images / iNueng)

Another great piece of advice offered by Ouriach is to build your own network of like-minded designers and colleagues, people you can take advice from and rely on when times are hard. Ouriach says he put effort into connecting with people on social media, at in-person events, on forums and in Slack groups.

"For me, this was incredibly useful because it allowed me to sit on a level with other like minded designers and receive valuable feedback on any work that I needed a quick piece of feedback on," he says, adding: "As someone who has worked a lot in my career as a solo designer, that feedback was invaluable for my growth, and it meant I made a few friends along the way!"

Networking is not for everyone, however, and let's be honest, some of us choose a life in design because we like our work and creativity to do all the talking. Ouriach is quick to point this out, telling me how "producing good work – at work – is enough to ensure a rich and healthy career. Networking and referrals play a large part in bigger organisations, which isn’t something we can change overnight, but for most people your passion for the work and strong portfolio should be enough to promote progress."

Some good news for designers

How to prepare for a recession; an illustration of a girl using a computer

Research suggests designers are highly sort after, even in a recession (Image credit: Getty Images / rikkyal)

Here's a thing, you may feel under threat as bad news about the economy gathers pace, but Figma's Insights and Analysis, Andrew Hogan, has some good news: "design talent is critical – and in fierce demand". That's right, designers are in demand and, finger's crossed, you're in a somewhat recession proof career. 

That's right, he argues that "even in light of recent economic tumult, HR teams cannot brush over the importance of design talent – both current and prospective" and points to research by McKinsey (opens in new tab) that found "companies with high-performing design practices have as much as doubled their revenue growth compared to their competitors". 

It's all good news, then? Is it time, even as a recession looms, to create a portfolio and apply for new jobs? It sounds like it. We have a great feature on the '18 of the best design portfolio examples' that will inspire you. 

Hogan tells me: "Almost all of the design team leaders in the UK we [Figma] recently surveyed (95 percent) have open designer positions needing to be filled today. Two-third of companies are also predicting increased difficulty in hiring design talent in 2023."

Actually, you are in control

A trend from Figma's own research of design studio's HR practices reveals a trend that puts more power in the hands of designers to choose their work practices (though perhaps not demand more pay).

"Our research shows that allowing designers to choose remote or hybrid work, demonstrating DE&I during recruitment and showcasing a strong design culture are the top recommendations for improving hiring success," says Hogan. So, yes, even with a recession looming designers are in demand and can make demands.

Hogan explains a key takeaway from Figma's research is that HR teams need to listen to the needs of "top talent" and respond accordingly. He highlights how this can help studios unable to offer financial incentives can instead offer more creative work practices, "which are proving to be the biggest driver in attracting the brightest and the best design talent".

"Of the companies we surveyed," begins Hogan, "those who made these types of investments are two times more likely to say they are successful at hiring. Despite the volatile economy, designers today have many choices and hiring teams need to find ways to gain a competitive advantage as an employer of choice."

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Ian Dean is Digital Arts & Design Editor at Creative Bloq, and the former editor of many leading magazines. These titles included ImagineFX, 3D World and leading video game title Official PlayStation Magazine. In his early career he wrote for music and film magazines including Uncut and SFX. Ian launched Xbox magazine X360 and edited PlayStation World. For Creative Bloq, Ian combines his love to bring the latest news on NFTs, video game art and tech, and more to Creative Bloq, and in his spare time he doodles in Corel Painter, ArtRage, and Rebelle while finding time to play Xbox and PS5.