Many students ask this question before they even start classes.
They want to know what they are getting into and if they can handle the answer once they find out from me.
Understandably, they are anxious.
Am I throwing money down the drain by entering into a field so competitive that there is very little chance I will get hired and get a return on my investment?
Will my portfolios and resumes even get read?
Am I good enough?
These questions are so real and so relatable, but interestingly, when I reflected back on my early days as a beginner designer, I didn’t ask myself any of these questions.
I had only two things on my mind — I like doing this and I will find a way.
If A Field Is Not Competitive, You Are In The Wrong Field
This may be obvious, but if your field is not competitive, you are in the wrong field.
Think about this — if your field is great and you love it, why wouldn’t other people feel the same way?
Anything with great value will attract endless suitors — well-paying jobs, great company culture, delicious restaurants, interesting movies, page-turning books, good-looking people with great personalities, so on and so forth.
With that understanding in mind, we can rule out the necessity to even ask this question.
Of course the design field is competitive and therefore saturated.
So is every other field that pays decent amount of money.
Does that mean you should give up before you even started because there is so much competition?
If this is how easily you give up on something, then yes, maybe you are not built for this.
But if after learning how competitive it is, you are still determined to pursue it like I did back in the day, you are well-positioned to make it happen.
Develop Self Awareness To See Where You Stand
In a field where your quality of work is judged relentlessly and very quickly by busy hiring managers and clients, you have to develop one thing early on in your career — especially when you are studying to become a designer.
You have to develop an incredible amount of self awareness about the quality of your work.
This requires a lot of humility.
I often hear beginner designers getting frustrated at not hearing back from hundreds of thousands of applications they sent out.
There is a chance that many of these applications may not have even reached the decision maker.
There is also a chance that many of these jobs have chosen to hire someone internally, as it was often the case when I was in the corporate world.
But there is also another possibility that many people hate to admit — they didn’t have the self awareness of where their work stands.
In other words, how do they stack up against the competition?
No one likes to think their work sucks. But the truth is, many beginner designers did not have the most impressive portfolio — even given the junior factor.
I was browsing through LinkedIn doing research for my Portfolio School program one night.
As I scroll through hundreds of design portfolios, I could not find more than 2–3 designers who I would want to hire, based on their quality of work.
It was then when I started to wonder why no one is talking about mindful positive comparison.
Against Popular Advice, You Do Have To Compare Yourself With Others, But With One Caveat
But isn’t comparing yourself with others destructive, as most life coaches tell us?
If you compare yourself with someone who is not at the same level as you are, beat yourself up for it, get intimidated and don’t think about how you can get to that level, then yes, comparison is destructive.
But if you practice mindful positive comparison, things will look a lot different.
I define “mindful positive comparison” as something in the cross roads between being self aware of your current ability, finding inspirational examples of work from your level of experience, and setting actionable goals to make improvements so that your aspiration can become your reality.
Even as a seasoned designer who have won awards for design and became an educator in this field, I constantly push myself to practice mindful positive comparison.
Through this exercise, I discovered that I am not the best in typography design. I’m decent, but not as great as other designers.
I discovered that I really have a knack for color.
I also came to realize that I am 50% creative, 50% business-minded, which lead me to pursue entrepreneurship in design.
If you do this exercise of mindful positive comparison, you will not only find out how to get to your aspirational level of design ability, but also unique ways to brand yourself, now that you know your strengths and weaknesses.
Sometimes, having a mentor will make it easier for you to discover your strength and weaknesses because design doesn’t have a formula you can refer back to check the accuracy.
Many Won’t Make It, But You Could If You Do This
The truth is, many of your competitions won’t make it.
Instead of being afraid of them, you can adapt your mindset and navigate the competition to your advantage.
As a beginner, this means two things for you.
You are overthinking the competition
Yes, the field is saturated, but many of your competitors don’t have great work. If you want to stand out, you know this is the number one “weapon” you have.
Instead of worrying about your competition, make sure your work actually doesn’t look like your competitors who don’t have great work.
No matter how good you are, you are not for everyone
Instead of scrambling to learn everything that is out there, build a combination sets of skills that are uniquely you.
For example, if you discover that you are very good at coming up with delightful micro-animation, mention that in every interview and make that aspect of your design very prominent in your portfolio presentation. You will also need to highlight that in your personal statement on your about page or the hero header statement on your homepage.
When you look for roles and projects, the responsibility of filtering out the ones that sound mostly like you falls on yourself.
Essentially, the ability to identify the companies or clients that are most likely going to want someone like you will help you avoid playing the numbers game wrong.
Be a generalist that knows a bit of everything but has at least one strong suit.
You are not for everyone but you will be special to someone.
At the end of the day, it is how strategic you are at improving and positioning yourself against competition that will make the debate about the “saturation” of the industry obsolete.