It seems counter intuitive for me to say this, given that I run a design school with many students focused in UX design, but I’m still going to say it because I believe in being honest — UX design isn’t for everyone.
If you are reading this, you may have doubts about whether UX design is for you. As a generalist designer who was a career-changer, I’ve been there.
Having spent the past decade working professionally in design after changing my career from television production to this field, I struggled to define my path in the first couple of years.
Heck, I’m still defining my path now. But I digressed.
A number of years into my career, I started to notice more and more designers suddenly calling themselves UX designers.
I contemplated shifting, you know, jumping on the bandwagon.
But I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s why.
UX Design Is A Luxury To Many Companies
Believe it or not, as ubiquitous as UX design may seem these days, it is not something every company needs.
UX design is very much a luxury afforded to larger companies and primarily focused in the tech industry.
In an ideal world, user experience design would be needed everywhere.
After all, every company needs to have products that are easy to use and beautiful. Who doesn’t want that?
But consider this scenario, which is one of many more similar ones.
A young e-commerce beauty startup is looking to get their products in front of as many consumers as possible to build a name and generate sales.
What’s their priority?
Creating stunning video and graphic social ads; running influencer campaigns; getting featured by Vogue and Cosmopolitan; getting major retailer deals.
When it comes to the e-commerce site, they will go ahead and purchase a great Shopify template for a couple of hundred bucks.
If they go a step further, they may shell out a couple of thousand or even in the $10–50k range to hire a designer and a developer who will customize the template in their brand style.
After that, they are good to go.
From this scenario, we can easily see where design is needed.
It would be heavily needed in the video and graphic design department. The brand needs top-notch creative direction and beautiful, pixel-perfect design execution.
The brand also needs designers to create an outstanding brand identity for all of their marketing materials and customize the look and feel of the Shopify template.
Where does UX design fit in to this process?
At least it won’t be, until the brand becomes a bit more developed.
When the business finds its footing in the market in a couple of years, it will then need UX design.
In that stage, UX design will help the brand identify where users are bouncing and how to change the design to get them back.
UX design can also help the brand develop a shopping app that will increase user retention for shoppers who prefer to shop in apps rather than browsers.
UX design can also help discover user problems and needs that were previously unknown to the brand.
But going back to the root of this problem — if you are a UX designer only, you will not be considered until the company is ready in a couple of years.
However, if you are a design generalist who has a great portfolio in branding design, graphic design, social media design or creative direction, you are going to be hired first.
“It Pays More Money” Is The Wrong Reason To Get Into UX
When I taught in college as an adjunct professor, one too many students said the same thing to me: “I love graphic design, but I think I’m going to do UX design instead because it pays more.”
I said to them: “If that’s your rationale, why don’t you become a doctor or lawyer? It pays even more.”
UX design indeed pays quite a competitive salary.
I have always been an advocate for creative people using their skills to make great money, as they should.
Before you decide that UX is what you want to pursue — ask yourself this, why do you want to do it?
Do you actually feel excited about it? Or are you just in it for the money?
The money factor has to be there, but if you are missing the passion factor, you will regret it later.
Additionally, getting a job is not the only way to make money.
Having a business idea, use your creativity with business acumen and execute efficiently on it will often make you more.
When Other Design Disciplines Are Being Ignored, It’s Your Chance To Shine
Because of the mad dash into UX design, there is a void slowly being created in other design disciplines.
Before we get into the debate of whether or not graphic and print design is dead, let’s look at the huge client market in designing for small businesses.
If you have ever spent time on freelance online communities, you may have come across some freelance designer’s portfolios.
I certainly have spent time looking at them.
At the risk of sounding condescending, I still want to say, I cringe at many of them not because they are so bad, but because they all seem to have the same aesthetic styles.
A lot of them have the style of rosy, peachy, earthy tone that seems very elevated at first, but after seeing a few too many of the same style, I start to wonder how small businesses feel about this if they are looking to hire a designer to help their business stand out and not look the same.
My point is not to bash freelance designers. After all, I am one myself.
I am pointing this out so that designers who are trying to position themselves can think critically.
If everybody else is rushing into UX, but the demand for designers who can wear many hats serving small business clients remains, why not take this opportunity to work on your personal brand and shine in this area instead of jumping on the bandwagon of UX?
Do you know how small business owners will feel if they find a unicorn designer who has the versatility to break out of the typical “freelance portfolio style”?
They’d be ecstatic. They would want to speak to you and hire you.
Being A Generalist Doesn’t Mean Being A Master of None
Now that we’ve established that being a generalist can be beneficial to getting you jobs, what about when people said that a generalist is a master of none?
Will you be too unfocused for some employers?
Yes, but that doesn’t matter, because you will never be appealing to everyone, no matter how good you are.
In fact, I’m going to make a counter argument here — a generalist is in fact, not a master of none.
If you are truly a good design generalist, you have a great design foundation.
You don’t do sloppy alignments. You live and breathe white space in your design. You choose elegant typeface pairings. You use color beautifully with accessibility considerations in mind. You have a knack for creative and effective layouts.
You can even conceptualize creative directions and communicate well with clients.
You may not know how to design your own custom typeface. Therefore, you will not make a great type designer. But you certainly pair fonts like an expert for your design.
You may not know how to create pixel-perfect icons, but you certainly find the right ones for your design project.
You at no point suck at design foundation. You actually do a whole lot of things really well. You just don’t dive extremely deep into certain topics.
You may have one or two projects in branding, 3–5 projects in social media graphic design, 2–3 projects in print design, 3–4 projects in digital visual design.
Does that make you unfocused? To some companies with very specific requirements, yes, but they are not for you anyway.
To other companies and clients, you are a unicorn who is well-rounded and valuable.
Before jumping into the UX design bandwagon, ask yourself, have I considered if I am good at other design disciplines? You will thank yourself for taking that extra time to self-reflect because in a couple of years, there will be a new hot child to chase after, where the previously enthusiastic UX-ers will again, pivot to.
Your career is what you make it to be.
There is a room for you to shine in every niche.