Where Should You Work as a Designer? 10 Things to Consider

Knowing that a design career is what you want is just the first step in the path to finding your dream job. Add in a little training and expertise and you still have some big decisions to make, because there are so many different types of places to find design work.

How do you know what type of place will be the right fit? The answer may be different for you at different stages in your life. Young designers almost always need the support of a more structured environment so they can develop, work with a team and grow. But more experienced designers may find that a smaller shop is a better option with more flexibility and control over their projects. Here, we’ll help you determine where your dream job might be — with a startup, as a freelancer, at an in-house shop or with a big firm?

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1. I Am Just Starting Out and Need to Get My Feet Wet

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If you are new to the job market – or design jobs in general – working in a team environment is a definite benefit. That being said you might take any job just to make sure you have an income (and that’s OK, too).

But what should you look for in that first job (or two)? You want to work in a location where there is already a strong and experienced team of designers in place. You need to be a part of a group that has the resources to support and teach you how to navigate the world of working on projects for actual clients.

Ask about the team when you interview. Make a point to find out how the business will support you back and help you develop into a strong design professional.

Best fit: Larger in-house shop with multiple designers on staff or big firm

2. I Need Focus and Direction to Keep Me on Task

Admit it. Sometimes you need the people around you to help keep you focused and moving in a forward motion. It’s OK. That’s true of many of us.

Knowing and understanding that will help you land somewhere that supports you. Working within a bigger team and having people depend on you can be important. So can having a structured workplace with specific tasks and goals that a manager will follow up on.

Best fit: Big firm or in-house shop with a strong manager

3. Deadlines Get Me Excited

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Deadlines can either drive or terrify designers. Which type are you?

There’s a real rush that can come with quick turnarounds or big projects. Fortunately for you, this deadline rush can come with almost any design job in almost any type of work environment. You pretty much have to be tolerant of deadline pressure to cut it in most design jobs.

Best fit: Startup, freelance, in-house or big firm

4. I Like to Be Part of a Team

If having friends that are work friends sounds like your idea of a perfect situation, look no further than a startup. These teams are often tight-knit and spend long hours together working and socializing.

You can also get that team feel from big firms – which might have support-style groups based on your specialty or experience level – or in-house shops where everyone is working toward common goals.

Just remember to keep the professional and personal parts as separate as possible. It’s OK to be friends with colleagues, but you need to create balance away from the workplace as well.

Best fit: Startup, in-house shop or big firm

5. I Want to Make My Own Hours

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Some people just don’t fit into the 9-to-5 work day. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of workplaces that will accommodate atypical hours.

If you need to make your own hours to suit your lifestyle or just to work when you are feeling most productive and can focus with lots of self-direction, then a career as a freelancer might be right for you. (The other option is to work on contract for a company, which in most cases is the same thing with more regular work.)

Best fit: Freelance

6. I Want To See My Work … Everywhere

It’s hard to find a designer that does not have an ego of some sort. Think about it; you get a thrill out of seeing your work somewhere or hearing someone talk about something you designed, right?

Well, if that’s you big goal – to see your work everywhere – you need to go big. That’s where many of the big jobs and big clients are.

Best fit: Big firm

7. I Want to Do Something I Believe In

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Maybe seeing you design in lights is not what you are looking for and working for a cause or to support a mission that you have strong feelings about is more of your style. There are plenty of ways to do that as well.

Smaller organizations and nonprofits in today’s market almost always have at least one designer on staff. You might have to wear a few hats and do design, and say social media, but the job can be quite rewarding if it is something you truly believe in. These smaller organizations will also help you broaden your skillset while helping – and learning even more about – the cause.

Best fit: Startup or in-house shop

8. I’m Self-Directed and Have No Trouble Working Alone

A lot of designers like to think they could work alone. It happens every time someone asks for a silly revision or a more senior designer overrules your concept for a project. But do you actually have the self-direction and motivation to go it alone?

Many smaller shops, such as startups or in-house design jobs with only a handful of employees, require that you be able to manage your projects and time without a lot of oversight. If you are prone to procrastination or daydreaming, this might not be the best fit. But if you work with ease in a place where you aren’t being given a task list, a more self-directed and self-paced job can be rewarding.

There are two types of “working alone” – actually being the only employee, such as a freelancer, and being the only member of the design team. Think about what works better for you: Physically working alone, or working in a team environment where you are the lone specialist in your field?

Best fit: Freelance, in-house shop or startup

9. Nothing Beats Living in the City

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If nothing says home like the idea of living in New York or London or L.A., then a big firm should be your goal. (You can also work in these places and make a good living as a freelancer.)

Some of the best design shops and agencies in the world are located in large markets. The city atmosphere gives the business access to resources, clients and a talented workforce. Plus, these locations are media capitals – where much of the final design ends up going.

Best fit: Big firm or freelance

10. I’m OK With Only Touching Part of a Project

Are you and hand-on or hands-off kind of designer? Are you so attached to projects that you have to be a part of it from start to finish? Do you need to be involved in every part of the development? If you can honestly say no – some of us truly can’t – a big firm might be a good fit.

In large work environments – even in-house designers at larger companies see this – you may only touch one piece of a puzzle. You will do your part and pass it on to the next step. You may (or may not) recognize the final product. You have to be OK with this to succeed in large workplaces.

You also need to be willing to give a project up to the next person in the line or production or let go when you are finished with your part. This can be tough at first and is a common experience for junior designers. But if you can do it – and don’t mind – you will eventually be the senior designer at the end of the line signing off on final designs.

Best fit: Big firm


While this is not the end-all list to help you determine what kind of job to take, it can help you think a little bit about yourself and what type of fit you’d like. Every job, and every employer are different. They key to finding a fit that’s right for you is to do your research and interview every potential employer back as you look at positions.

Think about your lifestyle at the time you are looking for a job and how job requirements such as hours, location, stress level and type of projects will factor in. And while not every job is designed to be a holiday – it is called work after all – try to find a landing spot that you don’t mind going to each day.

Stock photos by: Stokpic and Death to the Stock Photo.