Harsh realities every designer will have to face

Nicole Steinberg
Jan 15, 2024

When I finally landed on pursuing graphic design as a career after trying my hand at a myriad of other college majors, I went into it a little naive. In my mind, being a graphic designer simply translated to “creative freedom and fulfillment." While that’s not not the case, I quickly learned after graduation that there were some realities of the job that didn’t quite align with my expectations.

If you’re considering venturing down the career path of a graphic designer, here are some hard-learned truths about the field that might help you decide if it’s the right fit for you.

You’ll eventually hate everything you make

Okay, maybe hate is a little bit of a strong word. But as time goes by and you grow and hone your skills as a designer, you’ll look back at your past work with a more critical eye. This isn’t to say that your past work sucks; only that your tastes have changed and you’ve likely improved to the point of being able to recognize past shortcomings and mistakes. While your first instinct will probably be to cringe at what you once thought was great, try to grant your past self a bit of grace and instead appreciate how far you’ve come.

You’ll lose opportunities to people less qualified than you

There will come a time when you’re passed up for a job in favour of someone you think is a weaker designer than you (and yes, it will sting). I wish I could say that climbing the design ladder depended solely on creative talent, but that would be a flat-out lie. The reality is that sometimes the job offer goes to the person who’s a better culture fit or the person who came off a bit more confident in their interview. You’re not going to be the best candidate for every opportunity, and that’s okay. It’s better to not get a job that you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed than to waste time working somewhere you didn’t belong in the first place.

Creative burnout is inevitable

Thinking creatively all the time can be a tiring experience, and that exhaustion will build up and weigh you down at some point in your career. Your well of creative juices will inevitably run dry, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be replenished. A revival of your creativity could come from a variety of different things: changing jobs, finding creative outlets outside of work, taking breaks (short or extended), learning new skills, etc. As you move through your career, you’ll find what works best for you to both remedy and prevent burnout from plaguing your ability to create.

Not every project you work on will be glamorous

At the end of the day, designers are creative problem solvers, and not every problem has an exciting or revolutionary solution. While you’ll certainly have projects where you get to experiment and push yourself creatively, you’ll also have plenty of work that doesn’t require you to reinvent the wheel. Not every task you face will be creatively fulfilling, but there are plenty of other ways to measure the success of a project. Reminding yourself that design is a service that improves communication, betters businesses, and, above all, helps people will allow you to find purpose in even the most mundane work.

You need to learn skills other than design

Design is a field that’s highly competitive and forever changing, so the best way to keep up and stand out is to learn other skills. The abilities you add to your skillset depend entirely on what your goals are for your career. If you wish to work on a larger variety of projects, then you’ll most likely want to learn another creative skill like animation, illustration, or web development. If you picture yourself being a creative director or running your own business, you’ll want to learn how to effectively manage a team, or at least how to manage yourself. More generally speaking, all designers can benefit from bettering their interpersonal skills like listening, writing, and speaking. Focusing on these areas will improve your ability to take feedback, find creative solutions, and sell yourself and your work to potential employers and clients.


The harsh reality is that no job is ever going to be exactly like what you imagined your dream career looking like. But the good news is that your expectations don’t have to align with the reality of your job in order to find satisfaction and fulfillment in your career. At the end of the day, it’s all about perspective, and whether you embrace the challenges and find the silver linings within them is entirely up to you.

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