5 Lessons Learned from a Laid Off Jr. Designer to other Juniors

Prototyping: From UX to Front End — Medium | Jack Dolan

Let me tell you a story.

In September 2017, I got lucky. Like, really lucky, because my company at the time needed design help. I’d been hired on in March as an Implementation Engineer to help with onboarding new clients. During several of my one-on-ones with my implementation director, though, I’d gained enough confidence to express my interest in Product and Design. By July 2017, new clients weren’t coming through the pipeline and, thankfully, I got sent to help our Product team until a higher volume of clients started to come through the pipeline.

After roughly 45 days of proving myself through small tasks, our UX manager asked me to come on as a Jr. Designer. He’d seen how I was trying to learn the basics of design, and was willing to take a chance on me.

6 months of design experience later, my story took an unexpected turn.

In February 2018, I got unlucky. Like, really unlucky, because on Feb. 21, 2018, I was laid off. I remember standing in my manager’s office, along with 2 other engineers and an IT guy, while a huge wave of stress started to crash over me as my employment and paycheck disappeared. The feelings I had are typically described as “the world crashing down.” That’s because that’s how it feels. Suddenly, my future was cloudy and murky. I had some money saved away for a rainy day, but I was paying off a student loan, so it wasn’t enough to keep me afloat for 6 months, let alone 6 weeks.

But the hardest thing for me to overcome was the fact that I only had 6 months of design experience. I had the equivalent experience of an intern, and interns weren’t being offered full time positions with benefits.

So what’s the point of telling this story? I want to help and inspire my other fellow junior designers who might have gotten laid off or, for some reason or another, couldn’t get a designer position and had to take a position that they didn’t want to just to make ends meet. Here are 5 tips I’ve learned during this whole process of being laid off.

  1. Keep Designing

The best advice I can give, and the most important advice in this list, is to just keep going. Something I was trying to do while I was employed was work on design after I got home from work, but I always seemed to find excuses.

Now, I have time every day to design, and I wish I was doing it after hours. My hardest obstacle is just finding the purpose behind designing, so find your purpose and keep practicing. Try recreating websites you like, find ways to collaborate on a project, or do something yourself. Something that’s helped me is the Daily UI challenge, which emails you a free design prompt every day of the week for 100 days so that you can just practice. Find something that you enjoy and just keep going with it! Enjoy yourself!

2. Become Part of a Community

One thing I’ve learned is that we’re not all in this alone. Product managers and designers find strength and inspiration by getting advice and help from others, so find out if there’s a local design group that meets near you or online. If you’re in the Utah area, we have a community called Product Hive that’s more than willing to help. If you’re interested, learn more here. There’s also a SF chapter of Product Hive for those interested.

There’s strength in numbers, and with today’s advances in technology, we don’t have to be geographically close to get help! Find a mentor and don’t think you can’t improve if you don’t have a job as a designer (or any job at all.)

3. Be Prepared

By be prepared I mean to be prepared to apply for other design jobs if you need to. Ok, I’ll be even more specific: have a portfolio ready just in case the same happens to you as it did to me. Because I DIDN’T have a portfolio ready when I was laid off, and it cost me dearly. In a time where I was trying to consolidate my assets and be frugal, I had to spend money on a domain name, template, etc. just to meet the minimum requirements for a UX design application.

Work with your professor/manager/colleagues to get something up and running while you have financial stability or while you’re early on in your design career. The investment pays off, believe me. It’s much easier to apply for job applications when you don’t also have to design your own website at the exact same time.

4. Be Humble

What I mean by “be humble” is to not push away job opportunities just because they don’t say “design” in them. Look at me. I have 6 solid months of experience, but I received no job offers (or even interviews) because of it. But I didn’t fret and kept looking. Now, I’ve accepted a job position outside of design because I know that it will help me develop much better HTML/CSS skills, along with Javascript, which will be invaluable in the design community as I grow into a more mature designer.

Plus, I don’t have work as a designer to design! I know that I’ll be able to learn and grow as I invest my time on the side towards becoming better. It’s ok to find financial stability while you continue to improve your design skills. Don’t feel second-rate, just rise to the challenge and keep working. Experience is key to design, and whether you get that doing freelance work or in an office setting, it doesn’t really matter.

5. Work on Finding Your Purpose

I’ve been laid off for almost a month and a half now, and that time has really helped me see what I want from design. I learned early on in my career to find my purpose and work towards it. Yes, it’s good to have a passion, but passion is an emotion that can change. We might get bored with something after spending 10 years in it. Find a purpose that pushes you every day to become better is invaluable and can keep that fire burning continuously.

So take time to think about your life as a designer and what you want from a career in design. It’s also ok to not think you’re going to design for the rest of your life! Young college graduates are no longer planning on working at the same company, doing the same thing, for the next 40 years until they retire. So again, it’s ok. Just figure out how design is going to help you accomplish your purpose and develop your skills!

I just want to end by saying that it’s ok to feel inadequate, my fellow designers! I always feel like I am. But I take that as fuel to improve. Don’t wait until you’re out of a job to improve and get better. Keep designing, find a community, be prepared, be humble, and find your purpose. The experience will come, you just have to be willing to jump in with both feet and not give up!


5 Lessons Learned from a Laid Off Jr. Designer to other Juniors was originally published in Prototypr on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.