I hate design…now what?

So you’ve been working as a designer for the past few years. You’re good at it. You’re successful. Maybe even really successful. You’ve had big-name clients, your name is out there, and you’re being sought out by agencies and clients.

In other words, you’ve made it. You’ve achieved what a lot of designers only dream of.

Or maybe you’re still trying to get your name out there, after investing years into honing your skills and your résumé.

But in either case, you’ve come to a startling realization: design may be how you make your living, but you actually hate it; you don’t look forward to work; you don’t get excited about new projects or new client; you’re looking for any other creative outlet you can find, while design just pays the bills.

You have three basic options at this point: you can quit design and find another line of work. For some that’s practical, but for others, not so much. You can keep going the way you’ve been going, hating your work but continuing because it pays the bills and you’re already good at it. Or, you can figure out a way to recapture your passion for design and start loving your work again. That’s what we’re going to talk about here.


Why do you hate it?

The first step in figuring out how to rekindle your passion for design is to figure out why you’ve grown to hate it in the first place. There are a few common culprits:

  • boredom
  • disappointment with where you are in your career
  • feeling like you’re not doing anything important
  • general burnout
  • lack of direction
  • lack of confidence in your work or your skills
  • depression in general (which is making you hate more than just design)

Any of those can lead you to hate your work.

Boredom with your work is incredibly common, and often ties directly into disappointment with where you are in your career. If you’re not getting the kinds of projects you really want to be working on, then you’re likely going to grow bored with what you do. Especially if you view it as being too easy or below your skill level.


This is directly related to feeling like you’re not doing anything important, too. While design has a great impact on the everyday lives of people, it can also feel like a fairly superficial impact unless you’re working with organizations that are directly making a positive impact in the world.

Burnout is often the most toxic reason for hating your work, though it can also be the easiest to deal with. A lack of direction or confidence can also be dealt with fairly easily, once you’ve identified the issue.

General depression is something that’s best dealt with by a medical professional, so if that’s where you find yourself, seek professional guidance first. Then turn to the other tips here to specifically address your lack of passion for your work.


Find some new inspiration

If you’re bored with your work, one of the easiest ways to regain your passion is to find some new sources of inspiration. Sometimes it’s just a case of seeing the same things, day in and day out.


Look for new design galleries, blogs, and even specific designers to follow. But don’t limit yourself to just other website designs.

Look at other types of design and art, like photography, packaging design, signage, and the like. But also look at things outside of the design and art worlds. Look to the world around you. Look at sites that aren’t related to design, per se. Things like fashion blogs, Pinterest, and Tumblr can be a great way to find new inspiration that isn’t the same old stuff you’ve been seeing for months.


Challenge yourself

Taking on new challenges can really reignite your passion for the design world. Challenges can alleviate boredom, as well as give you new skills to further your career. That can lead to new opportunities and new clients.

Taking on new challenges is great whether you’re bored with design in general, or if you’re unhappy with where your career is. It can also bolster your confidence in your skills, if you successfully complete a project you feel is a challenge.

If you don’t have any opportunities from paying clients for challenging projects, then look for personal projects you can complete. This could be a redesign of your portfolio, a theme design you might want to sell, or a side project you’ve been considering for awhile.


Find a mentor, or mentor someone else

If you’re not confident in your skills, or you feel like your skills have stagnated, then look for a mentor. You can do this directly or indirectly.


The first method involves actually contacting a designer you admire and asking for their help. You don’t necessarily have to ask for a formal mentorship, but simply emailing them and telling them that you admire their work and would it be okay if you occasionally ran things by them is often enough. Don’t be discouraged if your first choice doesn’t have time. Move on to someone else.

The second method involves more of an indirect mentorship. In other words, find a designer you admire who has a blog or otherwise shares information about their work and their process, and soak up everything they have to say about design. You can do this with more than one designer, too, if you choose.

If your problem is more that you don’t feel like you’re doing anything important, then consider mentoring someone else. Posting on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. that you’re looking for someone to mentor is probably the best way to find someone. Then make yourself available to that person when they have questions or ask for feedback. Just make sure that you keep your advice entirely constructive and helpful, and offer them ideas for solutions rather than just telling them they’re doing something wrong.


Re-educate yourself

Taking a class or seminar, attending workshops and conferences, or otherwise continuing your education is a good way to get interested in design again. Your local community college or adult education center likely has some courses, which might fit depending on your level or existing expertise.


Otherwise, check out more advanced online courses and more focused seminars, workshops, and events aimed at educating designers. There are tons of options out there, with many of the leading design websites now putting together conferences.


Build a team

Sometimes the challenge is that we can only do so much on our own. If you’re a freelancer who’s been working solo for years, you may find that you have a lot more interesting opportunities if you team up with other designers and developers. Look to your current circle of professional contacts and reach out to those who seem to be working on projects similar to your own, or projects of the type you’d like to be working on.

Your team doesn’t necessarily have to be local. You can easily take on remote work regardless of where in the world you or they are.

Make sure that you agree on some kind of structure, however informal, for this type of arrangement. Are you planning on bringing each other onboard for every project, or just a few? How will you decide? And what about payment arrangements? It’s best to have these things clarified before you actually start working together to avoid future conflict.


Outsource and delegate

While teams can be great for some things and some projects, sometimes the issue has more to do with the day-to-day tasks that aren’t specifically design-focused. This includes things like managing client contact, bookkeeping, and the like. These things can quickly drain your energy and leave you with less time for the more skilled tasks you might actually enjoy doing.

This is when outsourcing or delegating to other employees is a good idea. Figure out the necessary tasks that don’t necessarily have to be done by you, and find someone else to do them. If you can free up more of your time to focus on the parts of your job you used to enjoy, then you may find that your passion returns. This can be a huge help if burnout in general is your problem.

Freeing up time to focus on the parts of design that you love (or once loved) saves frustration and makes it easier to do great work. And doing work you can be proud of can make a sizable difference in how your feel about your work overall.


Set some new goals

It’s easy to stagnate and find that your career isn’t moving forward. When that happens, your passion wanes and you start hating your job.


What you need are some new goals. Look at the goals you’ve already achieved, and figure out where you can go from there. Your new goals can be income-based, client-based, achievement-based, or based on anything else you choose. For example, you might have met your goal of gaining ten new clients last year. So this year you might want to aim for twenty. Or maybe last year you were nominated for an award and this year your goal is to actually win that award (or be nominated for more).


Stop procrastinating

Burnout can lead to procrastinating on projects, either personal or for clients. That procrastination leads to excitement, because suddenly you have to rush to meet deadlines, which can give you energy. But that procrastination can also lead to more frustration and more burnout, especially when you procrastinate to the point where you never move forward.

Stop procrastinating and instead take the time to do better work. Get your projects done early and reward yourself. Find the simplest solutions for personal (or even client) projects so you can get them done. Sometimes we make things overly complicated when a simple solution would work just as well.


Take some time off

Sometimes, what you really need when you’ve lost your passion, is to take time off. That could mean taking time off on a regular basis during the day (like finishing work at 5 every day and taking your evenings off, or taking an hour lunch break and getting away from your desk every day), or it could mean taking a few days (or even weeks) off.

time off

A lot of self-employed people, both in and out of the design field, don’t take vacations on any kind of regular basis. Many don’t even take weekends off, and often work way more than 8 hours a day. That kind of schedule isn’t sustainable, and you’re bound to burn out eventually.

If that’s where you find yourself, then do what you need to do to take a break. Even if all you can manage is a long weekend, you’d be surprised at how much it can recharge you and bring back your enthusiasm for your work. Making vacations and other time off a regular part of your schedule will help prevent burnout in the future.


Be thankful

One often-overlooked way to regain your enthusiasm is to be thankful for what you have. Think about how many people would love to be in your position. Think about what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come since you started.


Sometimes appreciating what we have is enough to give us the energy we need to keep going forward.



Losing your passion for design isn’t the end of the world, nor is it necessarily the end of your career. Try the techniques and ideas above to see if you can find new enthusiasm for your work. You may be surprised by what a difference a few small changes can make.

  • Tim

    The reason you would hate design is none of the ones that were listed (if you really wanted to be a designer in the first place), but rather because of the clients you have. Your clients give too much direction, want things there way and won’t let you do what you want (and possible what’s right).
    In that case, stop taking on clients and do your own work for yourself and sell it online.

  • greener grass

    Great article!
    It’s hard to find comments on the negative side of being a designer.

  • http://www.cliftwalker.co.uk/ Jonathan Clift

    I’d say the idea that a designer decides they suddenly “hate design” is probably a little too strong. I think it’s more likely that things involved with their role is what is causing them to dislike what they do. One thing in particular that I think is problematic for a lot of designers is that they become isolated. In this case I’m specifically referring to freelancers where you have worked by yourself for many years. You have no one to bounce ideas off, you have no one to get direct feedback from your work and you sometimes don’t progress as quickly as you can when you work in a team. Getting out and about is vital to ensure you continue to enjoy working on your own as a designer, as it’s very easy to become isolated and suddenly lose interest in what you’re doing…one great way of achieving this is setting up an office share from time to time with a larger agency who might be happy to rent you a desk.

    The other point that was also mentioned in this article, is being thankful. Especially if you’re a freelance designer, making a decent living, you should definitely be thankful you’re able to do what you do. I know many of my friends are always saying how Jealous they are of my job, working my own hours and being involved in such a great industry. To them it often seems like the dream job. We know full well that it’s not always as glamourous or as easy as people might think but I do know I’d much rather be doing what I’m doing that a lot of the jobs my friends have, working 9-5 jobs, with strict rules and little opportunity to be creative.

    So if you’re struggling to enjoy your role then maybe it is time to change things up a bit. If you’re good at what you do, try to look at what would make things better. Is it working with different people or the need to work on different projects? This is quite normal, regardless of your job role, you just have to find out the problems in order to seek solutions.

  • http://pinterest.com/schneidersweb Speider Schneider

    The design field has changed a LOT over the past 20 years. Hell, it’s changed a lot over the past decade. I know many 40-somethings who have decided to move into other fields and have been quite successful. Whatever you decide, having a creative mind will serve you well!

  • bgbs

    Design field has become too competitive and ever-changing. The wheel of change rolls on and keeps accelerating, and many designers are unable to keep up. And what happens at that point is that the design field starts to branch out. I remember years ago, a web designer was basically a UI/UX Designer, and a Front-End Web Developer. Today it is not the case, because the field of webdesign has become extremely complex for one person to handle all. Soon this will branch out even further I think. We’ll have Mockup Web Designer, CSS developers, Java Script Developers, Database Developers, HTML Developers….and so on.

    I think this constant change takes toll on designers and soonner than later they get exhausted. Because with every change comes more learning/education always keeping-up-to-date and at certain point people just want to stop learning, they just want to do, but they can’t because they will fall behind the crowd.

    • http://sebastianscaramuzza.com/ Sebastian Scaramuzza

      God damn true… I personally have tens of brand new books NEVER read. I bet most of them now contains old fashioned information

  • Haley Elder

    Great article, althought I don’t hate design but I sure need a kick in the pants to get up and at em with my design career goals. Thank you for the insights! I have some goals coming up and need to get to work on fulfilling them!

  • heywood

    This article could be applied to just about any field, not just design.

  • Demongo

    Looking at the photos accompanying the article I’d also suggest that for once in your life get some variety and buy a product that wasn’t made by Apple, even if it’s only one.

    I mean I know it’s stock but… this designer with the problems and the mid-career crisis has an oldie style camera which he keeps on his piano, he drinks his espresso with his iPhone talking to his friend with an iPhone and a iPad mini, she only takes water because presumably she’s doing a tantric detoxing. He then sits and looks at his iPhone while reading his iBooks before working on his Mac laptop with his latest Apple iBuds. He then sits on his own in a field with his very nice trainers before putting his designer glasses on his laptop (which to me looks like a different one to the first) next to his expensive Apple mouse.

    Presumably this person realizes that numerically some of the luckiest people in the world earn minimum wage for packing shelves?

    On a more constructive note as Tim says, 90% of the time it’s either the clients you have (freelance) or the boss you have (salaried). Then of course the reality is we all have mortgages or debts or families to support and very few people are happy with their jobs.

    C’est la vie.

  • Protik Khan

    It’s thinking of exceptional,

  • Alessandro Quartz

    Its not the actual work i hate but the people i have to deal with and my fellow co workers. Design is not a life saving occupation, its not an essential service. You are just another line of people who manipulate and lie to the public to consume and you do it because you are good at lying and well drawing pictures. You kid yourself you are a true artist, a creative, but in reality you are nothing but a manipulator hired because you are good at putting things together in a neat friendly way. I am sick to death of young designers thinking they are the new renascence painters, the elite chosen few. When i first started in desktop publishing, yes it was called that kids, back in 1996 there was no glam industry and the majority of designers were middle aged men. Now its filled with ego driven little shitheads striving to stand out as a creative in a world where the word has lost the true sense of the meaning and has been co-opted, like everything other thing in the 2000s.

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Wow Alessandro, might be time to think about a new job…

      For the record, there were plenty of ‘rockstar’ designers in the 90s. David Carson and Designers Republic spring to mind.

  • http://www.inverselogix.com/ Hemanth Malli

    Great artical.

  • matthew smithers

    The only time I hate being a designer is when I feel like I’m throwing pearls to swine.

  • http://sebastianscaramuzza.com/ Sebastian Scaramuzza

    … what I read. ALL TRUE. I felt hopeless.
    Thank you so much for this article. It helped a lot! :))