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:
- 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.