Making it work as we chase the work

Recently, an aspiring designer wrote me asking for advice, having been put down by a former professor. She was dinged for working unrelated part-time jobs in lieu of working in a professional design environment after graduating.

Hello Mig,
Does it really matter what you do in your spare time of living? For instance, working at a coffee shop, retail shop, and etc.?
I had a weird experience where a former professor just said it loud and directly to me that I don’t care about my education and overall design doing these jobs. I don’t believe that was very ethical. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Is it ok someone trying to get into the design field but has an external job like a coffee shop and etc does that look bad on yourself? At this point, I am trying not to get that upset about the whole situation.
Is this how the design culture is like?
Thanks for your advice.

A bummer, to be sure. I wanted to share my response not only to her, but to others that may be feeling shamed for not working in the design field just yet.


Hello [Aspiring Designer],
Thank you so much for writing me. It sounds like you’re having a challenging time right now, and reaching out for advice is an excellent way to get support and perspective. I am more than happy to offer that, as you’re right, we all start somewhere.
We need to make a living.
Be it a coffee shop, retail, or otherwise, making ends meet is making ends meet. While I was in college, I sold televisions at an electronics retailer called Circuit City! It wasn’t design, but I was practicing people skills, sales skills, negotiation skills, and generally getting comfortable understanding people (user) needs. I owe my seemingly silly part-time job at Circuit City a whole lot to the development of the designer I am today.
Your professor is wrong and misguided. Being a designer is everyday practice, and it’s absolutely okay — if not important — to explore the rest of the world outside of design. Working other kinds of jobs opens us up to all sorts of people and perspectives, which is crucial to becoming a great designer.
This doesn’t look bad on you, nor anyone. Somedays, if I’m being honest, I dream of being behind a bar or making coffee for people. We sit at our computers for so long, we can lose sight of the bigger world out there.
Plus, working other jobs will let you meet other people that may know of design opportunities. Potential clients, potential design bosses. What better way to find roles like that than to be where people live their lives.
Work is work. We’re lucky to have it, no matter what it looks like.
You are important and valued in design — don’t let any grumpy past professor tell you otherwise. The right role is coming, so long as you keep looking ahead.
I made a list of places to look for design jobs, too:
http://migreyes.com/loves/jobs
Good luck, [Aspiring Designer]. Rooting for you.

Finding the right job in the design field is a job in and of itself. There’s no shame in making a living pouring coffee, selling televisions, or folding clothes. Brewing coffee and effective selling are both wonderful crafts!

There are important, irreplaceable learnings in the interactions we have with people through these jobs. They set a foundation for empathy, and how we approach our work in design. So to all those slinging drinks while you look for your next best design gig, good on you.