Design Career Paths, Part II Recap

Every career path is unique, and we always love to hear different designers’ stories. At part 2 of our Career Paths event, we packed the Telus building to talk about getting your foot in the door, and going solo once you’ve established yourself in the industry.

Going Solo

We pulled together Tom Creighton, Founder @ Reactive Arts, and Rob Hayes, Founder @ Foundation PM, to discuss their experience going from working in-house to steering their own ship and working independently.

Their key advice?

Figure out exactly what unique value you can offer to potential clients, then do that one thing, and do it well.

Tom, who left his role as Director of Design @ Wealthsimple to found Reactive Arts, did so after realizing he was capable of doing more than focus on one product, and wanted to open up his time to apply his projects where he felt empowered to make a real difference. And he’s been doing exactly that.

On the other hand, Rob’s path was much less deliberate. He figured out that there was a lack of senior tech talent available, and that scaling startups were vying for experienced leaders who could implement scalable, repeatable processes for their business.

To find your niche, start by:

  1. doing the research
  2. learn which problems are common for businesses
  3. how your set of skills can help solve that problem

For example, rather than positioning himself as a Product Manager, Rob offers to help set up product management process for his clients. It’s a small change of perspective that makes a big difference.

“You’re only as talented as the logos on your LinkedIn”

When going solo, there is one unfortunate truth that you’ll have to face. Fair or not, your perceived value, talent, and quality is based on the companies you’ve worked with. Embrace them, and they will get your foot in the door in a lot of places.

To learn more about Tom and Rob’s approach to entrepreneurship and validating your business idea, check out their podcast

The Panel: your first job, your next job, and your dream job

Trina Boos (President at Boost Agents), Jeremy Bell (VP Design at Connected Lab), and Helen Tran (Founder at a very mysterious startup, former Design Lead at Shopify), dropped some wisdom on the community, whether they’re students or seasoned vets, about finding your next gig.

Here are some of the common trends and hidden gems from our discussion:

On education:

They don’t give a damn where you went to school. Show them (and the companies you’re applying to) what you’ve done, and what you can do for them. What problems can you solve? What do you do differently? What do you care about?

On facing rejection:

Getting turned down is never easy, but take a minute to think about it from the other person’s perspective. If you’re fresh out of school, you’ve got the same skills as everybody else from your class. Expand your t-shaped skills to differentiate yourself. Be well-rounded, and prove that you can do more than push pixels and make pretty products.

On finding meaning in your work:

The panel were in sync on this, and agree that passion trumps all. Approach every challenge with design thinking. Whether you’re creating icons, building a landing page, or putting together a team, you’re always designing. And if you aren’t fulfilled with your 9–5, spend your 5–9 on side projects that you are passionate about, or learning new tools and techniques.

Being resourceful, in addition to your mandatory skills, will increase your value, and help you show yourself off.

On becoming a Lead:

Jeremy always wanted to be a leader, to run a team. Helen, on the other hand, was forced into it. There are loads of reasons and paths, but focus on being great at your craft, and don’t be in a hurry to rush the process. Trina said it best:

“The early years in your career are really special. You get to experiment more, and follow your passions more often. When deciding whether or not you want to move into leadership, I tell people to remember what they love about the craft.”

Of course, leadership isn’t for everybody, so make sure it’s what you want:

Thanks to all those who joined us, our speakers, and our panelists.

In the meantime, we’ll be having our Designer Drinks event on May 15th at EventMobi. Get your tickets today here!

By the way, we want to hear your feedback, good or bad. This is a community, and your thoughts matter to us. What did you love? What do we need to work on? We want to hear it all! Hit us up at