The Rise of the Gig Economy: Are Design Jobs Going Away?
With the rise of crowdsourcing and outsourcing, there is a genuine fear among creative professionals that the jobs and careers they’ve felt were stable and secure of the last few decades are on the brink of vanishing. This fear is completely reasonable, and it is something to be taken seriously in light of businesses both large and small taking advantage of sites like Odesk, Fiverr and 99Designs.
Many small businesses utilize these sites as an alternative to doing more staffing in order to have lower overhead. In their defense, this is largely a matter of practicality since the ever-evolving economy is difficult and uncertain for small business owners to navigate; savings on design, marketing and other creative endeavors allows them to invest more in other areas.
But reductions in medium-sized businesses that hire in-house designers are taking place as well. Designers are finding themselves overworked and underpaid. Many of you reading this may currently find yourself at a job where you were brought on as an in-house designer, but are now also the website administrator, production artist and social media manager. This is unfortunately becoming the new norm. Designers are expected to do more for less, and art departments are becoming something reserved for fortune 500 companies.
Unintended Consequences of the “Gig Economy”
There are several consequences to the current state of design employment, some of which are not discussed enough publicly. Moonlighting was always an issue and something many companies overlooked or ignored, but it too is becoming the new norm. Designers are finding their work undervalued due to the abundance of options and new tools and technology that have commoditized the results they produce.
For companies that don’t depend on radically creative concepts and key artwork, why hire a designer at all when they can have their marketing manager buy a few stock images and master a tool like Canva or PicMonkey? Why hire a web designer when they can do it themselves with Wix or Squarespace? These are real questions that stakeholders are being confronted with.
On the other side of this, why would a designer be completely loyal or dedicated in a scenario where they feel they are disposable or not valued appropriately?
With all of the options that are devaluing design and designers in the eyes of a stakeholders, the only response to those who rely on this profession for a living is to seek “greener pastures” or develop a “side hustle” and take advantage of this new “gig economy.”
Options are a two way street: while clients and employers can outsource or crowdsource work affordably and save money, creatives also are in-demand more than ever and thus have an abundance of options when it comes to making money for themselves.
What About Designers Who Want a 9 to 5 Job?
There is no shortage of designers and creative professionals that long for the stability that a 9 to 5 job and consistent paycheck brings. Unfortunately, the people who make those decisions are getting more and more comfortable not being able to look over the shoulders of their creative team and dictating revisions and making approvals. Technology and younger generations of stakeholders are much less beholden to those conventions.
The other issue is market saturation; there is no shortage of experienced designers seeking full time employment, making entry into the industry more difficult for those who want stability.
Those who have the experience face the reality of devaluation due to market saturation and an abundance of options—meaning they have less leverage than ever when it comes to negotiating a reasonable salary.
What you’ll now find is that many designers are forced to freelance to make ends meet, even if they have an in-house design position. It has nothing to do with feeling disloyal to their employer and everything to do with a practical means of survival and real security.
Design being more accessible and more saturated, also means it is taken for granted by the majority of people and still a grossly misunderstood profession amongst laymen and non-creatives.
What Can Designers Do To Cope
“You can’t fight the future.” That means designers need to adjust to this new reality and prepare for it. If your company has a bad quarter, your 10 years of service as an in-house designer may not be enough to save you. It may not be your fault, but it will be out of your hands, and right now the competition is fierce and very different than the last time you were hired.
Using your creative skills (within the scope of any non-compete agreement) to create some other revenue stream for yourself is always going to be in your best interest.
Learning new skills and going above and beyond your job role can help you become valuable enough to be retained by your current employer, even if times get rough for the business. You have to show that you are a necessary business expense; you can’t afford to let you work speak for itself when budget cuts come down from the top. Make sure people are very aware of your contributions, and find ways to quantify their impact on the business.
Start building a portfolio of work based on personal and freelancer projects, just in case, for whatever reason, your employer does downsize you and doesn’t allow you to use any company projects in your portfolio. This is something many designers don’t prepare for, which can leave you starting your career from zero.
In addition to building your portfolio, you should constantly be networking with potential employers or anyone who can recommend you in the event that you need a new opportunity right away. Stay aware of and allow yourself to be open to any new opportunities for employment that might come up. Loyalty won’t help you if it isn’t reciprocated, so protect your interest and your income.
What do you think? Are you concerned about the future of design jobs? Have you ever been laid off due to outsourcing? Tell us what you think about the future of design jobs in the comment section.
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