Choosing a path in the Graphic/Interactive Design industry.
April 21, 2014 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm a graduating graphic design student with two job offers in the field of interaction design following graduation. One is extremely well paid with great perks in the tech industry, and the other more traditional studio setting, only three-months long (to start) with lower pay but with more interesting work. Help?

I'm a 22 year old student, about to graduate in three weeks with a degree in graphic and interactive design. I've spent a good majority of my last semester applying for jobs and internships in the industry– some in tech (as a user experience designer, interaction designer, or product designer) and some in more traditional design studios. It's boiled down to two offers: one at a huge internet company (that you're certainly familiar with) and a smaller studio that specializes in creating interactive physical environments.

Both offer incredible opportunities for growth within the field. The tech company, located in Silicon Valley, let's call it company A, also offers excellent perks and benefits, as well as a ridiculous salary. The work I'd be doing in this company is innovative, long term (2 year contract) but only within their mobile team. Company B on the other hand, is only offering me a not-so-well paid three-month position in Portland, OR (with a possibility for full-time afterwards) but consistently produces work that's exciting and would give me a better opportunity to work within different aspects of design as well as platforms and experiences.

My concerns are partly what my salary would be on either case (there would be a difference of around ~50k if I did get the full time position at Company B), and also whether or not I'd be happy working at either company and considering what would happen if I wanted to switch jobs. With Company B, at the end of the three months I could potentially find a new job in the tech industry with relative ease (they're hiring like crazy), whereas going from a high paying job in Silicon Valley to a low-paying more traditional studio job would be a downgrade in lifestyle and income.

So, do I take the high paying job, which would give me the most flexibility for housing, lifestyle and paying back student loans but I may not enjoy as much– OR take the low paying, short term position that may or may not yield a full time job that is more exciting and is kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity?
posted by drd to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Take the job that will give you the most networking opportunities, to become known as a reliable worker and a good person. It's about who knows you, and who respects you. Choose the place where you'll be given the biggest chance to show the largest number of people you can be of use to them in the future.
posted by Mizu at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2014

Take the job at Company A. Jobs like the one at Company B will come your way more often with Company A on your resume than the other way around.

Besides, the job at Company A is still better than the soul-sucking, cog-in-a-machine jobs that people in most fields go to in order to Get Paid after graduating.
posted by mkultra at 6:58 PM on April 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Company A. Big Tech is gobbling up talent in this field like nobody's business. Except it is their business. They will become the centers of innovation in the next decades to come. They will become the only place offering interactive services too.

Studios can survive offering niche, artistic, and outsider perspectives to established businesses but it will be rough waters ahead. In someways it agency work can be more fulfilling varied, and is the traditionally "higher-end" job for a designer—what your professors would tell you to aim for. And "in-house" has a bit of a second class air to it.

Thats all been turned on its head by Google, FB, Twitter, etc.

Go for "Company A".
posted by fontophilic at 7:16 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Take the one that pays 50k more at the huge internet company so you can pay off your loans and network, then go do your more "exciting" work later. For me personally this would not even be a question.
posted by windbox at 7:18 PM on April 21, 2014

Company A. The halo effect it will give your resume will pay off dividends in your future.
posted by raw sugar at 7:39 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Company A. Use the difference in salary to fund your own (even more exciting than company B because it's your own) work on the side/weekends/etc.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:51 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

As someone who hires interaction designers, I'll offer a different perspective, if not a clear answer.

Your portfolio should show the kind of work you're excited to be doing, not just work you've done. It shows your expertise and savvy, and helps hiring managers picture you in their role.

So if you're really not so psyched about finding your career niche as a mobile designer, then consider how freely you'll be able to move within the company once you're in there. Or how you'll need to balance the paid work with side projects that keep you current in other areas, and keep you inspired.

Also consider the difference between an in-house job and a studio job. In-house, you'll have a more invested, product-focused view. This means you'll have the opportunity to see the product through, iterate based on feedback, and see how UX design fits into the larger product development process. On the downside, it can be production-heavy and repetitive. Sometimes tedious, very tactical. It's not necessarily the most exciting work, but it gives you great instincts and solid foundational skills.

At a studio, you'll likely see shorter project cycles. You'll be responsible for concepting at a higher level, and working with a wider variety of brands and briefs. Some studios design + build, and others just design. Either way, you personally may be less involved in the building piece, so you don't really get as well-developed instincts around feasibility.

What you do get at a design studio is exposure, inspiration, and collaboration with great designers. I'm not saying there aren't great designers in tech shops, but in my experience, the best of the best want to work at companies where their core competency is the most valued role in the company. So being in a design studio often means you're around a collection of people whose values are strong in terms of design. They're great to learn from.

One additional dimension to consider: the SF bay area is bound to be a more plentiful market for UX skills, and Portland is bound to be a less expensive, slower-paced lifestyle. So if your life beyond this job is a consideration, that could be important.

Good luck with your decision! Ultimately, you're in a pretty good position, to be choosing between jobs at this stage in your life. Congratulations for that.
posted by nadise at 9:35 PM on April 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

nadise brings up a good point regarding lifestyle.

At 22, I wouldn't want to either live in Silicon Valley or live in SF/Oakland and spend an hour every morning/evening commuting.

Portland is a smaller town, easier to get around in and cheaper. Portland also hosts (from all reports) one of the most fun tech conferences around.

Portland is a better food city than SF.

I'd do Portland. If you don't like it after 3 months, come down to SF — there's always jobs here for UX designers.

Me: UX designer in SF
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:16 PM on April 21, 2014

You just want to work for the company that will get you more brand recognition. Working in Silicon Valley is also a plus you'll be able to leverage later, much as I did working in "Silicon Alley" New York in the Mid-Nineties. For forever, your potential clients will say "wow, you worked in Silicon Valley". Lame but true.
posted by xammerboy at 1:07 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

whereas going from a high paying job in Silicon Valley to a low-paying more traditional studio job would be a downgrade in lifestyle and income.

If you take job A, live within the means of job B for those two years and save the difference. This will give you a really excellent buffer and make it that much easier to take later jobs that you want without a) suffering financially and b) feeling that you're missing the lifestyle to which you've become accustomed.
posted by trig at 1:33 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tangentially related PSA: no matter which job you take, every 22 year old should try and max out their retirement contributions as early as you can before you ramp up your spending from "college student" to "young professional". This means contribute up to the yearly IRS max!
posted by fontophilic at 9:27 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, congratulations! Well done.

Second, some questions to help you decide: Where are people from company B going after they've had a few years of experience there? Do they start their own studios, work in entertainment, move on to jobs at companies like company A? Do you want to go where they go? Is there room for advancement at company B? If all goes well there, you will eventually get bored and want more challenges and better pay. Will working there position you to do that?

I work at a fun little company (as a software developer, so our experiences don't quite match) and I can tell you this: little companies that don't have a lot of money to pay you also don't have a lot of money to pay anyone else. This means you may spend a lot of time doing work that isn't necessarily related to anything that would help build your portfolio. When this goes well, it means you know a lot of procedures inside and out. When this goes poorly, you waste a lot of time and possibly lose the company money. You end up being responsible for a lot of tasks that aren't in your core competency. If you don't have a good manager advocating for you and your time, you might end up with very little that's actually interesting to show for the months you put in. Is there a person at company B who will mentor you and protect your time? Is the leadership structure at company B one you trust to bring in more interesting and innovative work? Will they be handing you opportunities to work on those projects?
posted by rhythm and booze at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Between these two choices there seem to be two definite paths. The responses that you are getting to go to Company A are likely those more established individuals who have been burned in the past on smaller settings.

As someone who has spent his 20 and early thirties not really focusing on my career, I can tell you in a heartbeat that I would do the big company A as it has name recognition, and more of a chance to focus. At a smaller place, like rhythm and booze mentions, you may not have a lot of time to really build a good portfolio. I think that is more important.
posted by gregjunior at 9:37 AM on May 1, 2014

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