5 Ways “Professionalism Overload” Can Kill Your Design Career

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Being a professional is something that most designers dream of accomplishing. After all, it’s the happy medium between knowing your stuff, getting paid for it, and basically winning at life. Or it could just be the start of a dwindling career, perforated repeatedly by false expectations and self-sabotaging mechanisms. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

We’re going to look at some ways an overabundance of professionalism can actually hurt your ability to do great design. Perhaps at the end of this post, you might think that it isn’t such a bad idea to fend off being a professional just a year or two longer.

1. You Get Too Stuck In "Your Ways"

Once you become a “professional” designer, you stop bending to the whims of trends and fads which is good, but you also begin to dig your heels in, in order to have things a certain way. You become entrenched in an established, “professional” methodology, which can make you rigid and resistant to new ideas that would otherwise improve your designs.

Being a professional means pleasing your superiors, whether it’s your boss, your clients, or your users. But that’s not where truly great design lies. Yes, of course your job is always to make your clients and users happy, but not at the expense of what you know is the best design solution for them.

Once your “professionalism” begins to dictate that you bend too often to the demands of clients and users, you divert your career immediately to the design by committee sector. What true professional wants to be in that box? Not any I’ve ever met.

2. You Stop Breaking The Rules

In order for great designs to be made, rules have to be broken. It’s practically a law of any creative discipline. No one ever got famous for producing the same old, expected work in a “professional” way. Yet that’s exactly what will expected of you by the majority as you adopt more and more professionalism.

If you find yourself obeying the rules out of habit, it’s time to step outside your comfort zone once again. Don’t be afraid to break some eggs to make the delicious design omelette you know you’re capable of. Yep – I just said ‘design omelette.’ And no, I’m not going to apologize for it.

See there? Breaking rules is fun!

3. Your Designs Become Predictable

This one is closely related to the last. Once you start following the rules of design and client expectations like a good little professional, something starts to happen to your work. People start having an easier time predicting what you’re going to do next. A “professional” designer may think that this is a good thing, but it’s actually career poison. Why?

The same old routine produces the same old designs. Even if they were fresh and exciting in the beginning, eventually, being too much of a professional will stick you on a path towards mediocrity. And no client worth having wants to hire a mediocre designer.

Despite what you may think, quality clients want to be surprised by your creativity and uniqueness. Clients hire you to solve problems for their users, which you won’t be able to do if you’re too busy trying to stick to routine and be “professional” all of the time.

Some of the most well known designers were the ones who broke away from routine and tradition. Follow their lead, not the professionalism-mongers.

4. You Stop Failing

This is perhaps the most dangerous consequence of professionalism overload. When you stop failing, you stop succeeding, because you need the former to achieve the latter. As the old proverb says, the master has failed more times than the novice has even tried.

It’s true that being a professional will lower your chance of making rookie mistakes. This is great… until the day that it isn’t. It’s fine until you find yourself in a room full of designers who, despite their lack of your experience and mastery, are getting picked over you for all the best, most interesting creative work. Sure, they may fail more often, but that’s a good thing.

Even if you consider yourself an expert, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re somehow above failure. It never ends well for designers.

5. You Get Left Behind

All of the above signs of over-professionalism lead up to one, important result: the swift and brutal death of your career as a designer. If you fall prey to the seductive siren call of “being a professional,” you will get passed up by up and coming designers who are less professional but more innovative.

Once all of the other consequences of over-professionalism have come true, this one is, unfortunately, inevitable. Clients will stop calling, users will stop giving glowing reviews of your designs. You will have become the consummate professional: perfect, a master of your craft, worthy of a museum show… and out of a job.

What Do You Think?

How do you think an excess of professional, picture perfect behavior affects a designer’s career? Is there a way to balance an ideal amount of professionalism with a healthy infusion of rebelliousness?

Author:

Addison is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She's written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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