avatarMelody Koh 🤔


The author's industry friends and mentors are leaving the design industry due to various reasons, including lack of creative input, poor management, slow salary increments, and lengthy hiring processes.


The author, a designer, shares their observations about the recent trend of experienced designers leaving the industry. This trend is attributed to several factors such as the lack of creativity in their work, incompetent managers, stagnant salaries, and demanding hiring processes. The author also discusses the impact of this trend on the industry and expresses their own thoughts on potentially leaving the field. Despite the challenges, the author acknowledges that this shift could open up opportunities for the next generation of designers.

Bullet points

  • The author's industry friends and mentors are leaving the design industry.
  • Lack of creative input and output is a common complaint among those leaving.
  • Incompetent managers and design managers are a source of frustration.
  • Salary increments have slowed down, with little motivation to switch jobs due to similar pay scales across companies.
  • Hiring processes have become more demanding, with multiple interview rounds and complex assignments.
  • The author ponders quitting design but is discouraged by others who value their talents.
  • The author expresses discomfort with the idea of profiting off their influence by creating and selling design-related products.
  • The author sees this as an opportunity for the next generation of designers to progress in their careers.
  • The author questions their own future in design, considering a potential change.

All my friends are quitting design.

The great resignation strikes once again, with some damage.

Credit: Unsplash

I went back to Singapore for the Lunar New Year with the intention of catching up with friends and loved ones, and did just that. So if you’re wondering why I was on hiatus (on top of my already busy schedule), it wasn’t because I got depressed or got into some sort of trouble. It’s because I was having fun stuffing my face with pineapple tarts.

I wish my life were more dramatic. (Not really)

Anyway, I was out collecting stories, listening to people, playing a journalist if you will.

Now, I am not a sentimental writer. I’m simply not a person who likes to write something emotional and personal then having some sort of “moral of the story” sort of lesson at the end of it.

But I think this would be one of the first few articles that might hit a bit close to the heart, because it is something that genuinely makes me sad and I think we should all reflect on it.

A disturbing trend… I might jump on board on…

As the title already spelled out quite clearly, a lot of my industry friends and mentors are leaving the industry in one way or another. It might be temporary, and we don’t know what the future holds, but quite a number of respected designers I know have quit their jobs and aren’t turning back.

Are they rich trust fund babies? No, not even the slightest. A lot of them need a salary to sustain their living.

And yet, they chose to give up their jobs, some in prestigious roles, to travel or to work on initiatives they feel are more worthwhile of pursuit than a sterilised corporate job.

Sick and tired of the lack of creative input and output

One of the most common complaints among these now inactive group of practitioners is the lack of creativity in their work.

Everyone just wants to play safe.

Everyone thinks they know design because they took a course.

Everyone treats designers like factory workers who’d execute some top guy’s vision.

I think design is kind of arbitrary, so I can’t say the statements above are necessary bad for the industry. Being a designer is a job, and keeping a job typically means playing safe and being the dog of some corporate goon up top. C’est la vie.

That said I do agree with the sense of blandness in the work that we do today vs. a decade ago. Everyone’s following some sort of formula and experimentation has taken a back seat.

Again, is it a really bad thing? It depends on perspective.

Crappy bosses and “design managers”

“Why the heck do we need a design manager anyway?!”, exclaims my good friend Lenny*. He was in a small design team of 3 people, and they just hired a design manager specially just to manage them, and do nothing else.

She’s crap at her job, and that’s an understatement.

*Goes without saying, but all names mentioned are changed to protect the privacy of my friends.

In an attempt to mimic success and replicate the management models of successful tech companies, there was a period of time where many middle management were hired to ‘organise’ processes at companies.

Lenny’s company was not spared of this. I laughed at him last year when she was hired because that’s a clear red flag of the company not knowing what their designers were doing.

“Visibility is important at work, you know?” I said to him then. “If you won’t be visible they’ll hire someone to be visible for you.”

He took my advice and warning, and they ended up firing her as a result. You do not need a manager for a team of 3 designers. Much less someone incompetent.

But alas, the damage is done. Lenny’s designer manager unwittingly re-shaped his perception of the C-suite management ruling closely above. The company’s best designer reflected on his year-long ordeal, crafted his resignation letter, and that was the end of that.

Slowing salary increments

With the salary transparency movement going super strong, you would think salary increments would come by easy as designers level-up and get promotions.

Well, you thought wrong. Many senior industry friends and even myself, haven’t had a salary increment in the last few years because we’re at “the median paygrade” of most senior designers. And whether you’re better than average at your job doesn’t really change HR’s mind about how much they’re willing to offer you as long as it’s market rate.

There is now very little motivation to switch jobs because the offer from one company to another doesn’t differ all that much. So you see designers staying longer tenures at companies because of this, but also because design hiring is such a circus show.

There is very little incentive for us to move unless we’re in the danger of being at a dead-end job.

High bars to get employment in design

“It’s too tiring to go to interviews.” Felicia is one of the sturdiest human beings I know, and her resignation from a prestigious role without something else lined up shocked me.

“But aren’t you talking to some companies?”

“I am, but it’s many more interview rounds now.”

“I mean, you’re kind of high-level, so that would make sense.”

She paused and raised an eyebrow at me. “How many interviews did you go through for your next role?”


“And you’re senior designer. Six used to be how many rounds it takes to get a VP role. So imagine now many more I need to deal with now.”

And you know what guys, the fact that we have 6 months of probation now is kind of nuts too, because only management was subjected to that back in the day. We live in a crazy world, yes?

Anyway, Felicia and I spent some time discussing why hiring processes are lengthier. The usual suspects came up, but here’s our top 3 in order: fake professionals, a much larger talent pool (x10), and the demystified role design plays in business.

On a lower-level discussion, James and I were laughing at how ridiculous design assignments have gotten at interviews. He’s a senior like myself, but a much better designer.

“You know, one start-up sent me a task to come up with a strategic product line-up. Like what the hell?” He started chuckling. “If I can do free product strategy for you I might as well start my own thing?”

“Oh my god, I know right? I had to e-mail a company to basically f*ck off because they wanted a complete makeover of their insurance claims flow and a dissertation of how insurance might impact lives globally.” I took a sip of my watered-down bubble tea. “And the problem wasn’t even the ridiculous scope of work, they wanted me to finish it in a week over Christmas and New Year holidays. Pass.”

“Bro, these start-ups must be high if they think we’ll jump through hoops for their job. They’re not Meta or Google.”

“Even Meta and Google aren’t as ridiculous as this, okay?”

“They think we’re too stupid to know. Like just because we didn’t work there yet doesn’t mean we didn’t interview there before.”

“Damn right.”

Don’t mind us Singaporeans, we complain a lot. But really, start-ups nowadays have shifted into being funnily ironic. They used to cause so little problems in the hiring scene and now they’re the biggest part of the circus show when they have barely anything to offer.

Check out my article about designing for start-ups to get a clearer picture. Start-ups used to be a very worthy ventures because interviews were easy and they are great to learn from.

But when they’re playing big and betting small? Pfft, pass. Your pride as a designer is more important in this case.

What’s next?

To say that I am upset about this shift is an understatement, because in this round of great resignations I am losing many dear industry friends who are really experienced and actually know what they’re talking about. Conversations about design just wouldn’t be the same if they really exited.

I have pondered quitting design altogether for a while now but have been discouraged to do so because a lot of people still want to make use of my ‘talents’ in design.

“Don’t quit, Melody. It’ll be such a waste if you do.”

I’m flattered, truly.

If there’s anything I really cultivated in the last decade or so, it’s my work ethics. I am a darn good worker, even if I say so myself.

It’ll be a bit stupid not to use me while I’m still letting myself be used, yes?

Cashing in on influence

Whenever I said I wanted to quit design, my network of UX influencers and mentors flood my inbox with this suggestion: Create courses and sell it to people. Write books. Make merchandise. Bank on your influence.

So many shitty people do it, right? What’s one more?

But I just can’t do it. I won’t be able to live with myself after.

It is supposedly a Gen Z’s dream to become an influencer and just sell stuff to the masses and profit off whoever desperate enough to open their wallets for a fake chance at success, but that’s not my dream.

If I ever do write a book or make any sort of product where you can buy, it’s not because I want a quick buck from the design industry, it will be because I did my due diligence and can ensure it’ll help you.

Whatever hill I’ll die on, I’ll choose to die on the one where I can be honest and be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning.

A chance for the new generation of designers

Well, all that said and done, I would like to offer a personal round of applause to the new designers who lasted this long and made it this far in the UX bubble, because now, you truly have a shot at this career path.

With the mass amounts of seniors quitting and the layoffs still happening at many companies, we’ve successfully enema-ed the industry for a fresh clean start where progression can happen a little more organically.

A lot of seniors and industry leaders don’t like to admit it, but there’s only a limited amount of seats at the table. Unless people leave, no one at the bottom can come up top.

I personally think the lack of junior roles and early career programs in the last two years was due to this. There was no point hiring juniors to “cut costs” if they won’t be given space to grow and contribute more. They’ll cost more to companies long-term if that’s the case.

The competition is still going to be tough, so I wouldn’t say just because some people are quitting it means you’ll have an easier time with employment, but you’ll have a real shot at doing meaningful work that allows growth now rather than getting employment just for the sake of it.

Don’t miss this chance, it doesn’t come often.

A lot of closing thoughts

There is a lot more that I chose not to write, plus the fact that I’m not great at writing stories about people, hence the article is a tad short.

The gist of what everyone told me was that they hated their jobs because work was boring and not very well paid, and having a shitty overbearing boss gaslighting you was the last nail in the head.

None of what anyone told me was anything new. As creatives, we often are the first to feel the lack of purpose when we turn our crafts into a steady-income job. And we definitely hate any sort of authority over us, especially when the said authority isn’t as good at the craft as we are.

Pride is a dual-edge sword for us. Having pride in our work ensures we deliver quality, but being prideful also makes us hard to control. We are very hard to please, to say the least.

I do wonder where my path in design is at the moment. A big reason that I was pursuing design so hard is because of the community that has supported my growth and my career thus far, and a part of this said community is now leaving, possibly for good.

And it’s not that I’m too much of a loser to continue on alone, a lot of my career decisions were made against their advice anyway, but I wanted to be one of the many pride and joys these people can gloat about when they become reminiscent of their careers.

I guess I just never thought they would leave so soon. Before I achieved anything with myself.

In the vast, overgrown jungle of designers, there are very few whose work I respect, even fewer with careers I recognise as legitimate. Maybe it’s just my narrow worldview, but I have very odd standards. It keeps me from idolising anyone and allows me to see things as they are without rose-tinted glasses.

Where do these quitting designers go next? Well, what a question right?

Those that snapped out of the funemployment lullaby started to look for jobs, though very slowly. Living with your parents just means your savings burn much slower.

Those more hungry have started their own initiatives and are in the midst of figuring out how to be sustainably profitable. I envy those who start their own business, it’s truly an exciting time to do so.

There’s also an in-between group who still work, but at their own terms as freelancers. Interestingly most of these people ditched UX for visual graphics, which on paper has lower base salaries, tougher working conditions, and even more arbitrary design requirements. Their bank accounts and Instagrams say otherwise.

Everyone’s future is looking very different from each others’. And this time, because it hits close to home, I am beginning to question my future in design as well.

Perhaps it is time to make a change? Till we have to make a decision, we shall reflect.

This is a weird article, but clap anyway to show your support! Clapping is free and helps me get the content out to more readers ❤️
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