Are there too many designers in the world? | by Garron Engstrom | Dec, 2021


My wife and I recently had our first child. The nice thing about having a kid is there is a built-in 10 month preparation period. At some point during those 10 months we came across midwifery. It was one of those things I had heard about but didn’t have a deep understanding of.

1900s obstetrics

As it turns out, there’s a rich and fascinating history of midwifery in the United States. As documented in The Business of Being Born, in the early 20th century the healthcare industry began to boom. Hospitals expanded and medicine became a lucrative and highly-respected profession. This led to an explosion of medical students graduating and entering the medical field.

“What happened was the OB/GYN specialty hospitals started to sprout up and those professionals started to multiply and they needed a job…business took over.”

-Nadine Goodman, Public Health Specialist

These OB/GYN specialists began to see midwifery as the competition and started to push them out. In 1900, 95% of births in the United States took place at home. By 1955, that number had dropped to less than 1%.

The irony is these “highly trained” doctors had little to no experience in child birth, in stark contrast to the tradition of midwifery that was passed down from generation to generation. This led to overall worse medical outcomes for babies and birthing mothers. According to NPR and ProPublica, the United States now has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world.

Product design boom

I see a similar trend in the design industry today (albeit with far less bleak outcomes!). With the increased socio-economic outcomes for designers in tech has come a boom in UI/UX bootcamps and certificate programs. This naturally has led to an increase in designers entering the industry and increased competition.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 13% increase in employment for Web Developers and Digital Designers from 2020 to 2030 (with the average for all occupations at 8%). That’s great! However, according to Career Karma, from 2019 to 2020 alone there was a 23% increase in bootcamp students and graduates, a marked acceleration from the 4% increase the year before (these numbers are for the entire bootcamp industry. In an absence of data, I am extrapolating that the increase was proportional for UI/UX Bootcamps. I could be wrong about this).

This all validates a personal observation that (1) there are more and more job openings for Product Designers, and that (2) there are a lot of new graduate and junior designers entering the field and a ton of competition for those job openings.

Commoditization of design

But what about the commoditization of design? Doesn’t that mean we need fewer designers, not more?

Over the years, with the proliferation of templates and pattern libraries, people have talked about how design is becoming commoditized. As Luis Lopez argues in his brilliant article, Designpocalypse!, graphic design and web design have already been commoditized and eventually UX design will be as well.

Maybe this is necessarily a bad thing? Commoditized design means experiences are more standardized and people don’t have to learn how to use each app or product.

But Luis goes on to say that certain UX design skills will not and cannot be commoditized. While computers are good at performing tasks, they are bad at identifying and solving problems. We as designers are uniquely positioned within organizations to identify and solve problems based on our insights into our customers and human behavior.

As long as there are new and novel problems to solve, requiring new and novel design patterns, we will need talented product designers.

How to stand out

So now the inevitable question that I get frequently from new graduates: “How do you stand out as a junior product designer?”

The commonality I see amongst new graduates, especially those coming out of bootcamps, is an overemphasis on process to the neglect of the actual solution or design craft. As I’ve always said and continue to believe, good process does not always lead to good design.

Here are a few things to focus on as a new graduate entering the design field:

  1. Hone your design craft. That means getting good at visual and interaction design. These are baseline skillsets that you need to be an effective junior designer and start to grow in your career. I see it all too often: a new grad designer shares a long case study talking about their process and then the final outcome is not well designed, and doesn’t adhere to good design principles.
  2. Build a strong portfolio. That means choosing strong projects, and focusing the problem and outcomes for each. I go into detail about that here:
  3. Become a storyteller. Communication and storytelling is one of the top skills that design recruiters and managers look for when hiring.

If you do these things you will be in the top 10% of new graduate designers entering the industry.

Here are a few articles I’ve written related to how to stand out in the field:

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