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There’s a design talent shortage–here’s how to capitalize on it

Companies are grappling with how to find great design talent. For young designers, it’s a major opportunity.

There’s a design talent shortage–here’s how to capitalize on it
Left to right: Kate Aronowitz, design partner, GV, Khoi Vinh, principle designer, Adobe, Matt Rolandson, partner, Ammunition, Suzanne LaBarre, senior editor, Fast Company. [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]

Business has finally recognized design’s true value. But there’s still one problem: Where do you find enough good designers to do the job?

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According to Kate Aronowitz, a design partner at Alphabet’s venture capital company GV, this is something all the top heads of design at Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies are worried about. She recently asked a large group of them about their hiring goals. “They said, ‘It used to be a demand problem. Now it’s like, I was given 30 [positions to fill]. Where am I going to find 30 designers, let alone 30 good designers?'” she says. “It’s rampant.”

Aronowitz was speaking as part of a panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, where she and other industry leaders talked to Co.Design editor Suzanne LaBarre about the shortage of design talent. But for designers, this kind of demand makes today’s job market a mecca of opportunity. How should young designers who are embarking on their careers tap into this talent grab? Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe, Matt Rolandson, a partner at Ammunition, and Aronowitz share their advice.

Pick companies that will invest in your future

For Aronowitz, taking advantage of today’s demand for designers means “being intentional about where you go.” Whether that’s a big company or a small company, think about whether the job will support your growth as a professional and help you keep learning.

“Make sure you’re set up to go somewhere that values teaching and collaborating,” she says. “Make sure you’re going to a place where someone is going to value your perspective and values investing in your growth.”

Matt Rolandson, partner, Ammunition (left), and Suzanne LaBarre, senior editor, Fast Company (right). [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]

Speak up–and ask hard questions

Young designers often don’t have as much of a say about what should be designed. But Rolandson believes that it’s crucial to make your voice heard as early as possible. “Use every opportunity [you] can find to credibly involve [yourself] in the conversation of what’s worth designing in the first place,” he says.

That means expressing an opinion about what kinds of problems are most important. It’s also a helpful lens through which to evaluate a potential employer: Is this company solving the right problems? Are designers involved in identifying what those problems are, not just designing solutions?

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Kate Aronowitz, design partner, GV (left), and Khoi Vinh, principle designer, Adobe (right). [Photo: Samir Abady for Fast Company]

Don’t get sucked in by the perks of big companies

It might sound glamorous to work for Google or Apple or Facebook, but Vinh warns against that inclination. “I think a lot of designers who are just coming into the field tend to set their sights on these big brand names that they idolized,” says Vinh. “Spending your time at a company that maybe you’ve been wanting to work at for five to 10 years isn’t the best way.”

Instead, he encourages young designers to recognize that their risk tolerance is going to be the greatest when they’re young. “If you can maximize your exposure to different kinds of experiences, that’s going to serve you really well long term,” he says.

Aronowitz put it more bluntly: “Don’t get sucked up by the perks.”

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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