When designers consider a new job, one of their biggest concerns is the size of the company. Should I work at a small company or a large one? What’s better: start-ups or enterprise? Maybe something in-between? 

After working in design for 20 years for companies ranging from Facebook and Instagram to small start-ups, I’ve learned that the answer to this question is far from one-size-fits-all. I’ve also learned that changing companies isn’t a magical path straight to permanent contentment

Even when you land somewhere that suits you, just about everything is likely to change: your position, title, team, and your personal circumstances. These changes can either feel inspiring or incredibly uncomfortable. Regardless of outcome, our human instinct is to fight the change, but the sooner you accept and lean into change, the better. As Dr. Daniel Gilbert of Harvard points out, “Your future self will be a different person regardless of effort and intention.” Because change is inevitable and growth is optional, my advice is to design your life and your career wisely.

Luckily, change isn’t the only constant in design. The job of a designer has other, less uncomfortable givens that, once recognized, can steer you through stressful times and actually improve your life and the lives of those close to you. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about both the changes and the constants in the last two decades of working in product design.

I wrote this blog post after giving a talk called Change Is Constant, at Framer Loupe 2019 in Amsterdam. Watch the video recording.

5 things that are pretty much guaranteed to change and evolve in design

1. Companies ebb and flow, and so do their cultures

Companies grow — sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically. When I started as a product designer for Dropbox in 2013, there were 300 employees. By the time I left in 2015, Dropbox employed more than 1,000 people. When I started my current role as the Principal Designer for Abstract in 2015, I was one of only a handful people, and now we’ve grown to more than 120 in 2019.

As your company grows, so does your team. Even if you start a project on your own, a team will grow around you — people you’ve likely helped to hire. If you’re anything like me, your designs are your babies. If you hire and collaborate with the right people, they become co-parents who can do a better job than you can with parts of the work. 

Your designs are your babies. If you hire the right people, they become co-parents who can do a better job than you can with parts of the work.

If you’ve helped to hire new team members, it’s imperative to set the right example once you begin working with them. This is how building company culture happens. New hires look to you and other team members for inspiration, to learn how things get done, and how to behave. If you are a design leader, you shoulder a lot of responsibility beyond design. 

2. Your role

When it comes to our career trajectories as designers, we usually have two choices: Remain an individual contributor or become a manager. Some companies believe the only way up the ladder is through a management position. Not only is this patently untrue, but a number of designers who choose the management route become unhappy. While the path from individual contributor to a senior role isn’t as straightforward a jump as the one from management, it can be accomplished through developing your expertise and moving companies when necessary. Of course, this requires more change, but what did you expect? 

My best advice is to do your research before jumping into a new role that you think you’re supposed to take just because you’re older and wiser. Nothing against management roles, but sometimes people become managers for the wrong reasons. 

3. Design tools

We’ve seen how quickly design tools change. In the past few years, the product design industry has shifted from using just Photoshop and Fireworks to any number of amazing tools. I don’t know what tools we’ll be using in 10 years, which should make me nervous because I work for a design platform. But I actually think the unknown future of design tools is super exciting. A lot of money is being poured into this space, and I’m optimistic that our jobs will become easier as our tools get better. Product design is a field long known for being tumultuous, and the most resilient design professionals know how to leverage their skills into different roles when the going gets tough. 

Product design is a field long known for being tumultuous, and the most resilient design professionals know how to leverage their skills into different roles when the going gets tough.

4. Design trends change rapidly across digital products

Product design is fashion. Trends appear and disappear seemingly in the blink of an eye. Some events, like the launch of a new mobile operating system, trigger these changes more rapidly, and within a couple of weeks we’ve all changed the look of what we’re designing. Whether you’re a contributor or a manager, you have a responsibility to keep an eye on trends — where they’re moving, what works, and what doesn’t.

From skeuomorphism to flat design, design styles and approaches have changed dramatically in the last two decades. We’re now in the thick of transitioning to a systematic approach with design systems. What’s next?

5. Your work life and your home life

Most importantly, the thing that changes throughout your career is you. Your career path can have a big impact on your life, but life outside of work has an equal effect on your career. Getting married, having a kid, moving countries, dealing with health problems — not only do you have to be able to deal with them, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else in your life. It’s OK to have a bad day or a bad week, but if you have a bad month, you might need to address what needs to change to solve the issue. 

Wandering with my growing family

We hope you work for an organization that welcomes open dialogue and is understanding of your need for a healthy work-life balance. 

4 things that don’t change in design

1. Design basics will always be a prerequisite

Essential design basics don’t change. Every product designer needs a solid understanding of user experience, white space, typography, and design systems. You need this understanding to do your job no matter what tools you use. 

I’ve learned the majority of my product design skills through experience and self-study, but I hope that formal design education now incorporates a lot of what I taught myself. While I’ve enjoyed learning by doing, it can be difficult to get up to speed if you’re just getting started now. 

2. Clear communication will always be key

Designers speak a very specific language loaded with lingo about tools, design systems, keyboard command shortcuts, company acronyms, and so on. I can’t imagine what non-designers think when they overhear our conversations. (Side note: Two product designers standing in front of an ATM could ignite a 45-minute critique of the UI, which would sound completely alien to passersby.) In addition to understanding design language, I recommend learning the languages your engineers and support team speak. Understanding their vocabulary allows you to obtain information you need in order to create the best design you can. 

Excellent communication skills — both verbal and written — will always help you be an effective designer. Knowing how to give and receive productive criticism makes all the difference. Non-verbal communication skills, like staying mindful of your tone of voice and being able to read a room, are important too. They allow you to be aware of when someone around you needs help, but isn’t specifically asking for it. It’s important to be able to pick up on signals and to be able to ask someone if they’re OK and if there’s anything you can do to help.

3. The value of mentorship is ongoing and reciprocal

Mentoring a new team member is one of the most satisfying parts of any design job. It’s short-sighted to think that helping someone find their path takes time away from your own work, since you’re effectively gaining a collaborator. You must treat a new person as equal. Lead them through everything you’re doing and tell them why you made your decisions. Everyone has something to teach. You can change a person’s life, and it’s a phenomenal feeling.

Presenting at Framer Loupe 2019. (Mcklin Photography)

As Liana Dumitru from Dropbox points out, humans are hard-wired to work together, so supporting someone can be intrinsically fulfilling. “Mentoring is as much a selfless act as it is self-serving,” she writes. “Through mentorship, mentors can develop critical skills, like providing guidance and teaching, or grow close professional relationships with more people.” 

4. Paying it forward is here to stay

The collective success of the design community is based on people helping each other for free — blogging, writing beautiful HTML, and CSS so people can learn from nicely formatted code. But to fully take advantage of and participate in the design community, you need to make yourself available to others. This can be as simple as opening yourself to direct messages on Twitter, or providing feedback on someone’s portfolio, or grabbing coffee. 

No matter how little the gesture, it matters. A number of people helped me when I was just getting started in my design career, and I am forever thankful for their generosity. Now is my time to pay it forward.

As I’ve said before, more inclusive, open, and egalitarian approach can help us build better products, grow personally and professionally, and help junior team members flourish much faster than they could alone. At a company level, this approach isn’t just “nice,” it actually makes business sense, too. 

No one works in a future-proof field, including designers. But if you recognize that change is coming and help others along the way, you can future-proof yourself.



This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I’ll receive a commission. Disclosure.

This week Google announced that after 15 years, they plan to evolve the “no follow” link attribute.

If you’re a blogger and you’re participating in affiliate programs or doing sponsored posts, you know that the “nofollow” attribute allows you to safely link to external sites without losing good standing with Google.

Why “No Follow” Came To Be

Back in the “Wild Wild West” days of blogging, bloggers and forum owners were bombarded with spammers leaving low-value comments in search of “SEO juice” in the form of backlinks.

The “nofollow” rule helped quiet all of that down.

WordPress, for example, assigns “nofollow” automatically when people leave a comment on your blog.

By simply adding the “nofollow” attribute to a link that’s sponsored (including affiliate links) or user-generated (e.g. comments), it signals to Google that you’re not endorsing the link.

In practice it looks like this:

No Follow Link

Who you associate with (link to) affects the authority of your site. When in doubt, continue to use “nofollow.”

Note: It may be helpful to clarify this here — when you’re not being compensated and genuinely just linking to an external site because it’s useful for your website visitors (linking to high-quality sites is a signal to Google that your content is helpful), just a regular old link is all you need to do — no attribution necessary.

Another way to think about this is that “nofollow” disincentivizes shady organizations from sneakily buying links in the form of sponsored posts and affiliate programs or clogging up your website with spammy garbage. This is what Google does not like (any more than we do).

Why They Decided To Rethink “No Follow”

The problem as Google explains it is that when websites assign “nofollow” to all external links, it creates a disadvantage for websites that are legitimately deserving of an endorsement.

For example, a lot of incredibly valuable content is generated by users on forums and wiki-style websites. This expertise and value is something Google wants to know about.

Now what they’ll do rather than not allowing any link credit at all, is they’ll look at the “nofollow” attribute as a “hint” for what to do with that link. It’ll depend on the context and various other Googly factors.

(I know what you’re thinking but no, don’t go out and start spamming up people’s comments sections again! There’s no tricking Google when it comes to what is and is not a useful signal.)

New & Improved Link Attributes

rel=”sponsored”: Rather than rel=”nofollow”, now you can assign rel=”sponsored” for affiliate links and sponsored content. This will be the strongest signal to Google — they absolutely will not count the backlink credit.

rel=”ugc”: This stands for “user generated content” and can be used for things like comments and forum posts. (This is something that would obviously need to be done programmatically with the CMS — I expect we’ll see this change in an upcoming update for WordPress.)
rel=”nofollow”: Use when you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply endorsement and pass along the ranking credit. Google may or may not give a backlink credit here.

No, You Don’t Need To Update Your Legacy “No Follow” Links

Don’t even sweat it, Google doesn’t want you to go through all of your markup and change “nofollow” to “sponsored.”

But they do want you to consider switching if and when it’s convenient.

There’s no upside or downside for you to keep your “no follow” links as they are, so live your life and do what you want.

But, you must assign one or the other (rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored”) to sponsored content and affiliate links!

Hope that was helpful, if you have any questions hit me up in comments. Or, just mosey on over to Google’s official blog, they explain it real-good-like. ?


If you want to jump on board with the agile marketing bandwagon, that’s great! But before you do, realize that your company culture may need a substantial overhaul before you can really reap the benefits.

Before embarking on an agile transformation, you need to be culturally ready to embrace a new way of working. Adapting agile practices at the team level may lead to some process improvements and efficiency, but agility is not just for the worker-bees – it’s about organizational change.

If you’re a small marketing group with just a handful of people, chances are you’re naturally working in a culture of agility – especially if you’re in an innovative or startup environment. In those cases, jumping to the practices of agile, like Scrum, Kanban or Scrumban are fine.

However, if you’re a larger enterprise that’s been working in waterfall for years with siloed teams and top-down hierarchy, cultural readiness is going to be key for agile marketing to be successful.

I’ve seen many companies try out agile, but the ones that are doing it well realize that it’s not just for the team – everyone at the company, whether they are on a delivery team or not, needs to be ready to change the way they’ve always worked.

Build empowering teams

A lot of companies focus their energy on spinning up new teams as quickly as they can to say they’re “agile.”

Being on a team doesn’t make you an agile marketer. What makes it agile is being on a team where you’re empowered to make decisions, innovate, learn and adapt without outside interference.

For a lot of companies, the above scenario is pretty scary, but what’s even scarier to me is hiring talented people and not giving them any space to create or innovate.

To be ready to build an empowering team, the organization must trust that the people they hired are capable.

Now this isn’t saying there are no boundaries and that agile marketing sets a team of people loose to do whatever they want! An agile marketing team has a shared purpose and roadmap that comes from stakeholders, but how they approach the work is up to them.

Create generalist roles

Agile marketing is all about getting the highest priority work done as a team, not resource utilization. At the end of the day, someone could be utilized 150 percent and get a lot of work started but nothing done that’s usable.

When companies stick to very stringent traditional titles, people are afraid to cross the line into another person’s territory. Unfortunately, what this leads to is the above – a focus on utilization rather than value.

So to set up teams for success with agile marketing, roles need to become more generalized. Sure, the graphic designer will be the primary person that does that work, but maybe others on the team can pitch in and help.

In agile marketing, we call this becoming a “T-shaped” player, meaning you have a primary skill and two other skills that you can help with when needed for the team to meet its’ goals.

Get rid of processes that cause delay

Organizations must look at how work flows in – from idea to delivery – to understand where bottlenecks happen.

Every time that work sits idle waiting for approvals, or passing the baton from one team to the next means waiting in the queue, is called a cost of delay and a really expensive problem!

If work takes you six months from idea to delivery, but 90 percent of that time it’s stuck on someone’s desk or waiting for a person to be available that is waste!

So to be successful at agile marketing, that waste needs to be minimized. A lot of that happens by cutting out unnecessary documentation and approvals and giving the team more autonomy and authority.

If you’re about to embark on an agile marketing journey, that’s fantastic news! Just make sure that your company culture will allow for empowered teams, generalist roles and is ready to re-think current processes that cause delays.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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