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The Problem With the Welterweights of Design

February 7, 2017 by
The Problem With the Welterweights of Design

As I gained experience in the creative industry I started to think more about job titles and their purpose. This happened while I started to feel that I had been a ‘senior’ designer for a long time, asking myself what was next for me, and starting to try to decipher titles such as Art Director, Senior Art Director, Creative Director, Deputy Art Director (huh?), Managing Art Director, Design Director, etc… Also, more Junior designers –not necessarily younger than me–, started to get hired in the studios where I was working.

Life was so much simpler. My career path had been pretty simple as well. I went from Junior to Senior designer in seven years. Then I moved to Australia from Mexico City and after another seven years I was… a Senior? A Senior-Senior? Some research and awkward introspection confirmed that somewhere along the way I had become an Art Director. Validated with great relief after reading an entertaining book by Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne.

Things were looking pretty good for me in Title Land, but then something started bothering me as I was thinking more about how design studios operated and the purpose of hierarchical systems in workplaces. What was bothering me was the existence of the Mid-weight Designer. I never paid attention to that particular title, and after experiencing meeting several of them I came to a few somewhat harsh conclusions:

  1. They are hired by business owners that will not invest or risk hiring Senior designers but need someone more experienced than a Junior. Unfairly advertising Mid-weight roles. In other words: they want a Senior with a Junior wage.
  2. In some cases, they are insecure designers that don’t have the balls (or the talent) to call themselves Seniors, but have enough years working in the creative industry so they are not considered Juniors either.
  3. They are designers that for various reasons cannot commit to one job, paying their dues and with blood sweat and tears, eventually gaining the experience that will undoubtedly make them a Senior Designer.

I ask myself then, what’s the point? In the three instances mentioned above, someone loses. The business owner will hire someone ‘transitioning’. Someone that, in my experience, will half-heartedly accept junior level jobs, but will experience intense frustration when assigned a ‘senior level’ job, more than often producing poor results. This may result in the designer quitting the job or moving to another Mid-weight position and staying there, trapped in an endless loop. Always wondering when will they finally be able to apply for a Senior role. In contrast, a Junior Designer is usually hungry for knowledge, will listen and respect Senior workmates. They will do their best when given a more challenging task and will take any opportunity to showcase their skills or talents.

To conclude, I’d like to point out that the main reason this whole ‘Mid-weight Designer’ thing bothers me is that I have met many of them. Lovely people, some of whom I call friends today that have been treated really bad at their workplaces. They were shown very little respect and were dismissed, not because their talents but more because of financial or internal political issues within the studios. I am sure that Juniors and Seniors are most of the times taken advantage of, and feel forced to apply to advertised ‘Mid-weight’ positions. Here are some final thoughts:

Junior designers: Find a decent studio. Learn from a mentor there and work hard. You will, without a doubt become a senior designer in a few years. Then move on, or stick around.

Midweights: Apply for Senior design roles, or apply as a more experienced Junior. You will be Seniors in no time.

Business owners: Stop advertising Mid-weight level jobs and sort out your internal problems before committing to hire a designer.