Why designers quit

Why did you quit your last job? This was the main question in my recent study I did with designers. I received 156 responses to my survey, most of them were from Product/UX designers, second and third in number of responses were graphic designers, and web designers. Let’s dive into the results!

53 percent of designers who responded to my survey were UX/Product Designers, around 17 percent were graphic, 9 percent web designers, 6 percent design generalists, 6 percent UI and visual designers, and around 4 percent were design managers. I have to admit that I’m surprised by these numbers as I didn’t expect such a large chunk of UX and Product designers. The “Product designer” title seems to have gained in popularity in the last couple of years so it would actually be interesting to see the breakdown of this largest group. I’ll separate the two the next time I run this study. A quick note about the study — respondents had to answer three questions:

  • Why did you quit your last job?
  • What kind of designer are you?
  • What was your seniority at the time you left?

Participants could only pick one answer from a range of options. I know, even from my own experience, that there are usually multiple reasons why designers quit a job. But I decided to design the survey like that because I wanted to learn about the most pressing reason.

Chart 1: Distribution of designer types (view interactive chart)

The UI and Visual Designers seem to be in decline as only around 6 percent identified themselves as such. I remember how this title was a lot more popular just a few years ago. I think that this two pieces of information — the rise in usage of the “Product designer” title, and the decline of UI and Visual Designers may be indicating that the role of UX Designers is evolving. The range of skills that they need to have is expanding beyond merely coming up with solutions to usability problems. Now they need to have visual design and UI design skills too. Something that I’m also noticing, especially with Product Designers, is the move to being more business-focused. So not just solving problems for users, but also solving business problems for the companies they work for. It’s not just a question of “how do we make this usable?” it’s more about “how do we make this usable for users and increase feature adoption which will drive more revenue?“ This is a trend that goes in the right direction because designers are problem solvers. It’s a waste to only use them for one side of problems.

I also believe that the 6 percent of Design Generalists indicates the rise of popularity of this role. We heard this title mentioned for the first time just a couple of years ago, now there’s already a significant number of people out there who consider themselves design generalists. We’re witnessing a consolidation of roles. The number of UX and Product designers, as well as Design Generalists will keep increasing in the next few years and we’ll continue to see the decline of more specialist roles like UI and Visual designers. A great example of this is the Interaction Designer role which was quite prominent just a few years ago but has now almost disappeared — less than one percent of participants picked this role.

An interesting question comes to mind — do these numbers indicate that the UX industry as a whole is reaching a more mature stage? A stage with a more equal distribution of a wider range of skills, lots of highly qualified designers who can perform most of these skills and then a smaller group of specialists alongside? I believe this could help mature the UX industry even more because more designers who can perform a wider range of skills will help elevate the quality of design work overall.

The breakdown by seniority is interesting. The largest chunk is Intermediate with 33 percent, followed by Senior at 28 percent, and finally Junior at 12 percent. The Intermediate part isn’t surprising, the ratio between Junior and Senior is. If we consider the Intermediate as the middle of the distribution, it makes sense that it gets the largest part. But there’s almost an equally sized part of senior designers out there, and a much smaller percentage of junior designers. Is this another sign that indicates the maturing of the UX industry? This is the very first time that I run this study but I’m sure that if I ran it 10 years ago, the percentage of junior designers would be significantly larger.

Chart 2: Seniority distribution (view interactive chart)

Here’s another thing that aligns with my thinking here — Staff, Lead, and Principal seniority levels together account for around 22 percent! The Manager role is often considered as equal to these Individual Contributor (IC) roles in a lot of companies. So if we add it to this group with its 5 percent, we’re already at 27 percent of all designers who responded being in the highest seniority roles! That’s equal to the Senior seniority and it competes for the second place. I work at a company where the seniority of designers in its UX department is very high so I kinda expected this, but I still find it surprising that the distribution is so skewed.

Chart 3: Seniority distribution with lead roles grouped (view interactive chart)

Let’s get into the reasons why designers quit their jobs. There are two equal parts, both at around 19 percent: no career progression opportunities, and unhappiness with the work they do. Problems with company culture comes afterwards with almost 14 percent, and problems with a lack of UX maturity right after that with 11 percent. Almost 8 percent of designers left because their salary was too low, around 7 percent because of a poor relationship with their manager and another 7 percent because of misalignment with company values. Two surprises from the overall distribution: designers don’t have problems with a lack of speed anymore and they want the possibility to work remotely.

Chart 4: Overall distribution of reasons for quitting (view interactive chart)

Years ago I remember quitting my design jobs because it would take ages for my designs to be implemented and released to get feedback. Other designers complained about it too. Now, only 1.5 percent chose this answer as their main reason for quitting. Interestingly, years ago it was never expected to be able to do a design job well remotely but now 3 percent of designers quit their jobs because they couldn’t work remotely! I expect this trend will continue.

Three reasons for quitting stand out:

  • There was a lack of career progression opportunities
  • The UX maturity of the company was low
  • I wasn’t happy with the work I was producing and I couldn’t change that

But combing the data, slicing it by seniority and designer type, and analysing it shows the most interesting findings.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the two most common reasons for designers quitting their jobs — no possibility for career progression. 18.5 percent chose this answer and I’m not surprised. It aligns well with the seniority distribution. As we saw, there are a lot of designers in lead positions, and an equal amount of them in senior roles (both at around 27 percent). There’s a ceiling for these designers because the higher you get on the ladder, the smaller the scales get. The higher designers get on the seniority ladder, the harder it is for them to get to the next step. There can be only one Head of Design at a company, for example.

Charts 5 & 6: Lead roles (top, view interactive chart) compared to senior role (bottom view interactive chart)

22 percent of senior designers picked this answer as their main reason, as well as 19 percent of designers in lead positions (Staff, Principal, Lead). For comparison, none of the junior designers, and only 10 percent of intermediate designers had this problem.

Problems with UX maturity continue to be an issue for designers. At least for those in junior, senior, and intermediate seniority level. 19, 20, and 25 percent respectively chose the answer “The UX maturity of the company was too low” as the main reason for quitting. I don’t find it surprising that out of these three, the junior roles are the least likely to quit because of it. When I was a junior designer I was happy to do any type of design work. But the more experienced I got, the more sophisticated design work I wanted to do. No surprises here.

Chart 7 & 8: Lead roles (top, view interactive chart) compared to others (bottom, view interactive chart)

Here’s something interesting: only 5 percent of designers in lead roles (staff, principal, lead, manager) chose this answer. Is it because they have a positive impact on the UX maturity? Or does the presence of these higher seniority roles itself indicate that a company is more UX mature? There has to be a correlation here, I just don’t know what it is yet.

So the more senior the designers, the higher the UX maturity. But there’s another relation with high seniority of designers. The more senior they are, the less they are happy with the work they do. 24 percent of senior designers, 19 percent of lead designers, and 14 percent of intermediate ones chose the answer “I wasn’t happy with the work I was producing and I couldn’t change that” as their main answer for quitting their job. For comparison, only 10 percent of junior designers chose this answer. I don’t know yet how to interpret this information, but maybe it’s somehow connected to the previous problem from above? Is it because they’re stuck in their career, want to do more, want to have more responsibility but they can’t?

Design generalists are happier with the work they do

Design generalists stand out here. They’re mostly senior and lead designers when it comes to seniority (none of them in the study was junior). But unlike other designers of comparable seniority, they enjoy the work they do. Only 11 percent of them chose the “I wasn’t happy with the work I was producing and I couldn’t change that” answer, compared to 24 and 19 percent for senior and lead designers from above who aren’t generalists. Is it because they get to do a wider range of tasks, use more skills, and continue to learn more?

Chart 8: Design generalists are happier with their work and get recruited more (view interactive chart)

Another interesting thing about designer generalists is that that they get recruited more often. 22 percent of them chose the answer “I was recruited by another company” as their main reason for quitting, compared to 7 percent for intermediate, 5 for senior, and 10 for junior designers. It’s something that definitely sticks out and may be another thing indicative of the trend I mentioned in the beginning of this post. Are design generalists getting more desirable? I think that may be the case but let’s wait and see what the next years will bring.

This concludes my simple study, I think there are a few key findings to discuss. Does seniority of designers correlate with UX maturity of a company? If yes, how? Why are more senior designers less happy with the work they do? Is the UX industry as a whole becoming top-heavy? What will happen to all these senior designers who can’t get promoted? Let me know your thoughts bellow in the comments on my website As usual, one randomly picked commenter will receive a signed copy of my book Better Web Typography for a Better Web. I’ll pick the winner by the end of September and announce it here in the comments.

Categorized as UX

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