What's Next: Creating My Own Role

Working at a rapidly growing startup has gotten me used to an ever-evolving design role. From creating a new product to helping develop a marketing presence to building and managing a team, I’ve had varying responsibilities over the last four years. However, a few months ago, I started thinking, “What’s next?” 

These thoughts didn’t arrive because I was dissatisfied. It was more about feeling unsuccessful. As the company grew, I was trying to maintain a bit of control over both the product and the marketing side. I enjoyed doing both. I didn’t want to give up one for the other. And as I hired designers to work on each, I wanted to be able to provide the best insight and support to them. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do in the next step of my career trajectory. But what really happened is that I felt overwhelmed and out of the loop. Trying to oversee both arms of design meant that I wasn’t giving my full attention to either, which resulted in me feeling like an overall failure. 

I was in a meeting with a coworker one day, and I explained my anxiety about the situation. He asked, “If you could create your own position here, what would you be doing?” It was something I hadn’t thought about before. I mean, that’s not how jobs work. But regardless, I started seriously thinking about the question. 

I began by asking myself three things: What do I like doing? What am I good at? What will benefit the company? 

I love product design, but admittedly, it’s not a strength of mine at this point. I have the most experience with marketing design, but honestly, it’s not my favorite thing to work on. And as far as managing a team goes, I can’t say I’m that good NOR do I enjoy it very much. So as these thoughts floated around in my brain, I came to the realization that I hadn’t been providing the company much value in those roles. 

But where did my value lie? 

When I reflected on the projects I had worked on that I considered to be a success, they were a bit unconventional. The office lounge that resembles an outdoor park, the activity where random team members get coffee together, the year-end video that highlighted our special moments and included client well wishes, the trivia night with company-related questions, a quirky infographic about presidential Pinterest habits, and more of the ilk. 

The common theme? These projects made people happy. They made people smile and laugh and feel things. It’s what I like doing. It’s what I’m good at. And I believe it can provide exceptional value to the company. 

People (clients, team members, etc.) will experience our company in numerous ways, even if we do nothing about it. So why not craft that experience to be a wonderful and memorable one? Why not brand it, so it’s so very quintessenially us? Why not make sure that in every interaction, whether it’s in our office, through our product, at an event, or by means of our team, our brand’s awesome personality shines through consistently? 

I wrote up a proposal for this new role, Director of Experience, along with a list of initiatives that I would want to tackle. And as more proof that I love where I work, I was immediately supported and encouraged in this undertaking. When the rest of the team was informed about my transition, I heard from multiple people about how this new position is so right for me, which was really gratifying because I knew that my last one wasn’t. 

I had the tiniest ounce of concern about this professional change. Although I was onto my “next,” what would be my “next next?” Would a role like this be relevant somewhere else? Would I one day have to go back to a traditional design job, and if so, would I be rusty from taking a break? What do I even call myself? I was at an event last weekend where I had to give a brief interview, and when the question, “What do you do?” came up, I didn’t know how to respond. During my dramatic pause, the people nearby began watching, curious as to why I couldn’t answer such a simple question. “I manage the experience of my company’s brand” doesn’t go over as easily as “doctor,” or “teacher,” or even “designer.” 

In the end, I decided that none of that mattered much to me. Maybe I’ll keep telling people I’m a designer. And maybe my “next next” will be something completely off the wall and unrelated. But for now, I just want to do work that I’m excited about, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have that opportunity. 

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Currently reading:

The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

X: The Experience When Business Meets Design

Experience Design: A Framework for Integrating Brand, Experience, and Value

The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace