Tech layoffs have impacted many content writers, UX researchers, and UX designers. This means several designers are looking for new roles, including fresh graduates who suddenly find themselves in choppy waters where it all seems like smooth sailing just one year ago.
You have applied for new roles and have got call or an offer from a company: you find out the company recently downsized the design team, make you wonder?
“The company I am interviewing with has recently downsized its design team”. “Surely, it is a bad sign and a risky career proposition, right?”
The answer is not that simple.
To understand why layoffs happen, it’s important to know that they’re typically due to cost savings or headcount optimization. Sometimes, even financially stable companies may need to or want to reallocate their budgets.
Layoffs can also occur when a company over-hires or experiences a downturn in demand, geopolitical events, or a recession- or in our recent history, may be all of the above. If a reduction doesn’t seem to be cost-driven, it may be due to headcount optimization.
Companies may want to improve workforce efficiency as one of the core reason to look for headcount optimization. However, a targeted reduction of a specific area, such as design, may be a worrying sign. Multiple senior design leaders being let go may indicate a restructuring of design as a function of product, marketing, or development teams, leading to a less-than-ideal long-term situation for new designers in the team.
If most or all researchers were recently let go, it may suggest a shift of preference towards “execution-focused design” over “strategic and thoughtful one”, indicating low design maturity in the company. Similarly, if many content writers were let go, it may reflect a lack of attention to finer elements of experience, again a less than ideal long term situation for designers.
So how can you make an informed choice?
Due diligence never hurts anyone
Here are some steps you can take to gather information about the company’s situation:
- Check the stock price and profit/loss reports for public companies. This can give you a sense of how the company is performing financially and whether there are any red flags.
- Look for any material or interviews with senior leaders discussing the company’s future plans. This can give you insight into the company’s direction and whether there are any major changes on the horizon.
- Reach out to past employees to get their perspective on the company’s situation. Keep in mind that this may be a biased pool, and you’re likely to hear negative reviews in the event of a layoff.
- Prepare a well-drafted question and ask your recruiters and panelists directly about any past layoffs. This can help you understand the company’s history and how they handle difficult situations.
- Ask for definition of the role and reporting lines, who does the role report to, where does the design function report to? This can help you understand maturity of the design organization and what kind of contributions may be expected from the employees. More on this later.
Remember, it’s important to gather as much information as possible before making any decisions. By doing your due diligence, you can make an informed choice about whether to accept an offer or continue with the interview process.
Taking cues from organization of the team
In event of recent layoffs in the design team understanding reporting lines can give out lot of clues as to what to expect.
Loss of multiple members of senior leadership of design signals restructuring of team (often resulting in design team alignment changing functions). Look for the new reporting structure:
- CXO- This is often a good change and design voice may be empowered in such an environment. In rare cases it may also mean stricter control on design directions.
- Business unit leader- This change is usually a good change, but might mean more focus on action and short term impact being prioritized. But on plus side can improve design voice.
- Product leader (CPO)- this is also a decent situation for design teams, with opportunity to play a larger role in setting up product roadmaps.
- Marketing- this change means prioritization of speed and focus on visual excellence (creative). It’s often considered less than ideal but it has it’s advantage depending on the company.
- CTO/Engineering head- this is not the best of the situations — as engineering functions have oversized numerical presence — alignment of reporting line can limit design teams. On a plus side- this will offer higher stability in tough times, being small part of a large team.
The study conducted by InVision offers extensive insight into how these different organization models perform. (Check Here)
If layoffs have impacted specific design roles this may mean changes in company strategy-
- Reduction of UX Research- Company is failing to see value and impact of customer research (even if it says it is customer focused)- might mean a shift towards “throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks”. Speed over discovery.
- Reduction of UX/ Content writing — Company does not fully understand the contributions made by writers — usually a signal of low design maturity. It can be challenging place if the experiences have strong consumer facing experience points.
Matching your personal goals and constraints with what is on offer
Let us start with a myth buster: “A successful and fulfilling career for designers will only come from a place with high design maturity”. This is not universally true. Some may find high design maturity companies painfully slow and political, while others may find them highly joyful and fulfilling.
Your personal goals, skills, and what you find enjoyable should be the key the define your next role.
- Growth and challenge- Teams that are close to C-suit or chief product officers may offer greater opportunities. Small and nimble design team may be the way to go.
- Speed- Teams closer to marketing may offer opportunities to showcase speedy execution and delivery.
- Stability– In times of uncertainty your personal financial goals may make stability a priority. Choosing financially stable company, with relatively large design team, or design team part of development organization may be good option.
Choice also depends on where you are in your career- Early career v/s mid career v/s late career
- As an early career designer companies matter, but not as much. Focusing on delivering value is of much greater importance anywhere you go. A mid to small team with a few senior people around would be perfect.
- As a mid career designer aiming early leadership positions- small nimble teams that meet your personal skills may be the way to go. Teams that let go of design leaders recently — may not be a good idea. As ‘flattening’ of the teams puts early management roles under great pressure.
- Late career- You have already played a leadership role for some time, the choice can be a personal one. You have seen the goings and around of the companies, the strategy of the company leadership may provide the cues into what is going to be the design team’s mission. Waiting for a good role to appear is also a possibility.
Some other factors may also be relevant to considered
- Where is the company headquartered — where most of its revenue comes from, and how these markets are performing. These factors impact how the company will grow going forward and how much they will invest into design.
Ultimately, layoffs are generally a signal of instability. They are indication of tough market conditions and therefore are an additional challenge for anyone looking for a new role.
Trust your skills, experience, and the instincts and try to gain as much understanding as you can to make a sound choice. Be ready for rejections, no responses, and longer than usual feedback cycles when interviewing. This cycle will also pass.
Image credit: Image created with https://leonardo.ai/
Designer’s Dilemma: To Join or Not to Join a Company that Recently Downsized it’s Design Team? was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.