Designer Career Trajectory

As a young Design Assistant with a degree in design and phenomenal taste. I have 4 years experience, 2 1/2 assisting, the last of that year and half operating as an associate with assistant pay and eighteen months experience as an intern. Can anyone help me determine exactly what phase in my career should I be at? Should I be officially titled as an Associate? I have seen white counterparts at my company who have worked there for less time than I have start at the same level as I and then be promoted, which I think speaks to another issue at hand. But I just want to know what is the range in “due time” one should put in to be on path of continued growth as a Designer? How do you know when you’ve outgrown your role?

The career path for anyone is not always as simple as putting time in. It takes time to gain the experience needed to progress but you need to prove your worth. Your work ethic, your willingness to take on extra responsibilities, your proficiency, your talent, your positive relationships with other employees and your bosses… these are all things that could push you forward. If you feel like you deserve a raise or promotion and can prove your worth you can just ask for it!! Men do this all the time! Don’t wait for someone to give you what you feel you deserve. Just make sure you can back it up.

After 4 years you could be an Associate, but I don’t know your skills. If you feel like you are qualified for a raise or promotion, speak up. I am a person of color and have gotten promotions and raises by proving my worth and asking for more.

Also, don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others. I understand the feeling of being overlooked (trust me) but If you are good at your job, it will be noticed, and if you focus on making yourself valuable, you will have nothing to worry about.


I think @Nini comment is spot on. I would add that design is quantifiable; if you design products that sell well, a company will value your services.

That being said, you have to ask for a raise. Sometimes you need to remind them of your value. Research your own performance and build a ROI of your contribution for your boss.


What is an ROI? That’s the thing i am a phenomenal worker, put in the time figuratively and literally by continuously taking on more responsibilities as my teams workload changed/size decreased before covid and now, I’ve introduced a new way to showcase product during covid, and because I’m young I’m far more in touch with the audience we design for because i am their target audience,.It just feels like I’m continuously overlooked because I am a woman of color.

Baby STOP! As soon as I saw white, I knew the issue. You will ALWAYS be expected to do more and get passed over for promotions. You will ALWAYS be paid less. Your work will ALWAYS scrutinized. Fashion goes like this, steal black culture, steal black graphics and themes (Safari, “Ethnic”, bright colors) when the trend boards and advertising come around a whole lot of Black faces but you will be hard pressed to find one or two of working on the brand. As a Black female with close to 20 years- I’m going to give you the real advice. Every few years you WILL have to change jobs because you will never be able to move much further than the role you were hired for.


@BeKind sit down with your boss and tell them all these things that you are bringing to the company. ROI means return on investment…to the company you work for, you are the investment and the sales they make from your work is the return. When you have this meeting with your boss, do not be defensive and complain about inequality because to be frank, @Benjara11 is right, you will always have to work harder than others, and your boss will not promote you because you’re upset about a white coworker having more. They simply don’t care.

again, I am a person of color so I have been in the same situation and can speak on this

What they care about is money. If you are an asset to your company, they will do what they can to keep you because they don’t want to lose money. Lay out the facts as to why you deserve more and if they do not agree, start looking for another job and make sure to negotiate your salary during the offer stage of the interview process.


I feel your career can go one of 2 ways (and I’m in LA, and know the market is different in NY).

If you are at a prestige brand, or a big brand, and want to continue on that path with that pedigree, you most likely will have to stay the course, and fight for every promotion you may get. You’ll get passed over, and you’ve probably become a really assistant- so why would they want to promote you? You are doing a great job in that tiny little box you’re in- no need for change.

If you really want to start designing, and maybe are open to a scrappier career path-- then you really need to think about moving on, and BE a designer! Maybe you design at a smaller company. Maybe they pay you less, and you end up taking on way more things- you start writing fit comments, because you don’t have a tech designer, or you take on a lot of product development, or you’re the one who does all the trim sourcing, etc. But all this stuff is experience, and makes you a much more valuable asset. You’ll be a Designer, and when you decide to leave, you’ll be a multi-faceted designer who can do much more than design.

When I was in school (20 years ago) I had a teacher from the industry who told me that anyone who is an assistant longer than a year is a loser. Now that is bit harsh, I think. But it made me hustle, and strive to always want to climb that ladder. I chose the scrappier route, and I was a Designer (yes, at a tiny company!) in less than 1 1/2 years after graduation. I changed jobs frequently, always seeking more responsibility and better titles and pay. I didn’t particularly like being an assistant, and I realized that if I had stayed at my first company, they would have been perfectly happy having me be a really awesome assistant (who made very little money) for years.

I think my career would have been different if I’d gone the bigger corporate route- gone to Abercrombie or something, and been an assistant and then associate for years, waiting patiently to get moved up the ladder. But that expression “Good things come to those who wait” doesn’t apply here. If you want something, and feel like you can do it, then you have to be willing to make the leap. No one else will do that for you.



Thank you for this, i had a professor who worked in the industry for almost 30 years tell me the same thing she was also a woman of color, she said that the only we can move forward is to move on.

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Thank you, I think I needed to read this. Because honestly i do feel like a loser, I have all this talent that’s being completely disregarded to do things that are beyond trivial. The people who are considered “my peers” are the people i trained. My “manager” is my age and honestly i am more qualified than her and know more than her, and that’s what upsets me the most.

Thank you for this. It has been helpful, because I really want to quit but unfortunately with the impact of COVID I can’t afford to.

Maybe, just maybe, people will be looking at promoting people of color differently a bit now because of all the light on the subject now. I believe what is most important at any company, is the people that make designs that sell, are always ready to take on more work, able to juggle well with a smile, and offer new ideas and suggestions to make things even better are the ones that get noticed. However, in this industry, not asking for promotions, titles and raises gets you nowhere. You need to speak up, offer new ideas with your request and prove that you are ready to advance! Maybe they think you are satisfied with what you have and do?

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I certainly didn’t mean to make you feel like a loser, and I’m sure by assisting for 4 years, you’ve gained a wealth of experience, which will help you in any role you take on next.

The reality of the industry is, unlike a law partnership or becoming a doctor, you have to make your own path, and it is very rare to have people along the way help you. Occasionally you may be lucky enough to have a boss who is a mentor, who wants to see you grow and help you along the way. But these people are rare. And usually when their “mentee” gains enough experience or reaches the higher ladder rung, they move on to another company.

Usually, the way to climb is to move on to another company, and this isn’t a bad thing. I actually believe that staying at a place where you are comfortable, especially at your age/experience level, is bad, because then you are only learning how to do things THAT way. Moving to a different company will teach you new products to design, but also new processes and procedures. You’ll learn how to do things in different ways. Over the course of my career, the one phrase that I hear the most- and is the most frustrating- is “well, this is always how we’ve done it”. I’ve worked at places that have had such stagnant methods, and it’s simply because people have been there so long, they don’t know how to try out new methods, no matter if it makes their lives easier or the company more nimble. I’ve jumped around a lot, and I’ve learned some amazing things, including what works and what doesn’t.

So, maybe hang onto that job during COVID, but take the time to update your resume and your portfolio. Make a website highlighting your skills. Take on any additional responsibilities you can that can highlight your design abilities and show your process from concept to finished project. Take on a freelance assignment, or, assign yourself one to do in your spare time to round out your portfolio so it’s current. Reach out your feelers, and look for something new when the time is right. Remember that if you don’t feel challenged every day, it’s time to move on, and gracefully thank everyone at your current company when you leave, and if they have any common sense at all, they’ll feel a big loss from your competence when you leave.


great topic, as I’ve also thought hard about this. I have counterparts who have worked the same about of time as , and who have higher titles and salary. I once had a design director who was 7 years younger than I, and ultimately was not in a director mindset, and still wanted to design, she got fired for this reason. There is no direct road you can take in this. Jumping from job to job can vastly increase your salary and title. Finding a great company you can stay at and makes gains through your own merit is great also. Its a volatile industry and you just have to mindful of it. I’ve designed mens, women, kids, denim, active, miss, etc… Stay open, so you don’t get blocked in as well.


I hope with it being a major topic of discussion now it will be easier to have the conversation. i am all of those things you’ve described, hardworking, always smiling (even when I really don’t feel like it) among other things. The perspective from you all who have been in similar situations/have years of experience in the industry under your belt has been very helpful and insightful.

Thank you! Definitely am open, kind of over doing soft accessories and ready for something new when the world settles.

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Oh no I know you didn’t mean to make me feel like a loser but connecting the dots, I realized that indeed it is a loss for me because of the missed opportunities/experiences and of course money because of being what feels like continuously overlooked.

Ideally my plan is to stay here at this wretched place and hope that it will get better or more tolerable after having a conversation with my boss about being “managed” and tasked with things that are so trivial by people whom I am more qualified then and also know more than. While COVID is still a thing, and when the world settles into new patterns/way of life I will move on. Fortunately working form home has afforded me the opportunity to begin to work on personal projects to develop a portfolio that is more representative of my aesthetic and less just things that I’ve worked on for this company.

Thank you for your words they have been very insightful, and helped me through this moment of clarity.

I agree about moving around. I have moved every two yrs for the last few yrs. it’s definitely the only way to improve pay and position. When interviewing if ppl ask I simply say the money I was making wasn’t enough…simple. Ppl know this industry can severely underpay for positions. Is all about money no, but it’s a big part.


As a brown woman I agree with you, I’ve moved continents to keep moving forward

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I hate to say this, please don’t take this the wrong way, but… design graduates are a dime a dozen, especially now, and all of us think we have phenomenal taste :wink: Good taste doesn’t even necessarily translate into sellable garments (have you seen what people wear!?). I am sure you are extremely talented, but please don’t bring that mindset to the table because I worry that companies will write you off because of it, thinking you are coming to them like “oh I’m so great.” Know that you’re talented, but come across as humble when interviewing/working!

All that put aside, I truly believe it’s about finding the right company. I’ve been the same talented, hard worker my whole career but it wasn’t until recently that a company (really, one manager) RECOGNIZED that and invested in me, expanded my role and given me new opportunities. I’ve brought the exact same qualities to every company (and I’ve worked at a lot!). Some places are always going to de-value you, but when you find a manager/company who DOES see your worth, they will cultivate it.

You know you’ve outgrown your role when you can ace your current job responsibilities with your eyes closed, have begged for new responsibilities and been told no. You know when you’re bored at work, and that you wouldn’t take the same job with the same duties at a different company (ie, it’s about the work, not the company).