Why designers quit (2023 report). Excluding the layoffs, boring work, low… | by Matej Latin | Dec, 2023


Excluding the layoffs, boring work, low UX maturity, and no career progression are the main reasons

Last week I published the report on designer layoffs, this week I want to take a look at the other side — why do designers leave? It’s the second iteration of last year’s report but with additional data and insights.

Not surprisingly, the layoffs were the biggest reason why designers lost their jobs in 2023. Compared to 2022, where only a fraction of them stated that they were let go, 14.3% of this year’s participants said they were laid off.

293 designers responded to my survey which is almost double compared to last year’s 159. I also added more questions to the survey. Last year I only asked about the main reason for quitting their job, this year I also asked them how much they increased their salary with their job switch, what the design maturity of the company they left was, about the company and design team size, and their happiness with the work, coworkers and their manager.

49.5% of respondents were UX/Product designers (Fig 1) and the majority, 23.3% of them, were from the United States (Fig 2). Take a look at the full breakdown in the charts below.

Most designers in the survey, 49.5% were UX/product designers
Fig 1: Most designers in the survey, 49.5% were UX/product designers (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

I recruited the participants through my mailing list and LinkedIn and I feel that they’re a good representation of the industry.

23.3% of the participants were from the United States, followed by 7.3% from India, and 6.6% from the UK
Fig 2: 23.3% of the participants were from the United States, followed by 7.3% from India, and 6.6% from the UK (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

I asked the following questions in the survey:

  • What was the main reason you left your last job?
  • By how much did you increase your salary with the latest job switch?
  • How would you rate the UX/Design maturity of the company?
  • What was the size of the company?
  • What was the size of the design team?
  • How many years of experience did you have when you left?
  • For how many years have you been with the company when you left?
  • I was happy with the work I was doing (rate 1 to 5)
  • I was happy with my coworkers (rate 1 to 5)
  • I was happy with my manager (rate 1 to 5)

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. Despite receiving a lot of feedback on last year’s survey calling for allowing multiple answers, I decided to keep the single-answer format because I wanted to learn about the most pressing reason.

The seniority distribution is interesting again as there are some major differences from 2022. First of all, something I noticed is that a lot of designers are still quite experienced. 34.5% of them were senior, and 25.5% of them were either Staff, Principal, Lead, Manager or Head of Department. See the chart below for the full breakdown (Fig 3).

60% of participants were either senior designers or higher seniority (9.9% junior, 24.6% intermediate, 34.5% senior, 2% staff, 3.4% principal, 12.3% lead, 5.8% manager, 2.4% head.
Fig 3: 60% of participants were either senior designers or higher seniority (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

This leads me to believe that the UX industry is still top-heavy. Here’s something fascinating — compared to last year we see an increase in seniority overall. We see a major shift in intermediate (a decrease from 32.9% in 2022 to 24.6% in 2023) and senior designers (an increase from 27.7% to 34.5%). The junior and leads are comparable between the years.

Last year’s and this year’s junior (around 10%) and leads (around 25%) percentages are comparable. We observe major shifts in intermediate (an 8% decrease) and senior (a 7% increase).
Fig 4: Shifts between seniority levels from 2022 to 2023.

How can we explain that? Not only is the UX industry top-heavy, it’s actually getting heavier. A lot of intermediate designers are moving into senior roles but we don’t see major shifts from senior to lead roles. In fact, there was a decrease in lead roles compared to last year. This could mean that a lot of senior designers are still getting stuck in their careers as there are no career progression options for them where they work. As we’ll see later in the report, this is still one of the main reasons why they quit their jobs. Let’s take a closer look at those.

The first answer is, sadly, quite obvious — layoffs. Designers were amongst those who were hit the hardest in the tech layoffs of 2023. 14.3% of the respondents said they were laid off. Last year this answer wasn’t even an option so only a few of the 159 of last year’s respondents said they lost their job via the “Other” answer.

Not surprisingly, the layoffs had a huge impact on the other reasons. Being unhappy about the work they had to do received 10.2% of answers when it was 18.5% last year. The lack of career progression opportunities option was the second one (layoffs excluded) with 9.6%. Also a significant decrease compared to last year’s 18.5%. And finally, we have the low UX/Design maturity reason at 8.9%, compared to 11.5% from last year.

14.3% of designers were laid off, 10.2% were unhappy with the work, 9.6% lacked career progression opportunities, and 8.9% were bothered by the low UX/design maturity
Fig 5: 14.3% of designers were laid off, 10.2% were unhappy with the work, 9.6% lacked career progression opportunities, and 8.9% were bothered by the low UX/design maturity (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

Excluding the layoffs, the top three reasons for designers quitting their jobs remain the same:

  • Being unhappy about the work they do
  • Lack of career progression opportunities
  • Low UX/Design maturity

The unhappiness about the work and the lack of career progression saw significant changes in percentages but the problems with UX/Design maturity remain nearly the same.

Let’s dig in and take a closer look at the breakdown by seniority.

Junior designers feel they aren’t growing

17.2% of junior designers got laid off, only second to design leads at 19.3%. 13.8% of them quit because they felt they weren’t growing, and 10.3% lacked career progression opportunities. Only 6.9% of them were unhappy about the work they had to do, and an additional 6.9% of them were bothered by the low UX/Design maturity of the company.

17.2% of junior designers were laid off, 13.8% weren’t growing, 10.3% lacked career opportunities, and 6.9% left because of low UX/design maturity
Fig 6: 17.2% of junior designers were laid off, 13.8% weren’t growing, 10.3% lacked career opportunities, and 6.9% left because of low UX/design maturity (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

Excluding the layoffs, the stats are comparable to those from last year, especially the part where fewer of them are bothered by the low UX/Design maturity. It seems that growth and progress in their career are of higher priority, which makes sense as they’re at the beginning of their careers.

Intermediate designers lack career progression opportunities

One of the most surprising findings of this study is that only 8.2% of intermediate designers were laid off. Compared to others, who are all above 15%, that’s quite low. Is this the UX job market regulating itself? We saw a high demand for senior designers in the years leading up to 2023 so maybe companies “overhired” senior designers and now they’re trying to fix that.

8.2% of intermediate designers were laid off, 13.7% lacked career opportunities, and 12.3%% left because of low UX/design maturity
Fig 7: 8.2% of intermediate designers were laid off, 13.7% lacked career opportunities, and 12.3%% left because of low UX/design maturity (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

13.7% of them lacked career progression opportunities, and 12.3% of them were bothered by the low UX/Design maturity. It’s interesting to see how that isn’t that much of a problem for junior designers, becomes more problematic for intermediate and senior designers, but then drops again with the design leads.

I think that this pattern could indicate that the companies hiring intermediate and senior designers aren’t always mature enough to keep them. The presence of design leads may indicate a higher UX/Design maturity so that’s why it isn’t as much of a problem to them.

Senior designers and design leads are unhappy about the work they do

Senior designers are mostly unhappy with the work they have to do and are bothered by the low UX/Design maturity. 14.9% of them got laid off which seems to have impacted the major shifts we observed in the other answers. For example, only 10.9% of them were unhappy about the work they had to do, compared to 26.3% from last year. The low UX/Design maturity answer accounts for 9.9% this year, compared to 21.1% from last year.

14.9% of senior designers were laid off, 10.9% were unhappy with the work, and 9.9%% left because of low UX/design maturity
Fig 8: 14.9% of senior designers were laid off, 10.9% were unhappy with the work, and 9.9%% left because of low UX/design maturity (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

The biggest change comes with the lack of career progression opportunities reason where we see a decrease from 20.1% from last year to 5.9% in 2023. Senior designers are still unhappy about their compensation but there was a slight decrease compared to last year (6.9% in 2022 to 5.3% in 2023). They, along with design leads, are the only designers in my research who are unhappy with their compensation enough to quit their jobs.

19.3% of design leads were laid off, 13.4% were unhappy with the work, and 13.3%% left because of a poor relationship with their manager
Fig 9: 19.3% of design leads were laid off, 13.4% were unhappy with the work, and 13.3%% left because of a poor relationship with their manager (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

19.3% of design leads got laid off, the most out of all seniorities. That makes sense as they’re probably the most expensive employees. This could also be a sign of the UX job market and industry regulating and readjusting itself away from the inflated needs in the years 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Just like senior designers, design leads are also unhappy about the work they have to do. 13.4% chose this answer as the most pressing reason for quitting their jobs. However, there’s a significant decrease from last year, when 25% of them picked this answer. Interestingly, the UX/Design maturity is less of a problem to them as only 6.3% of them picked this answer.

Poor relationship with their manager is an answer that stands out when it comes to design leads. Far from being among the top three answers with other seniorities, 13.3% of design leads picked this as the main reason. This is quite comparable to last year’s 12.5%.

The last major change with design leads is with career progression opportunities. Only 10.8% picked this as the main problem this year, while 25% lacked career opportunities in 2022.

Generalists are still happier about the work they do and get recruited more

Conducting this report last year, I found that design generalists are generally happier with the work they do. I ascribed it to the work being more diverse, and more fun because of that. I wanted to check if this pattern still holds this year. Only 19 out of 293 designers who responded to the survey were generalists so take these stats with a pinch of salt.

15.8% of design generalists were laid off, 11% got recruited, and 10.5%% left because of a poor relationship with their manager
Fig 10: 15.8% of design generalists were laid off, 11% got recruited, and 10.5%% left because of a poor relationship with their manager (View interactive chart for full breakdown)

15.8% of design generalists got laid off. But there’s an interesting spike in how many of them left because they got recruited by another company — 11% which is the most of all designers asked. Still, that’s only half compared to last year’s 22%. It’s probably the “layoff effect” we’ve witnessed with all other seniorities so far. They also seem to struggle with their managers as 10.5% of them said they left because of a poor relationship with them.

About 10% said they lacked career progression opportunities, and another 10% were bothered by the low UX/design maturity by their employers.

Design generalists are still happier with the work they do than other designers — only 5.3% of them left because of that reason. And there was a decrease compared to last year’s 11.1%.

Designers leave small teams and design-immature companies

Low UX/design maturity was one of the top three reasons in last year’s report so this year I decided to investigate this further. I asked designers what the maturity of the company they left was, based on NNG’s maturity levels. I linked to that page in the question so that designers could make an informed decision. The results are striking.

19.8% scored their past emplyer with the UX maturity of 1 (lowest), 30.4% with 2, 27.3% with 3, 12.3% with 4, 7.2% with 5, 3.1% with 6.
Fig 11: UX/design maturity score (Higher is better)

I like NNG’s levels of maturity because there’s no neutral option. If we divide the six levels in half we get the less mature companies (levels 1 to 3) and the more mature ones (levels 4 to 6). 77.5% of respondents evaluated the maturity of their companies with levels 1 to 3, meaning they’re more design-immature.

However we look at these results, UX/design maturity remains a huge problem in the UX industry. If this is in any way a reflection of it, most companies out there are still design-immature and we’ve made little to no progress in recent years. This finding leads me to think — can you think of anyone else working in tech who has to prove their value and justify their work? Engineers don’t have to prove the value of software development, product managers don’t have to justify product management. It’s only designers who are somewhat “expected” to prove their value and justify their worth. It’s only designers who have to work for design-immature companies who don’t understand what they do.

Ok, so designers leave design-immature companies. Let’s take a closer look at the company and team sizes that they leave behind. When looking at company sizes, the distribution is quite equal. Nothing stands out.

16% of designers worked in companies smaller than 10 employees, 26.3% for 11 to 49, 23.9% for 50 to 249, 16% for 250 to 999, and 17.7% for 1000 or more employees.
Fig 12: Nothing jumps out when we look at the sizes of the companies that designers left. It’s quite an equal distribution.

But when we look at design team sizes we get to some interesting stats. Designers mostly leave solo positions (22.2%) and small teams (34.8%). These stats may be a reflection of the state of the UX industry. There aren’t that many design teams out there with 20+ designers. I wouldn’t be surprised if most designers work alone and in small to medium-sized teams.

22.2% of designers were solo designers, 34.8% were in teams of up to 3 designers, 27% in 4 to 9 designers, 8.2% in 10 to 19 designers, and 7.8% in teams with 20 designers or more.
Fig 13: Looking at the team size is somewhat surprising as it’s not a reflection of the team size chart (it’s quite an unequal distribution)

Looking at how many years of experience the designers had when they left we see that it’s mostly the experienced designers leaving.

The most of respondents, 37.2% of them, had 10 years of more of experience. All other points on the chart (0 to 9) are around 10% or less.
Fig 14: It’s mostly the highly experienced designers that leave for greener grass.

When we look at how many years they’d been with the company a pattern emerges — most designers make it to three years with a company.

Most designers were with the company for 2 years when they left (27.3%). Followed by those who left at 1 yar mark (19.8%), followed by those who were there for 3 years (14.7%).
Fig 15: Most designers make it to 3 years with a company

Designers are happy with their compensation but still get an average of 20% increase when switching jobs

Only 6% of participants claimed that they left their jobs because they were unhappy with their compensation. Still, when switching jobs, designers get 20%, 30% and even higher compensation increases. N/A (non-applicable) answers are mostly from the poor souls who got laid off. I’m surprised to see that 13.3% of them received no increase at all and that around 35% of them increased their salaries by less than 20%. Job switches are perfect for increasing one’s salary, but it seems that designers don’t know that.

Most designers didn’t get any increase (probably the ones that were laid off). After that, most of them secured a 20% salary increase.
Fig 16: Most designers didn’t get any increase (probably the ones that were laid off). After that, most of them secured a 20% salary increase.

When we slice this data by seniority, we get to see some really interesting stats.



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