The Angry Designer
April 13, 2021

The B Word: How to recognize & prevent burnout as a graphic designer

The B Word: How to recognize & prevent burnout as a graphic designer

The dreaded b word. For a graphic designer, nothing is scarier than burnout. 

It is a very real thing. And it’s totally normal - it happens to almost all designers at some point in their careers. While some recover, some never return. It’s something that everyone fears. 

Working in a fast-paced, high volume environment takes its toll on people. Trust us, we know. Over the past 22-years, we’ve experienced it. But we’ve come through the other side, and we’ve learned how to cope with it. Many aren’t so lucky. 

The more experience you have in the industry, the more you’re able to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout before it hits. This will buy you crucial time to stop it in its tracks, before it reaches the point of no return. But it takes years to understand and, for someone who has never experienced before, it can be quite alarming. 

The good news is, in most cases, burnout is avoidable! 

To help you understand burnout its warning signs better, we’ve broken it down into three types based on what we know best – fonts! 

Burnout Light 

Burnout Light is Physical burnout. This is very common, and most designers will have experienced it at some stage, particularly those working in a high volume, fast turnover environment. 

Young designers who are just starting out are at the highest risk for burnout light – working crazy hours, sleeping in the office, then the same on repeat. You love what you’re doing but you’ve taken on too damn much. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed. Sound familiar? You could be suffering from burnout light. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The chances of recovery are good. It’s generally pretty easy to pull yourself out of this one, providing you understand your limitations and how much you can give. 

Oh, and you should be aware that your time management probably sucks! So work on that, understand how long things take you, and only take on what you can realistically deliver. 

Burnout Bold 

Next up, we’ve got creative burnout, aka the wall! This is the WORST for a designer. Our creativity is our livelihood. So if we’re flatlining on creativity, we’re basically f*cked! 

Again, inexperience can play a role here. But it also has a lot to do with confidence. Think about it. If you’re doing what you love and handing work over to clients, only to receive overwhelming praise, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get burnout anytime soon. Has anyone ever got burnout from too much positive feedback? Probably not. 

But, if you’re putting your heart and soul into your work, only for your clients to piss all over it, it can really work away at your confidence. Before you know it, you’re second guessing all your ideas, doubting your talent, and wondering if you’re actually any good at what you do. Have you ever been any good? Or have you been lying to yourself all these years?

And all that leads to burnout.  

So how do we avoid this one? It’s about managing your expectations of your clients (you can’t expect everyone to love what you do) and be realistic about your own work. 

Everything won’t be perfect for everyone, all of the time. But, by working with good clients and adopting the right mindset, you can channel their feedback into motivation rather than criticism. 

Oh, and you know those projects and clients that suck all your creativity out of you (and probably your will to live)? Learn how to say no to them. Fast. 

Burnout Black 

Burnout Black is permanent burnout. The worst of all the burnouts. The “OK, I’m done, I can’t do this job anymore” type of burnout. It takes a long time to reach this point, and its usually impossible to come back from. In short, it sucks. 

This one is usually a result of burnout light + burnout bold, over the course of many years. It’s rock bottom and the end for many designers. 

Trust us, you’ll want to avoid this one. But how?

Diversify 

Look to diversify your skills or clients. Sure, you might be a burnt-out graphic designer, but have you tried being a furniture designer or an industrial designer? It may sound crazy but working in related areas that you understand might just be the secret to rediscovering the love you had for design in the first place. 

Take on side gigs

Take on side gigs or projects. Work on things you love, purely because you love them. Projects where you’re fully in charge, without having to report back to a client or pin your worth on their feedback. By cutting out all the stressful crap, you might just remember why you love what you do (and that you’re pretty good at it too!). 

Change up your environment 

Is the problem your environment? Move! Pack up your stuff and go work in a coffee shop for a day…or a week…or however long it takes to feel better. Find a chilled space, with great coffee, give yourself a change of scenery. You’ll be surprised at just how much difference it can make. 

Self-awareness 

This is the crucial one. The ultimate way to avoid burnout and have a long and prosperous future in design. The self-awareness to recognise the key signs of burnout and avoid them. Is it physical burnout? Is it creative? Are you on the slippery slope to permanent burnout? 

And what do you need to do to fix it? Is it saying no to projects, increasing your rates, or getting out into a new environment? Is it taking a break, moving into a new area of design, or something else? Having the self-awareness to understand your situation, and act before it’s too late, can be career saving! 

Head over to our podcast to find out more about avoiding burnout as a designer.