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Since my self-inflicted work hiatus, I've had time to think about where I want to go next. Some things I know: I'm going to continue designing software for mobile. Getting closer to the metal would be fun. New angles would be interesting. There are a number of options for a mobile IxD, for example:
A Design Studio
Lots of IxD's work in design companies/design studios. There is a fair number of companies that specializes in mobile. All projects are short term. You work with clients, and a big part of the work is structuring the clients mind. You need people skills and communication skills. In fact, communications skills is what this job is all about. All your design methodology means nothing if you can't pull the client through the generative phase and through the sign off phase. However brilliant you are, the client decides in the end, and often you only see parts or even none of your work in the end product.
You get to do a lot of different things and other designers are usually fun to work with. Offices are in a warehouse or industrial building with a big italian espresso coffee machine in the corner.
You get a MacBook Pro with a 23-inch Cinema Display. Bring a pair of headphones, these places are noisy.
A Phone Manufacturer
Contrary to what they should do, few phone manufacturers actually hire IxDs. Almost all their software design work is done by 3rd party design companies. With few exceptions, in-house design groups mainly spend their time modifying phones to suit operator specifications.
Currently many manufacturers are working on services in addition to phone hardware. Strategy work is in-house but most hands-on work is outsourced. You work in a building that is so big it has its own tube station.
You get a laptop, after all this is a mobile company. You also get your choice of phone, of course. You pick the top smartphone and think you are cool, only to discover that the really cool people are those who walk around with the prototypes, odd looking phones with wires and stuff hanging out of them.
A Dev Company
Dev companies are driven by engineers. They write software for other companies, the ones you want to look at writes for consumer hardware companies. These guys tend to be open-source loving, pinko, commie, tree-huggers with a bad neck-shave, right? Well, yes, but what's wrong with that? If you join the right dev company you can get to work on seriously cool stuff with very dedicated developers. Projects are mostly longer term, with deep involvement.
The down side is that good developers tend to be pretty stubborn individuals. You need to be able to explain your design choices in a way that developers can relate to. And you really need to understand the technical constraints and possibilities or you get zero cred.
You get a Linux box, a 17" crt screen found in the attic, and are asked to download GIMP.
All mobile startups are currently making location-based social networking services. With an API. Startups pay next to nothing but you get shares and that entitles you to a tax refund when the company folds.
The good thing about startups is that you get to do everything. You are most likely the only IxD on board so you have an opportunity to really make a difference. The founder is probably a propeller-head, not a techie and that poses some extra challenges as he or she will change everything from the background colour of the site to the business model several times a week.
You bring your own computer. The founder fixes you up with Adobe CS3 Master Collection on a nondescript DVD with the serial number on a Post It note.
If you are going to work for the Evil Empire, you want to be Darth Vader, right? But before that can happen, you must endure years as one of the guys with the peculiar looking hats. You know, these guys:
Please note: Stormtroopers don't do IxD. The helmets are laced with tin foil on the inside and that interferes with the cosmic vibes necessary for quality design work.
You get a stationary Windows machine with two 21" screens. Your request to the IT-department for Adobe Illustrator is denied. You get CorelDRAW Lite instead.
Freelancing works for some people. You are your own boss, you do what you want, when you want. Right?
In reality, you have no colleagues and that drives you crazy so you rent space with others. That costs money. You spend most of your time networking trying to sell your services, but most of the people you meet are other freelancers. You need money so you take on projects that are off or too big, you have to hire other freelancers to get things done and before you know it you run a design studio 24/7. I've been down that road.
As an "investment in your future", you order a top of the line MacBook Pro with a second 30 inch HD Cinema Display, Bose speakers, an A3 Canon printer, Nikon D200 digital SLR and an iPod for your spouse on "affordable monthly rates". Ouch.
You can't have responsibility without authority
Options are numerous if you are into small-form-factor design. For me the important thing is that the powers that be understands the importance of design. And that responsibility is accompanied by authority. It's exciting times indeed.