Being a designer is a very layered line of work, and the longer you’re in it the more and more apparent the layers become. I found myself pondering one day what does it mean to be a designer?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a designer as ‘a person who imagines how something could be made, or what it would look like, and makes plans for it.’ I found this definition to be interesting because a designer is so much more than that. And it got me thinking of all the hidden skills that a person needs in order to be a strong designer. What does it take to properly plan and bring something to life? What makes someone a better designer than another?
I could talk about this topic all day, but to keep things under control let’s explore what I would consider to be the top three unexpected skills a person should have to be a designer.
I think a lot in life could become better by asking questions and design is no different.
Good design is about asking the right questions and not necessarily about having the right answers.
One thing that can keep us from our best work is our own assumptions. Assumptions about what the clients likes, who the client’s audience is, how the design assets will be used – the list goes on.
And the only way to get away from our own assumptions is to ask questions.
The best way, that I have personally found, to create space for questions and curiosity is by hosting brand strategy workshops with clients. During this two hour workshop I meet with the client and ask them a series of questions, follow up questions, and do a few activities to uncover what the best design solution is going to be for their goals. You can learn more about these brand strategy workshops here.
How to ask better questions? (For design and in life)
Being creative is hard and vulnerable. So we can often mimic what we see around us because we know that it looks good, it’s not as risky and there is less room for failure.
This keeps us safe.
But it means we don’t experiment and end up recycling trends and creating same-same work.
By keeping or selves safe from failing or making bad work, we ultimately never make anything really great either.
I first heard the phrase “Dare to Suck” when I read that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith would hold weekly meetings with the band. The meetings were called “Dare to Suck”. At this meeting each person would bring one possibly terrible, maybe even embarrassing idea and present it to everyone else. Tyler says, “And nine times out of ten, the idea is actually terrible. But one time out of ten you get Dude Looks Like a Lady or Love in an Elevator.’
I love this idea of fearlessly creating. So what if our ideas are bad? What if we created more from a space of recklessness in order to create something really great.
Patience with yourself
Living in the age of Amazon, streaming, and the internet we often expect immediate gratification. But becoming a better designer takes A LOT of time. Maybe you have heard the 10,000 hour rule? Popularized by Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, it’s the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to master a complex skill.
While I doubt this number is totally scientific, it drives the point that getting good at something takes a really freaking long time.
So keep practicing and stay patient.
Patience with others
Whether you design in house or freelance, design is often a collaborative project either between yourself and the client or yourself and teammates.
Patience comes in when truly listening to your clients’ or teammate’s opinions or feedback on a project.
Design is a complex, empathetic, strategic, experimental, and vulnerable. And maybe it’s not meant to be defined by a few words in a dictionary. Because every designer is just a person, with different skills, strengths, and weaknesses. The skills I associate with a good designer also make up a good person. Having these skills won’t only help you to become a better designer but also a well rounded person.
I know you probably opened this blog post thinking I was going to talk about coding or some other complex skill to add to your list of courses you’ve already paid for to keep up with everyone around you.
But this is your reminder that you’re human, and you’re allowed to live your life and learn from the experiences you have on a daily basis because those life lessons are important too.
Okay, cheesiness over.
In case you really did come here looking for complex ways to strengthen your design skills, check out this blog post about all things brand strategy, or this blog post about how I learned to properly ask questions.