I often come across the approach that “this designer is great in terms of skill because they post great work on Dribbble, they make great UI, they have a lot of likes on Dribbble and a popular account.” Great work on Dribbble or Instagram is nice. It shows how well you can visually handle technical skills and how you play with different forms. But does it mean that you are at the highest level of design skills? In my opinion, not.
Having a solid design portfolio is essential, but even more so, having strong communication skills will set you apart as a designer. Being able to effectively communicate your design decisions, collaborate with cross-functional teams, and present your work clearly and persuasively are all crucial to a successful career in design.
How to become a senior designer?
The path to learning technical skills, like driving a car with a gear stick, is tangible. The process may not be easy – imagine lots of sudden brakes and clutches – but it is clear enough. Conversely, teaching someone to be more patient, a better team player, or more innovative may not follow a set formula, but it is still possible. Although some people have innate personality traits that allow them to display specific soft skills naturally, these skills are also honed over time.
Time spent honing your craft can shape your abilities as a designer, but ultimately it’s about the maturity of your thought process and approach to your work. Some designers may develop this maturity more quickly than others.
As a designer, you should develop skills such as empathy, design thinking, critical thinking, research, etc. However, fewer people say that a different skill set is needed to succeed. Self-confidence, discipline, and good communication are basic soft skills that even junior designers should develop. Not to mention an excellent command of the English language, to which I will devote more attention in later sections.
1. Effective communication
Good communication is vital for success in design. As a UX designer, your main goal is to create solutions that meet the needs and preferences of users. To achieve this, you must possess good communication skills. Consistency in communication is crucial. It is easy for team members to forget or misinterpret information. Therefore, it is essential to remind them of the business/product goals, the plan in case of problems, and what to be aware of at least once a week.
A quick tip: Refrain from assuming that information is trivial and that your team will figure it out independently. Write it down or verbalize it. In addition, it’s essential to communicate and explain your design process to your team. This will help build trust and understanding among team members.
Let’s take an example: you talked to a client about providing the materials necessary for you to continue your work. You remind him once, and then you don’t want to deal with it anymore and just wait for him to contact you or for your Project Manager to remind him. Sure, that’s also a solution; you don’t have to write and remind him about it. However, such an approach is a reflection of your seniority. If you are already an experienced designer, the ideal process would be to treat client projects as if they were your own (of course, you create them, but you know what I mean, that feeling that it is your product and you will take care of it the best you can).
This also relates to responsibility – by treating the project as your own, you always want to ensure that the process is going well and that the materials you are waiting for are delivered. But that only sometimes happens automatically – sometimes, you must remind the client why it is important and thus show him that we care. That’s what I’m talking about – involvement in the client’s project shows him and the rest of the project team that you take what you do seriously and professionally.
2. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) has become increasingly recognized as an essential soft skill. Before that, it was not commonly viewed as a desirable skill, as many people were unfamiliar with it. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the feelings of others, to navigate interpersonal relationships effectively and empathically. This is particularly important for designers, as most designs aim to be persuasive in some way, which requires an understanding of human psychology and what motivates people to act. Emotional intelligence is closely related to this. In addition to its direct impact on design work, high emotional intelligence also improves how individuals interact with team members, developers, clients, or employers. People with high EQ tend to have better working relationships and a more harmonious work environment.
Let’s take an example where clients need help deciding what they want, and the concepts we have created for them do not meet their approval. Instead of engaging in unnecessary and unproductive discussions, let’s ask if there are specific elements they do not like and why. Let’s try to understand their thought process and propose different solutions. And let’s not take this feedback personally – I often see many designers simply feel attacked just because the client criticized their design.
And this is where emotional intelligence comes in. A person aware of the mechanisms of human behavior reasonably approaches the topic of expressing their emotions and interpreting the feelings of others will automatically treat it as an impulse to show even more. He will create a new version, want to reflect the client’s vision best, and create the design the client expects. That’s the whole point – conscious drawing of conclusions and proactive action!
3. Growth mindset
A beginner’s mindset is an essential foundation for a growth mindset. When you believe that you already know all the possible solutions to a design problem, you are less likely to consider new and more innovative ideas. When you approach problems with a beginner’s mindset, you are more likely to come up with a concept that hasn’t been tried before. This mindset encourages you to look for solutions from a broader range of sources and directly impacts your creativity and innovation. A growth mindset is also crucial because of the rapid pace of change in design and technology. What was considered cutting-edge just a year ago may now be outdated. If you are not continuously looking to grow and improve, you will be able to use the same old design patterns that have been seen before.
Going back to basics and re-analyzing design solutions and issues is exemplary. Designers who consider themselves experienced often get offended when someone suggests a better key to what they have prepared. And I’m not talking about digging holes or doing anything deliberately harmful to that designer. I’m talking about friendly advice and a willingness to help (because that’s a mature approach to design – you see room for improvement and want to help someone create an even better version). Instead, the person whose mindset is not yet at the level I mentioned earlier gets offended and does it their way anyway, completely ignoring your advice or even treating it as something unwanted.
A mind that is constantly growing and is already at a different level of understanding (I’m not talking about magical abilities, but, as mentioned earlier, emotional intelligence) will be thrilled that someone else took the time to share their feedback. Unfortunately, this is only sometimes the case – it’s hard to say why. From observation, I know that designers often find it difficult to separate themselves as creators from what they do. They are emotionally connected to it and are affected every time someone criticizes or even gives them advice (when they didn’t ask for it). Sometimes it’s worth looking at yourself and your behavior patterns from the outside and analyzing them. This will allow us to reach exciting conclusions, gain some distance from what we create, and be better designers.
4. Know how to explain your thinking
The ability to communicate effectively is one of the essential qualities to look for in a designer. Clear communication enables designers to effectively convey their ideas and thoughts to clients, team members, and other stakeholders and understand and incorporate feedback into their work.
How did you come to this result? What does your process look like in practice? Why do you think this solution is good? Have you considered any other alternatives? To be a good designer, we should know the answers to these questions. We should be confident in our process and be able to show others how we think about it. Everyone should ask themselves these questions when working on a specific project.
As a designer, it’s crucial to not only understand the technical aspects of design but also to have a strong understanding of storytelling principles. By understanding the emotional impact and outcome that a design or brand should aim to achieve, you can create designs that look good and effectively communicate a message and elicit a desired reaction from the viewer. One effective way to improve your storytelling skills as a designer is to break down the stories of designs and brands you admire. By analyzing the emotional impact and outcome these designs and brands aim to achieve, you can better understand how to craft your strategies and brand identities that are emotionally impactful and effective in achieving a desired outcome. Additionally, remember to communicate your process and thought process effectively to others, as this will help build trust with your clients, team members, and audience. A designer who can effectively communicate their design choices and the reasoning behind them is more likely to gain their peers’ and clients’ trust and respect.
5. Be an expert
Many designers struggle with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. Still, it’s important to remember that just because the design process comes naturally to you doesn’t mean it’s not valuable or meaningful work. Trusting yourself and your designer abilities is crucial to creating work that reflects your value and expertise. If you don’t trust yourself, it will be reflected in your position and your interactions with clients and other stakeholders. When you present a project, you may find yourself easily swayed by other people’s opinions and criticism, making it difficult for others to take you seriously as a designer. Instead, by demonstrating confidence in your abilities and your design process, you can establish yourself as a true expert in your field.
An important aspect here is also the ability to advise customers. Not just being a designer and doing your job, but also a proactive attitude and approaching the customer with your proposals, being their partner. Have you ever been tempted to impose your vision on the customer? Don’t do it – be empathetic and try to understand the other person’s thinking as best as possible. Argue and give specific, realistic examples – with this approach, you will gain much more and even show your expertise. Remember that you are not creating for yourself but for users and the client. Expertise is also shown in the way we work on the project. Seniority in design is also demonstrated by the ability to prioritize tasks and create products without excessive complications appropriately. Basic knowledge, such as intuitive understanding, being pragmatic, and focusing on what is most important, is needed here: wise time and resource management.
6. English skills
English is the most widely spoken and written language in design, technology, and science. Having a good command of the language is essential for designers to effectively communicate with clients and colleagues and stay current with the latest industry trends and advancements. Additionally, English language skills can open up opportunities for designers to work in the global market and communicate with a broader audience.
As a designer, expressing yourself clearly and effectively in English is essential. This includes a good understanding of the structure and grammar of the language and using the appropriate expressions and idioms to convey your ideas effectively. Being mindful of the language and words you choose and being able to adapt your language to different audiences and situations is crucial. In addition, explaining complex ideas differently is essential, as it shows a deeper understanding of the language and the ability to adapt to different situations. It’s also important to pay attention to the physical aspect of speaking. This includes speaking at an appropriate pace and having a good base for pronunciation. This helps convey your ideas more effectively and makes you more confident when communicating in English.
Once you have a solid foundation in the language, the learning never stops. The language aims to communicate meaning and convey your thoughts effectively to others. This requires ongoing practice and the development of language skills. Communication goes beyond the words and the language that you use. English is one of the most critical skills for a designer today.
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Your career path to becoming a better designer
Remember – a cluttered and disorganized mind can lead to a messy and ineffective product and communication. It is essential to take the time to organize and simplify your thoughts to produce clear and effective results. Avoiding jargon, complexity, and unnecessary features can help ensure that your message is easily understood and your product is user-friendly and efficient.
Practice your skills and become a better designer!