From the question everyone is asking themselves to some other soft skills that, based on my experience, would need to be improved by any good designer, here is my stance on the question.
As a designer, you’re in charge of solving daily life problems, and through the analysis of people’s behaviour, you must know how to propose a solution accordingly. However, there’s a lot more than that involved in problem-solving, it is not just sitting in front of your computer and coming up with a fancy prototype to showcase your solution.
There are a lot of factors that define a designer. It is not only about the fact that they can problem-solve, design and builds the proposed solution, but they must also know how to communicate and argue that their solution is the right one to solve that problem. That’s why it’s equally important for a designer to be able to share their thoughts on their work, make sure people understand the problem and how the proposed solution addresses the latter relevantly.
Jack of all trades and master of none, a designer who has knowledge in different areas can certainly apply it in product designing and this comes as an advantage when working across projects and teams, for it enables to find a better end solution.
On this post, I will go through some of the soft skills that I’ve been acquiring over the years. It’s important to note that they are not mandatory, but they have helped me obtain a better understanding of the development of projects and on how to deliver better digital products.
A designer should be curious, willing to learn and expand his knowledge in all fields that might or might not be used on his daily work. Getting experience through tasks that are not restricted to their area of expertise can help to build better solutions and becoming an end-to-end designer with a valuable amount of knowledge of the whole process of designing.
Knowing how to code being a designer
After many years working on multiple products, gaining experience by covering tasks in various fields and having to adapt my work based on the project and the team involved, I’ve understood that the reason why products are successful is that I know how to help in case of a problem arising.
Having a vast knowledge in all programming languages, knowing the basics of some of them as well as how they are structured can help in assessing how feasible some solutions are to implement.
A designer that knows how to code is a designer that can make the handover of the designs for the front-end developers easier. They can also propose different solutions based on the features of the programming language used, in plain HTML and CSS or component-based libraries like react.
Taking the ownership of the product will also help as they will have to review the work done by the developers in the QA stage and spot any possible issues within the final code to avoid future misfunctions. This can be easily done with an understanding of the basics of HTML or using the Inspector mode of a web browser to check how the code looks and make changes in line to fix it.
A designer that knows how to code can be a good point of contact for bug tracking, QA testing and can also help spotting ways to improve its solutions.
Besides, let’s be honest, as a designer, it happens that the final code of a product doesn’t reflect one to one the designs proposed and signed off. There might be many reasons for this but most of the time it’s because the work is done by different teams and the handover is not always as seamless as it should be. Being able to oversee the work done by the development team can help improve a product before releasing it to the public, therefore reducing efforts (both times constraints and human resources) and speed up in its launch.
The importance of your writing skills as a designer
Designers are story-tellers, concept builders and, before anything else, problem solvers. With that, it seems logical that to achieve most of the daily tasks of a designer they need to be good communicators, able to explain themselves, the way they work and especially their results and solutions.
In the past few months, I’ve come to realize that having the ability to write down my ideas in a way where anyone can understand can make me a better designer. From sharing a new concept I came up with but haven’t been able to transform into a physical (or digital) design with stakeholders or trying to explain how a set of components should work together when placed into an app to a front-end developer, acquiring better writing skills made me improve on those fields.
When was the last time you tried to explain one of your designs without having to show them on a screen?
That question came up when speaking with fellow designers at a meet-up I recently attended. It was unexpected and so simple, and yet we realized that going into details and functionalities and having an in-depth conversation about a product is way easier when able to showcase it on a screen. This highlights the challenge that is coming up with the right words and adjectives necessary to the explanation of the task and the invisible advantage that designers who can do this have.
This is why I started writing. Describing my daily work and sharing my thoughts in form of articles is more of a personal challenge designed to improve my writing skills that than to spread my word across the vast Internet. So far I’ve seen a massive change in the way I communicate in my daily work, and I strongly recommend this trick it to anyone.
Selling as a conviction tool for designers
This idea goes with the previous statement, and although it’s not mandatory, they work best together and can be improved simultaneously.
As designers, it is important to be able to convince your clients that your idea, your conception and your solutions are the ones for the job, and not only rely on research results or user resources to back you up. Being able to take complete ownership of a project and thinking of ways to convince people we are sharing our work with that this idea is the one that needs to be implemented (even if sometimes in future stages it will need to be iterated) is the key. It is also worth remembering that we are the first ones to take the last decision before presenting the work to others.
Being able to tell a story and making it valid and believable will open a lot of doors. It should help setting up the bases in discussions where your opinion, backed up with facts and research results, is going to be the main sales argument.
Most of the time on the job there will be a time where designers will sit down with other teams on the project or the direct stakeholder who had to give his approval in the future, and sometimes it even happens that random people not involved in the task also attend. As designers, it is important to be convinced that the solution you came up with is the best there is and if you manage to sell your idea like that, this will build up the credibility not only for the group of designers but for yourself.
Designers should be masters of time management
Although this sounds obvious, I’ve met plenty of designers that were tackling their tasks based on the priorities given to them, without providing estimations of the complexity levels and overall, complicating the delivery process of a project.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that designers should have a part of project management capacities in their DNA, not only in terms of work but also of their time, considering that most of the time their work is a critical start to the launching of a project. While working on freelance projects or in a small design agency, you need to divide your tasks well and optimize your time as much as possible to ensure the success of your projects and therefore of your company.
Having time on your side makes you more aware of when things will be due and work on it in an organized way, making deliveries more accessible to the rest of the team.
Along these lines, something that has become great practice is the use of Design Sprints to involve every member of the team into the general workflow project, the next goal on SCRUM and Agile teams.
All in all, in a world focused on specialisation and unification of processes usually you won’t need to make use of all these qualities. But, to stand out and broaden your skill set to expand as a professional, trying to improve all those qualities would make you the man for the task, even if it’s outside your regular tasks as a designer.
From being able to review code and find bugs to documenting your design decisions and introducing an idea to stakeholders, being a designer require a wide range of skills that you can decide whether to work on to reach this extra level. If you take some time to improve your social and debating skills, along with some special focus on time management, there is no doubt your improvements will reflect on your work.