Being a designer* requires a broad spectrum of skills. I believe there are 2 pillars that define a great designer*. First, craft and utility. Second, is process, thinking and intuition. They are not mutually exclusive, but complimentary. A good designer will be able to satisfy a few points in each pillar, whilst someone great will be exceptional at a lot of these points. *These are all references to digital and product design
You could rationalise that I’ve divided these two things into UI and UX categories. But my opinion is that when you purposely try to silo these 2 traits out, you are doing a disservice to the work. The thinking doesn’t become rounded enough. Being able to look at the big picture AND executing on the details is important. A great designer should be proficient at both things. They should be a thinker and a craftsman/craftswoman. Consider some of the skills listed below.
Craft and utility
- Technical ability
- Sound foundational skills - grid, typography, hierarchy, color, motion
- A breadth of skill sets on different tools can prototype, design, sketch - with speed and efficiency
- A master of 1 of those skills with complimentary skills
- Ability to fine tune details
- Have the ability to solve problems with different concepts very well
Thinking, process and intuition
- A solid process - Design thinking
- Great with working with data and turning that into information
- Great at delivering on objectives and project outcomes
- Great at articulating design decisions
- Great in meetings and getting projects approved and winning pitches
- Great people skills
- Empathetic – Insightful with users
Depending on your capabilities in each spectrum, how good you are at each skill set will define what your value is as a designer. It will take you from being good to great, and finally to being exceptional. Someone that makes organisations think “I must hire this person at all costs!!”
Take a look at the spectrum and see where you fit in. Think of it as a game. As you learn more and get more experience, you gain more points to allocate to each pillar. And as time goes on, you naturally accumulate more skill sets. Below are all positions that I’ve been in at one point in time in my career, or are positions of people that I've hired and the personal traits and skill sets that they've portrayed. The higher you get above that industry average line, the more valuable you become. And that applies to either pillar. The higher up you get, the more exponential your value becomes. So don’t aim to be mediocre, aim to be exceptional with your work.
This is someone starting out. You want your work to be good but it’s just not quite there yet. There’s still some things that are just a little off. And as far as processes go, you just don’t have enough experience of how an organisation runs and delivers on outcomes. Everything at this point is just what you’ve learnt in school or on your own. Not much experience selling the work. With a bit of nurturing and putting in the work, you can evolve to being a good designer.
This is when you’ve started to mature. The distribution of skills may be slightly different. But you are getting a better grasp on your execution and thinking. You are more confident in delivering on objectives based on the results of past projects that you’ve launched. Your value is increasing.
Once again, distribution of skills may be different. You have become very refined and can navigate the requirements of a project easily. You can lead a team, lead a project pitch and deliver on business and user outcomes. Companies try to recruit you and you have some bargaining power.
By this point, you can work for almost any organisation you want. You may even start your own firm. You are an invaluable asset to any business. This is not simply a Creative Director, but someone with vision AND the ability to execute. In the traditional agency model, Creative Directors simply evolve to become glorified salesmen; they stop working behind the tools. I’m not a part of that school of thought. I think companies like Work&Co. get it right. Their line up of senior partners and directors fit this mould, of great thinkers and doers.
So what is value exactly? And why does it matter?
Value is what you bring to the table. How well are you at helping a business deliver on there objectives? Either for a client, an organisation or a digital agency. It's about how well you can craft beautiful work that pushes your organisation forward. How well your work delights users through insight and empathy. Your ability to collaborate well with others and bring the best out of them. And how well your work delivers business objectives. In my opinion, how well you deliver on these outcomes determines if you're an average designer, a good one or a great one.
To gain value you need to put these facets together. The more you improve on each facet, the more you can decide what you get paid and what kind of people you want to work for. You are a valued asset.
To become valuable, you need to create value for others.
The Process: Masterclass was created for this reason. To share my experiences with you on the different facets of design. From both design thinking to design execution. To give you a boost in knowledge, to increase your value as a designer and to give you the tools that will allow you to create the career that you want.