Being a designer is a truly awesome job. We get to be creative, think and realise ideas for a living. But it is also a profession that requires a lot of different skills sets working in harmony and varying levels of mastery to become great. It’s easy to be average. But it‘s fucking hard to become great. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I swear the more I practice it, the more layers and nuances it uncovers. As I’ve been working on the Process:Masterclass and putting together the lessons, what I’ve inevitably uncovered is that to a be great designer there is a wide range of skill sets that you need to be proficient at. And for myself even after 10 years there’s still so much to learn. Here’s a breakdown of my thoughts on what makes a great designer.
CRAFT & TECHNICAL ABILITY
This is what we associate traditionally with great designers. Superior control of the tools and great with outputting aesthetic work. Great use of colour, typography, spacing and creating balanced compositions. They also have great ability to create work that has impact and make you think ‘fuck I wish I made that’. This is the anchor and foundation to great design. You’ve got to be able to do this first foremost.
Having great taste
This is a common trait that great designers have. They have tremendous taste and have an eye for great design. As designers we’d like to think that we don’t have particular styles, and that the work that we create is independent of our egos and is used to solely represent our clients and the users we serve. But our influences and inspiration dictates the way we solve problems and the kind of work that we output. Having great taste automatically benchmarks our work against a high standard. Whether you are doing interactive design, photography, illustration or motion design etc. Having great taste allows the ability to reverse engineer problems and to deliver work that continually aims to reach a high standard.
Analytical skills & BUSINESS ACUMEN
This is the ability to interpret data and information. To be able to successfully visualise that information to make it feel tactile, logical, delightful, invisible and responsive to the people using it. The ability to look at the big picture and move beyond just how a design looks, but how it feels, how it actually exists out in the world, how it effects the people using it and how it delivers on the business goals you set out to achieve. You know the ones where clients gave you a wad of cash to accomplish.
So the ability not just to make something beautiful. But something more transformative – something joyful, purposeful and solves a need or problem that people have. This is not about being able to create fucking wireframes. But the ability to balance business objectives, with users needs and wrapping that in a design process that is gutsy enough to encourage curiosity and innovation to create something that has real impact. The ability to continually ask questions, analyse, prototype, test and empathise with people. That’s the analytical skills and business acumen I’m talking about. Someone who could see that blockbuster was going to go bankrupt in the wake of Netflix. That the traditional taxi and hotel models aren’t the only way to conduct business. Designing better experiences and systems that move beyond just whats on a screen, but designing the experiences that people will have with the work and how it will effect their lives.
This is the ability to communicate well with others. To be able to articulate design decisions to clients and colleagues. To be able to tell a story behind the design and to engage people with what you have to say. To be the person that people like to be around and to feel inspired by. Both through high quality work and the actions one takes. The ability to communicate and bring the best out of people.
Having the confidence and conviction to follow through with your intuition, to say no when everyone want’s you to say yes. Or to follow through with something that hasn’t been seen before. But also the ability to recognise and say ‘hey I fucked up’ when things aren’t right and to go back to the drawing board and continue to improve things and to keep pushing forward.
You don’t need to be proficient at all of the above points. In fact if you have mastery in any one of those points you are still a great designer. But someone who has the ability to think across the spectrum is someone valuable and someone who I consider is a great designer.