6 Non-Design Skills You Need as a Designer

Authored by David Sherwin, the man that brought you the best selling Creative Workshop, here comes the business side of being creative! Success by Design is a reference for designers to remind themselves of best practices in the industry.

While it is important to fuel your creativity and build your core design skills, to expand your proficiency in tools like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw, there is more to being a graphic designer. Your overall success is dictated by more than just what is in your portfolio.

communication-design-skills image from shutterstockimages from Shutterstock

Communication Skills

Good communication is a cornerstone of good design. After all, design is about visual communication. You have to go beyond the visual and communicate well, both in writing and verbally, to be able to get your ideas across to clients and employers. Too often designers lean on their visual communication as a crutch and never feel the need to develop these other skills to the fullest. It’s often a choice that holds many designer back from reaching their true potential.

Being able to discuss your work, present your ideas, write strong proposals or even a good blog post, all will directly impact your career as a designer going forward.

Marketing Skills

As graphic designers, we are on the front lines when it comes to advertising and marketing to customers. “Presentation isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Graphic designers tend to view themselves more as “artists” than “marketers.” The level of marketing required in your career can vary from job to job, but regardless, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the marketing and advertising goals and relationship behind what you’re designing.

At the end of the day it matters less about it “looking cool”, and more about its ability to close sales. This is something that many designers learn the hard way throughout the course of their career.


Illustration Skills

While it is not always necessary to be able to draw in order to be a graphic designer, it doesn’t hurt. Additionally, strong illustration skills will set you apart from the crowd and make your life as a designer much easier. Being able to develop ideas and concepts before you get to the computer is important, so that when you do go digital you’re not overwhelmed by the tools and options available. Being able to handle illustration with pencil and paper means that when you get to the compute,r you will be executing on your ideas instead of staring at a blank screen that matches the blank you’re drawing in your mind.

Technical Capability

There are many benefits to being a tech-savvy creative. For one thing, you may save a considerable amount of money by being able to troubleshoot and provide your own tech support. You may also find it speeds things up being able to solve problems yourself rather than waiting for someone to show up and save you when your machines won’t cooperate.

Having an awareness of new technology and what tools are best suited to help you achieve your task is growing to be more important as time goes on. While it is possible to outsource tech work, it’s becoming less practical as the world becomes more about fast delivery and execution.

design-skills-networkingNetworking Skills

Creative professionals can be complacent when it comes to career advancement. Even freelancers need to consider their overall career road-map. Networking is essential to gaining momentum and moving your career forward.

If you’re a freelancer, networking provides you with opportunities to connect with potential clients or those who can refer you to them. For in-house designers, networking is the key to your career escalation, getting a better job opportunity, or creating the leverage you need to get a raise or promotion.

Networking also allows you to connect with other people in your industry or in the creative services world in general. These individuals may be able to pass along information or resources that can help you, introduce you to people in a position to create some other value for you, or act as a mentor.

Research and Planning Skills

Something often overlooked by designers is the importance of good research, as well as strategic planning. Delivering quality design work is about more than just creativity—it’s also about context. You can’t design something with the proper context in mind for the audience if it is subject matter you are unfamiliar with or uninterested in.

In terms of planning, you need to have a workflow and strategy for approaching each project. Knowing the steps from beginning to end and being able to adapt them as needed for each situation is going to make your work more efficient and cause you less anxiety about deadlines. Being in a position to breakdown your process for a client or employer is also going to give them less anxiety as well.

Bonus: Empathy

Empathy is probably the best kept secret to being a good designer. Too often, creatives come off as “divas and divos” who only care about how good their work looks in their portfolios. The ability to empathize with your clients and their struggles, as well as those of the end user/customer, ensures that you are making design decisions with the right intent.

Your clients will be happier knowing that you are willing to work with them and capable of understanding them. You will be able to deliver tremendous value for them without feeling like you’ve compromised, and this will lead to better relationships and repeat business.

t1031Design Currency: Understand, Define, and Promote the Value of Your Design Work

The world needs beautiful design. But aesthetics are inherently subjective. In Design Currency, authors Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady show designers how to understand and speak about the value of their design work in terms that their business partners will both understand and respect. A veritable survival guide for designers, Design Currency empowers designers to do their jobs with less pushback on design decisions, enable them to get involved earlier in the creation process, make it easier for them to justify their fees, and possibly keep their jobs from being out-sourced or even crowd-sourced. Learn more.