Mastering your Craft : The 4 most overlooked skills of a modern Digital Designer
By Wessel Olivier, Freethinking Head of Design
As more and more consumer services and products become digitised, repurposed as apps, and displayed on our smartphones, the corporate demand for UX/UI designers continues to escalate at rapid pace.
It is, perhaps, the latest business ‘super-cycle’ of our modern era, as many rush to convert from various different backgrounds, to re-cast themselves as UX and/or UI designers. Those that build a name and a network for themselves can start negotiating premium salaries and become very picky about the kind of projects they tackle.
But in this rush, confusion reigns. The lines between different design disciplines start to blur. Definitions and terms mean different things to different people. Recruiters, HR teams and business managers mis-align people and roles – hastily constructing teams as they race to bring the next app to market.
Yes, the digital design industry needs to mature, to standardise and professionalise; and as industry design professionals, we all need to play an active role in this.
But, most importantly, as individuals, we must all take ownership of our careers – honing our strengths and filling in gaps in our skillsets.
At some point, the hype will subside, as demand for UX/UI talent slows, as supply becomes saturated, and as new visual design tools continue to take many of the low-value work away from design professionals altogether.
We need to commit to either specialising in a particular design domain (eg user research, content strategy, information architecture, usability, interaction design, visual and motion design , etc), or generalising across the entire spectrum – and play a leadership role in pulling the disciplines together.
“It’s a matter of keeping our eyes open to new opportunities, continually refining and reflecting on our craft, and seeking out new courses and ways of developing ourselves and those around us.”
Those that have taken a calculated and structured approach to their career development will set themselves apart from the pack, and withstand any systemic shocks, as the demand slows down.
But, in such a fast-moving industry, just how should design professionals plot their career course and position themselves for success in the future. At Freethinking, we’ve identified 4 key areas of professional development:
Be great at working with software
There’s just no getting away from it. Software truly is eating the world, and the field of design is no different. New prototyping, design and other software tools are helping to bridge the various disciplines in the design field. So having a good understanding of how software principles work, and how to get the most out of the array of new tools available, will help you to quickly slot into new teams and start delivering value.
Get good at working in multidisciplinary teams
Having the right software certainly helps, but we need to go further than that. We must understand the various roles and specialisations of those around us, and deepen our awareness of how we fit into the broader context. Digital Product design is, by its very nature, a team activity, and it’s certainly no place for ‘lone wolves’.
Seek diverse encounters and exposure
Let’s be honest, as a design community we have a tendency to hang around with other like-minded design pros. So, every now and then, ditch that familiar design gathering, and head out into other types of industry events, into schools, to meet entrepreneurs, into townships, or online webinars from different countries and cultures.
Ultimately, we’re creating digital solutions for various challenges and various kinds of people, and we need to be among them if we’re going to successfully design for them.
Nurture your passion
‘Knowing thyself’ remarked Socrates, is the foundation to all other forms of knowledge. In the field of design, to truly excel, we need to develop a keen understanding of our skills, and channel our passions and energies into the right directions. It’s a matter of keeping our eyes open to new opportunities, continually refining and reflecting on our craft, and seeking out new courses and ways of developing ourselves and those around us.
In this field, every day brings new challenges… new trends… new technologies. To stay on the leading edge of Design, and to elevate it to a strategic level within the enterprise, we need to continually sharpen our skillsets.
While these four principles certainly doesn’t encompass everything we need to be doing, they’re worth revisiting from time to time, to keep us on track.