Four Unexpected Skills for Designers


Designers are becoming a core part of a huge number of businesses, particularly in tech, and employers are thus looking for more and more skills from new hires.


When entering the job market for the first time, either as a graduate or as someone looking to move into design from another discipline, this can catch a lot of people unaware. There are a lot of skills your peers might have that could result in you lagging behind.

As a designer, what skills can you add to your repertoire to make yourself future proof?

We’ve found four skills that designers need in the modern workplace that might surprise you.



design skills

As a designer, some might think that coding experience should be kept in a completely separate room and that you don’t need to consider it at all.

Knowing how to code, unfortunately, is becoming necessary to get your foot in the door as a designer. Designers who can code don’t get special treatment or higher pay, it’s just seen as a key part of the role.

Obviously,  you don’t need to know as much about coding as a programmer or developer, but a good understanding of the fundamentals of code will get you far. How is it structured, what is viable, how a programmer will take your design and bring it to life. Plus, it means that when push comes to shove and the product needs to be shipped, you can jump in to help without needing basic training.

If this is an area where you feel you could use some development, consider resources such as Codeacademy or CodeEasy, which will give you a little more guidance. Throwing together some simple practice projects and algorithms to go with your design documents will give you practical experience, that’ll put you on equal footing with your peers.

Think of it like a chef knowing where their ingredients come from. You’ll get a better meal if you understand the difference between different sources of produce, and you’ll get better designs if you know what is viable in terms of creation, and can follow through the process.


Soft Skills

 You can’t be a lone wolf- soft skills will make you a valuable team member

We all wish we could be the lone wolf designer, one who can go away for a little while and come back with a fully formed design ready to go. Hiring managers probably wish they could hire one person who could handle everything to boot.

Unfortunately, reality takes over, and most of us will need to be part of a team on a regular basis, communicating within design teams, or with other teams that are part of the same company.

Thus, one of the most important sets of skills for any member of a mature team is soft skills. What is meant when we talk about soft skills? For the most part, we’re referring to social skills. Things like:

  • Leadership

  • Communication

  • Collaboration

  • Empathy

Are all soft skills that are an important part of being a good designer, and a good team member in general.

The difficulty is that hard skills can be taught and learned in a practical, usually measurable kind of way. One can sit down over a period of time and teach oneself how to code. You can learn about the fundamentals of good design, improve and get better.

Soft skills are trickier, they come from working with and making a point to understand other people. They’re ephemeral, and can only really be picked up through practical teamwork.

Think about the kind of person you’d like to work alongside and aim to be that person. Be empathetic to other people’s needs, communicate your ideas as well as you are able, and be open to collaborating with others as much as you can.


“The trait that clients are always looking for, is flexibility”

– Chris Haslam, Director, Move


Commercial Awareness

 Your company is a part of a broader industry. Your company is a part of a broader industry.

To be the best designer you can be, you need to have an awareness of the industry around you. This means you’ll be able to understand and account for trends in your industry.

There is nothing new under the sun, and if you know what others around you have tried and failed or succeeded at before you, then you’ll be able to move much more efficiently.

Best practice becomes so with a lot of iteration and work, so you need to be ready to learn and adapt.

Here are some simple ways you can keep improving your commercial awareness:

  • Keep up to date with your industry- through business press, social media, and your peers

  • Understand the business you’re working for. Most savvy businesses will publish annual reports, and make sure it’s employees are read up on their values.

  • Understand your competitors. Research other businesses and find out how they do things.


Diverse Experiences


Design is very much a core part of any company with long term growth plans. As a result, the most appealing designers are those who understand how to pull levers in different parts of the business.

Soft skills will help here, being able to communicate across disciplines is always helpful, but having an innate understanding of those other disciplines is also a great selling point.

Great designers are starting to emerge from more and more varied backgrounds, and it is this diversity of experience that helps them to be great designers. They have that understanding of all aspects of the business that enhances their work.

The most common non-design backgrounds for designers include marketing, engineering, product management and more.

Don’t get tunnel vision when it comes to design, always be ready to expand your worldview, and adapt to account for other aspects of a vision. Designers are one branch of a tree, connected to the rest in a myriad of ways.


Final Thoughts


Modern businesses are starting to require their designers to wear more hats than they used to, and while this can be intimidating, it makes a lot of sense. These skills will make you a better designer, with a better understanding of the industry around you.


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