I have hit the 15th year milestone of being a designer and there’s a lot that I have learned over the period. I would like to take the opportunity to reflect a bit. These lessons are purely based out my experience.
1. Learning the business
Anywhere you land, know that you are hired for a purpose. And the purpose is the value that you add to the business and its users. Talk to the entrepreneurs, investors, product owners and business development people, and learn how you can improve the business with your design skills. The sooner you discover this, the better it gets for you. When you realize you are not moving a brick for the purpose you are hired, you are wasting your precious time as well as the time of the person or the firm who has hired you.
And in your portfolio — do mention the impact that your work has created for the business. Process is important to, but they change with the environment you work in.
2. Listening more
As you grow, you will realize the importance of ‘listening’ and the benefits of it.
Be a good listener, go deeper with intent to understand the underlying tacit needs of a user or a problem when expressed.
The day you attain this — you’re attaining the Nirvana-state of being a designer. Practice it and make it a habit.
Expressing yourself is always good, but don’t interrupt while someone’s is talking, listen to them. Express and make your point by choosing right and appropriate words. People judge you by how you express. Try to be an ambivert.
3. Having a rationale for every design decision
We’ve reached at a time where everyone knows what design it, to some extent. And nobody is going to care for all the beautiful looking creation that you come-up with until you don’t share the logical or scientific reasons behind it. Be sure to have rationale for every design decision and every detail that you add in your design. E.g. On a UI, be sure to explain why did you chose that font-size for the header or why are you having the hyperlinks in blue. It’s a lame example but I hope you get the point…
4. Question more
To become a successful designer, it is important to master the art of asking questions. The What’s, How’s and the When’s are important but the most important question that you can get to sweet-spot is when you ask ‘Why?’
It is never about the kind of answers that you get but it is always about the kind of questions that you ask, which takes you somewhere…
If something doesn’t make sense, ask the question. Keep questioning until you are satisfied. Trust me, you make a difference only when you ask the right kind of questions.
5. Build relationships
I’m not saying befriend with your boss or your client and have beer your stakeholders. Be that person, people you work with can count on when they need you. You and your work can establish that relationship.
Your confidence will ensure your client that they’ve hired the right person. It’s going to drive confidence in team you work with.
Do your homework well; make sure you have all the research-data before you walk in that meeting. Don’t take feedback personally.
People remember and recommend you for –
a. your work and
b. the qualities in you.
And now you very well know what you need to do when your boss has asked you to beautify that marketing deck for him, on a Friday evening.
6. Stop Comparing
If you compare yourself with other designers, you will never be what you ever want to be. Some designers are smart, some are slow, some seem to get lucky, some are way too awesome, some just show it off. Spend time with everyone. Don’t get into the race of proving your worth. When you work in groups, your contribution to attain something will do that. Mentor the juniors or design grads.
Remember, as designers — we all share a larger responsibility, we change people’s lives, touch their souls. Focus on that.
7. Stop worrying about the titles
Are you a Designer? What’s your title?
When I started, back then — I was known as a “Front-end designer” for coding HTML/CSS for websites. A “Flash-ActionScripter” for creating Flash content. Later when I got into publishing creative content and my title changed to “Executive Web Content Publisher”. I worked on print to be known as Graphic Designer. Whatever I did, it favored the business and the users.
I have been, done and survived in multiple reigns of digital transformations the world has seen. What stands-out in all this, is that I never cared about the titles. What mattered for me was my work, steady paychecks and the desire to solve problems. Today if you are known as a UX Designer or a Product Designer, who knows 10 years down you might be known as the Priest of Nowhere Town. Be prepared.
8. Keep learning
Neve stop learning. Never stop seeking inspiration. Don’t get stuck creating the same things over and over again because you fail to see them differently and how they can be improved.
Push yourself to learn topics beyond design. My favorites have been technology, investment banking, psychology and code.
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