What's the Most Important Skill for Designers?

Design Is Not The Most Valuable Skill For Designers

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As a designer what do clients and world renowned companies such as Facebook, Google, Airbnb and Uber look for in a designer? What combination of skills does it take to make the head turn?

Let’s have a think about it. If I was to ask you what’s the first thing you think of when I say “design”, what would it be? Colours, balance, hierarchy, tone etc.

You aren’t wrong there and design is most definitely the most valuable skill for a visual or graphic designer. But for our line of work, which is building websites and apps then it’s questionable.

But why?

Behind every app and website there is a business. It’s in every product’s interest to improve itself, to gain more usage and eventually make a greater return on investment. Behind every design task, there is a goal. Whether it’s to build trust, add delight to the experience or tweaking the experience to help move the needle. All this in hope to gain more traction to grow the business.

Clients are not only looking for designers who can whip up a beautiful looking set of interface screens — there’s plenty of us who can. But the most valuable skills for a ‘product designer’, is actually the understanding of business and marketing.

You’re probably thinking, what the f..? But I’m not a marketer or a business owner. But whether we like it or not those are the skills our clients and potential employees are seeking. Someone who can do the expected (design) but ultimately also understands and has experience in crafting experiences ‘that works and converts’ (not just look great).

The sad reality is, we’ve all heard it before — “Ugly landing pages convert”. It’s not because they’re ugly its because marketers know what ‘converts’ but they lack basic design understanding. So it’s time for us to stand up and take on those responsibilities for ourselves, so nothing is compromised!

In the last couple of years there has been a rise in demand for ‘Product Designers’. This role is a hybrid between a product manager, who understands the operations in running a business (finding opportunities, analysing data and driving initiatives) and a designer who can create interfaces and experiences. If you can grasp a good understanding of both domains, you definitely won’t struggle to land your next job! Establishing these understandings is not hard but it takes time and hard work. But don’t worry, I’ve got 5 actionable tips below to get you started.

5 actionable ways to become better (Product) Designer

Subscribe to product focused news feeds

Cut down on the time you spend on Dribbble and Behance. Spend more time on product focused news feeds like The Next WebTechCrunch and Gizmodo. Overtime you will start to see how much more of an impact you can have when you think beyond visual design.

Read books about product design & marketing

Over and over again I can’t stress how much value books can bring. A few of my favourite product and marketing books include, Hooked — The Habit Forming ProductsStart with WhyContagiousThe Lean Startupand Zero to One. If you’re a savvy reader and you’ve already finished these take a look at the ‘recommended’ books on Amazon.

Be more results driven

As a designer we can bring a lot more to the table than .sketch and .PSD files. Become more results driven by understanding the problems you’re solving. Also grasp an understanding of analytics (A great book is Lean Analytics), so you can start to support your design decision with cold hard facts over gut feelings.

Approach work with a ‘What problem are we solving’ attitude

Everyone has great ideas but not all ideas are appropriate when you’re trying to solve a specific problem.

Always bring discussions back to what problem are you solving. This way you ‘re constantly approaching the task with a ‘product focus’ instead of a ‘visual design’ one. Remember just because an interface looks cleaner and more beautiful, it doesn’t mean it’s the better way to solving the

Build, launch and grow a product yourself

The ultimate way to really grasp the responsibilities of a Product Designer is to go out there and do it yourself. When you put yourself in the shoes of an entrepreneur, you’ll learn that building a great product requires a lot more than just a beautiful set of interfaces.

I challenge you to go out there, conceptualise, wireframe, design, launch and scale an idea you’ve constantly put off. When you’re finally launching your product (whether it’s an app or website) — set yourself a goal. It could be a metric such as number of sign ups, number of paid members or even number of page views. And do whatever it takes to crack it! Don’t give up.

Through this you will be forced to start thinking far beyond the comfortable realms of a designer. Thinking about marketing channels and thinking outside the box to drive your metric.

And this is exactly what companies and clients look for in a designer. A designer who can build beautiful interfaces and experiences but also understands the business side of things.

The role of a the everyday designer has evolved overtime and it’s exciting! Not only are we defining experiences that millions of people use but we can also understand how they’re being used. So whether you’re feeling that you’ve plateaued in your role as a designer or you’re interested in advancing as a designer, I really encourage you to start actioning the 5 tips I have shared to become a better designer.

So what are your next steps? I would love to hear from you, so either leave a comment or reach me on Twitter (@mizko).

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