Dear designers, don’t forget about soft skills
by Filip Justić – Head of Design at BB Agency
In the fast-paced design world, it’s only natural to focus primarily on mastering our hard skills – the technical aspects of our work, the actual design itself. However, my experience as a designer over the past decade has taught me that becoming a more well-rounded designer is not easy. Developing a diverse set of soft skills is crucial. That can help you navigate the industry’s complexity, communicate effectively with clients and colleagues, and adapt to the ever-evolving landscape.
In this article, we’ll reiterate the importance of five key soft skills that can help elevate your design career and empower you to bring more value to your collaborations: Communication, Collaboration, Adaptability, Resilience, and Resourcefulness. While there are many other soft skills to consider, we have focused on these five because we believe they are particularly important for designers.
We want to remind designers at all levels – from juniors to seniors – about the importance of soft skills in our industry. The concepts discussed here may not be groundbreaking secrets to success, but they are simple reminders to help you reach your full designer potential.
For us at BB, every design project starts by listening. We take the time to listen to our clients and understand their brand, company, culture, and the transformational goals they want to achieve. We interview all stakeholders, engage with users, and visualize where we are today and how we can move forward tomorrow.
Communication is a vital soft skill that underpins every aspect of a designer’s work. By mastering various forms of communication, you’ll be better equipped to convey your ideas, manage expectations, and advocate for your designs, ensuring a more fulfilling career.
First, strive to develop your active listening skills. Give each client, stakeholder, and colleague the attention they deserve when they speak, and be open to understanding their perspectives. Ask clarifying questions and summarize key points to demonstrate engagement and ensure you’ve accurately grasped their concerns or suggestions.
Types of communication
Next, refine your verbal, written, and visual communication abilities – Practice presenting your ideas confidently and articulately, both in person and through digital channels. Ensure your written communication is clear, concise, and professional, whether emailing, writing a design brief, or creating documentation.
Visual communication is especially important for designers. Develop your skills in presenting your work through engaging visuals, such as mockups, prototypes, and design presentations. Use visual storytelling techniques to effectively convey your ideas and help others understand the rationale behind your design choices.
Another key aspect of communication is being honest and transparent with clients and stakeholders. Establish open and ongoing dialogue to manage expectations, address concerns, and maintain trust throughout the project lifecycle. Be prepared to provide and receive constructive feedback, fostering a collaborative environment that prioritizes the project’s success above individual egos.
Improve when possible
If you’re not a native English speaker or struggle with certain aspects of communication, don’t hesitate to seek help. Take language lessons, attend workshops, or work with a mentor to hone your communication skills. The more you practice, the more confident and effective you’ll become.
Simplify where needed
Always remember the importance of understanding and adapting your communication style to different audiences. It’s crucial to tailor your message to suit the needs, preferences, and expectations of your clients, stakeholders, or colleagues, ensuring that your ideas are presented in a way that resonates with them. As much as we strive to establish ourselves as experts, it’s equally essential to ensure our thoughts and ideas are accessible and relatable. Avoid getting lost in overly technical jargon; aim for clear, concise, and colloquial language that brings your message closer to your audience. This approach will help to foster stronger connections and mutual understanding, ultimately leading to better collaboration and more successful projects.
Fostering a collaborative mindset and developing strong working relationships with your team members, clients, and stakeholders is essential.
You’re part of an Ecosystem
Embrace a holistic approach to your work, understanding that you’re part of a larger ecosystem and that your design decisions should be based on systematization, technical feasibility, and the client’s business goals (every project is different). Remember that every design choice has a ripple effect, big or small, and your work is interconnected with other people’s efforts, like designers, copywriters, developers, and project managers.
Be part of the conversation
Encourage open communication and knowledge sharing within your team. Actively participate in design critiques, brainstorming sessions, and cross-department meetings to align on project milestones and exchange ideas. By sharing your work often and early, you expose yourself to valuable feedback that can help refine your designs and ensure cohesive, well-informed solutions.
Cultivate an approachable and supportive attitude in your interactions with colleagues. Be receptive to their ideas, offer constructive feedback, and provide assistance when needed. By fostering a collaborative and positive working environment, you contribute to a more efficient and productive team, leading to better designs and greater project success.
Improve where possible
Look for opportunities to learn from and collaborate with professionals from different disciplines – within and outside the design industry. That can create new perspectives and insights, helping you develop innovative design solutions that address complex problems and challenges.
By actively engaging in collaboration and nurturing strong working relationships, you’ll achieve better project outcomes and enhance your personal growth as a designer. Be part of the collective effort.
Adaptability enables you to navigate the ever-changing landscape of design trends, client expectations, and project requirements. Sure, sometimes it’s tough to step out of your comfort zone, learn new things, and pick up new processes, tools, or ways of working. However, cultivating adaptability helps you stay relevant in the industry and equips you with the ability to tackle challenges and innovate in your work.
Open up to change
Embrace change with a positive attitude and view it as an opportunity for growth and learning. Instead of resisting new processes, tools, or ways of working, approach them with curiosity and a willingness to explore. By being open to change and adopting a solution-oriented mindset, you’ll be better prepared to address unexpected challenges and evolving client needs.
Regularly explore new design tools, plugins, and platforms to stay ahead of the curve. By being informed about the latest advancements and technologies, you can integrate them into your workflow and improve your design skills.
Be receptive to feedback and ideas from your clients, colleagues, and stakeholders. Use these insights to inform your design choices and ensure that your work remains aligned with the project goals. Remember, adaptability often involves adjusting your approach and pivoting as needed to address new challenges or opportunities.
Stay hungry, stay curious
Stay curious about trends and developments in various industries, as this can provide valuable context for your work and inspire fresh ideas. By actively seeking new knowledge and experiences, you’ll expand your creative horizons and enhance your adaptability as a designer.
Ultimately, adaptability is about being agile, flexible, and open to change.
Resilience is a crucial soft skill that empowers designers to weather the inevitable ups and downs of the creative process. It’s about developing the ability to bounce back from setbacks, maintain a positive mindset, and continue to produce great work, even when faced with criticism or challenges.
You’re not your work
One way to build resilience is to practice detaching from your work emotionally. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your work. It’s part of who you are; it’s the culmination of your experiences and inspirations on that given day. So it’s easy to become disheartened or defensive towards feedback. It’s easy to fall into the design ego trap. While it’s natural to feel a personal connection to your designs, learning to view them objectively can help you receive feedback more openly and without defensiveness. Remember, critiques are opportunities for growth and improvement, not personal attacks.
Every failure is an opportunity for growth
Another approach to cultivating resilience is to develop a growth mindset. Embrace the idea that skills can be developed and improved over time with effort, learning, and persistence. By adopting this attitude, you’ll be more inclined to view setbacks as temporary hurdles rather than insurmountable obstacles.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarity when receiving feedback. This can lead to a deeper understanding of your client’s perspective and help you identify areas for improvement in your designs. By actively engaging in the feedback process, you’ll demonstrate your commitment to growth and foster stronger working relationships with your clients and colleagues.
Be proud of your mistakes
It’s also important to practice self-compassion and recognize that everyone makes mistakes or encounters difficulties. Acknowledge your achievements and progress, and give yourself credit for the hard work and dedication you’ve put into your design practice. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures, using them as stepping stones for growth.
Think of your well-being
Lastly, make a conscious effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Nurturing your mental and emotional well-being can help build resilience and make it easier to handle stress or setbacks. Take breaks, pursue hobbies outside of design, and surround yourself with supportive colleagues, friends, and family who can offer encouragement when you need it.
Being resourceful can mean many things. As you’re just starting your career, reviewing your work presented on platforms like Dribbble and other design showcases is beneficial. That helps you become familiar with the collective design standards present in the industry. However, adopting a more holistic mindset for resourcefulness goes beyond simply drawing inspiration from other people’s work.
It’s about cultivating a diverse collection of resources, experiences, and connections that can inform and elevate your design practice.
Become part of the community and go beyond it
One way to build resourcefulness is by expanding your network and establishing relationships with people you can rely on for advice, feedback, or collaboration. Engaging with other creatives, professionals from different industries, and even your clients can open new doors to inspiration and opportunities.
Look for inspiration beyond the design world, as well. Keep an eye on developments in arts, books, culture, movies, and other areas that can offer fresh perspectives and insights. By exposing yourself to diverse sources of inspiration, you’ll avoid falling into the trap of creating designs that look like everyone else’s.
Learn about what’s happening in the industry
In addition to broadening your sources of inspiration, being resourceful means being knowledgeable about your clients’ industries. Understand the market trends, challenges, and opportunities they face to better inform your design solutions and foster more meaningful conversations with them. By staying informed about what’s happening in their sector, you’ll be better equipped to provide relevant, effective design solutions that address their unique needs.
Of course, staying up-to-date on new technologies and tools is important, too. Be open to learning about and adopting new tools that can help optimize your workflow and improve your design practice. Continuously expanding your skill set and staying informed about the latest industry developments can help you stay agile and adaptable in the face of change.
Ultimately, being resourceful is about leveraging your knowledge, network, and diverse sources of inspiration to create innovative design solutions that stand out. By honing this skill, you’ll become a more versatile designer, better equipped to tackle any situation that comes your way.
In conclusion, being a more well-rounded designer goes beyond mastering the hard skills of design and requires continuous self-improvement and a willingness to grow beyond your comfort zone. As you develop and refine your soft skills, like communication, collaboration, adaptability, resilience, and resourcefulness, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the ever-changing world of design, foster positive working relationships, and contribute to the success of your projects.
It’s important to be patient with yourself and recognize that it takes time to flourish in your career. With experience comes the realization that there’s always more to learn. Embrace a holistic mindset, ask questions, and take the time to understand different perspectives. By combining your soft skills with your ever-expanding design mastery and a commitment to ongoing growth and development, you’ll improve as a well-rounded designer and open the door to new opportunities and a more fulfilling career in the design industry.