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A better way to design success

There are so many design posts these days with titles like:

  • I left college and immediately scored a design job at (input name of tech giant)
  • how to succeed in design
  • designers shouldn’t do this, they should do this instead

I’ve worked with a lot of designers, for a lot of years. I’ve worked with interaction and graphic designers, content designers, researchers and developers (both play a big part in the design of products and services). I’ve also interviewed a lot of designers, for junior, mid and senior positions and currently manage 7 designers. So I pick up lots about what works and what people struggle with.

I can’t give you a formula for success, but I can give you some traits that I’ve observed in every good designer I’ve worked with.

Be kind

This should be a given in any job or, frankly, in daily life. Sadly, it’s not. Make yourself available to others — if someone asks you for help, help them. Be truthful with people when they ask you for feedback and give them credit when they do good work. Promote others’ work ahead of your own.

Go out of your way to help others. It will make you happier and it sets you up for success — people want to work with kind, helpful designers. Being kind doesn’t make you a pushover. You can stand your ground and still be kind.

Be open

Being open is much harder than it sounds, it takes courage to open yourself up. Open people risk criticism and humiliation. That’s why a lot of more junior designers hide their work until they think it is ready to show. I know- it wasn’t that long ago that I was a junior designer, terrified of criticism.

Opening your work up leads to feedback and differing perspectives, which results in better work. This is as true in design as is it in the real world — opening up usually leads to becoming a better, more rounded person.

Make what you do transparent and share what has — and hasn’t — worked with others. Being open is a habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Most important of all — learn how to communicate

Again, sounds really easy, right? Communicating — we do it every day so we must be good at it. If you think you don’t need to work on your communication, then you’ve already lost. Analyse how you communicate, identify where you have failed in the past and work on it.

Funnily enough, when you are kind and open, you become a better communicator. People give you more leeway and listen to you more attentively.

Write. Write a lot. Seriously — write about your work and what you have learnt. Write about what you don’t know. Writing has improved my design work more than anything else I can identify. When I write, it forces me to take stock of my experiences. It also forces me to communicate why I took decisions, an incredibly important part of being a designer.

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