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Fabricio Teixeira for UX Collective

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Work skills for the modern design workplace

Skills that are not specific to the design craft, but when seen in designers can have a significant impact on how they are perceived amongst their peers.

Photo by Annie Spratt

The way we work is changing. It has always been evolving, year after year — if you’ve paying enough attention to it.

I’m not just talking about tools and workflow here. These more executional/mundane steps we take to be able to complete our work have always evolved, and will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. But learning to use a new design software, adapting to a new collaboration tool, or incorporating a new step into your workflow are relatively easy to assimilate.

I’m talking about the way we behave. And the way we are expected to behave in the work environment.

In the last few years, I have noticed a new set of skills emerge in the workplace. Skills that are not specific to the design craft, but that, when seen in designers, can have a significant impact on:

  • Collaboration : how easy it is to work with that designer
  • Efficiency : how many things get done in a certain amount of time
  • Relationships : how people perceive that designer in terms of seniority
  • Independence : how much management that designer requires

In the last few months I have been keeping a list of these skills (the list is actually a little longer than what you will see below), which I’m calling work skills for modern designers. “Modern”, in this context, means that designers who have these work skills — _in addition to the already expected design skills — _are more likely to succeed in newer, more collaborative, and more forward-thinking work environments.

#1 Power of synthesis

Finding designers who are naturally curious is not that easy. Not only that, but people who know how to go incredibly deep when researching a certain topic, incorporating multiple sources and points of view into the same study. When the research is done, this is where they differentiate themselves from other designers: they know exactly how to synthesize their learnings into simple, digestible insights that can be easily passed on to other team members.

#2 Flexible optimism

We live in an imperfect world. As much as we fight hard to make our projects as sane as possible, our work environments comfortable, and our time well managed — there will always be flaws, chaos, and situations where we lose control of things. Knowing how to adapt to these situations and how to focus on what is coming up (as opposed to wasting negative energy on the things that went wrong) is a key skill for today’s era. Design teams need designers who are able to push the rest of the team forward, fast.

Knowing how to adapt to chaotic situations and how to focus on what is coming up (as opposed to wasting negative energy on the things that went wrong) is a key skill for today’s workspaces.

#3 Multi-dimensional thinking

Some people call this one “wearing multiple hats”. Instead of creating silos in the organization (e.g. the design team vs. the tech team), designers who are able to simultaneously think about the various aspects of product design have more chances of seeing their ideas through. The design hat will always be the most important one for them, but multi-dimensional designers can master the art of putting themselves in other teams’ shoes and considering all the implications of a design solution before making decisions.

#4 Self-management

This goes without saying: designers who are able to manage their own time, their work load, and their schedule, have better chances at succeeding at their job. This skill eliminates the need for micro-management and makes the designer be seen as more trustworthy and independent — by both their manager and their peers.

#5 Unstructured leadership

Hierarchy is a legacy concept from the corporate world that maps back to decades ago. Modern companies and teams have structured their teams to keep hierarchy to a minimum — and it is used more to drive the team’s vision than to inform how relationships between team members should unfold. Leadership emerges from chaos and can come from anyone, regardless of their level.

Leadership is a mindset, not a title. Designers who are able to step up without being asked to are certainly more valuable than the ones who wait for the right title before doing so.

#6 Thoughtful decision making

Modern designers never pick one solution over another because “it looks better”. They take into consideration the implications of that design across all layers: aesthetics, experience, usability, functionality, technology, and even effort. Having brain power to systematically consider all those criteria while making even the smallest decision is an ability that few designers are able to master — but that’s rapidly becoming essential for modern companies.

This article is part of Journey: lessons from the amazing ride of being a designer.

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