Student Answers 05: What skills does a successful designer need?

This one comes up a lot – almost always when I talk to students in groups – and it’s very subjective, but, I’d go so far as to say that the skills essential for a SUCCESSFUL career in design (anyone can claim to be a designer but only a few will emerge as successful, memorable designers), are something like the following:

Attention to detail.
An absolute must. If your job is to convey and lay out information and you don’t have the eye to spot typos and things that don’t line up then you shouldn’t be in the profession. Some of the best designers working today are borderline OCD so you need to learn to pay attention.

Tenacity and perseverance.
In the UK alone there are something like 1700 design graduates emerging from university or equivalent courses every year, never mind the rest of the world. Why should people take any notice of you? It’s your job to find that reason and stick at it in the face of these tough odds. And it doesn’t get any easier as you get older; people are fickle and always looking for the next interesting thing so you have to keep reminding people why they look to you for work when there are thousands of other people doing vaguely similar work.

Is taste a skill? They say you can’t teach it but I disagree; you should have seen my early forays into design; bad fonts, bad colours, bad layouts in general… and very faddy.  It’s only through trial and error and looking at what is considered a successful, classic piece of communication that you’ll learn what makes for tasteful, timeless design. Why does that Paul Rand layout from 40 years ago look better than the poster you just designed? It’s usually very simple, but again, don’t imitate – learn and interpret. Taste is just one of those intangible things. It’s entirely subjective but as a visual person people look to you to be a tastemaker and this can come through in a number of ways. Colour is a major one; if you’re not comfortable working with colour an palettes (like me) experiment on your own time. Putting out work in bad colourways means you’ll end up taking it out of your folio within 6 months, I promise.

Be a nice person.
It sounds silly but it’s true. The people who get called back for more work are the ones who are a pleasure to work with. Also, the people who get responses to emails and phone calls are the one’s who don’t sound like pricks. You could be the best designer in the world but if you’re an ass and you get  a reputation as such then you’ll find the calls become fewer and farther between.