The dream of any Designer is to design projects that they like; have a good reputation; and hopefully make lots of money.

The dream of any company is to find professionals that follow the brief and deliver without causing too much drama.

The question is: how do you marry these almost opposite desires?

Ihave been in the design world for over 10 years now. During this time, I have worked in many projects and industries, from local business branding to global digital products. Not everything has been roses. There were moments when I thought about quitting the game. However, it was my passion for good design that made me persist until the level I am now.

What I came to realise is that problem solving in design entails much more than just design skills. Hence to be a sucessful Designer you need more than talent.

“While design skills are undeniably the top priority, being a truly amazing designer requires a good combination of competence and interpersonal skills.”

Let’s look at this into different scenarios:

  • A Designer who can provide incredibly innovative designs, but doesn’t listen to what clients and other stakeholders have to say,
  • A Designer who can be very good at collaborating with others, but doesn’t deliver good designs,
  • A Designer who can deliver on time but is very inflexible when it comes to accepting ideas from the team,

Can these three professionals be considered successful Designers?


Image by @rawpixel

In my experience, working with Designers from all backgrounds and recruiting new Designers, I noticed that most Designers lack a good combination of soft and hard skills. This accounts for the main reason why design teams struggle and why projects fail.

Fortunately, is never too late to learn, because those who actually master to combine both soft and hard skills had to learn it the hard way.

I have compiled a list of 5 habits that can help you master them too. Please, don’t take my words for it. Try them for yourself and you may find yourself becoming a sought after Designer.

1. Be humble and embrace failure

As Designers, we strive for success and achievement, but we have to accept the fact that, despite all the effort, there’s a possibility that some projects might not go as planned. In fact, it happens more often than we’d like to admit!

So, if something didn’t go as expected, identify the why and learn from it. You can always improve things based on your learnings. As we all have heard at some point:

“Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”

— Coco Chanel

2. Listen, listen, and listen

You probably are tired of hearing that listening to the user is key. However, remember that you have also a client to please and a team to work with. Therefore you need also to be constantly listening to all those involved in the project.

Listen to what your client and colleagues are saying and ask relevant questions: can the tech team build what you envisioned on time? Are there any technical limitations? Is the client willing to pay for that extra feature?

The answers you will get might help you redefine the brief and deliver designs according to expectations.

3. Give an informed opinion

Design is not only what you are bringing to the table. Your rationale and professional advice is what your team and client are expecting you to deliver.

Learn to respectfully convey your professional opinion, ideas, or suggestions on how your brand or client could innovate.

When disagreement arises, learn also to listen and explain better your rationale by using different approaches: compare current with previous projects, explain different scenarios including “worst case”, quantify results, etc.

4. Share your work as you go

Don’t be afraid to start showing your designs earlier, even if you think they are not good enough. Guess what? Feedback from others can help you realise what is working and what can be improved. This saves you many extra hours of amendments.

I understand that sharing might sound scary, because you might be afraid that others will steal your ideas. However, what I learn from experience is that the benefits of sharing out-weight the possible threats. Also, if you feel confident about your talent and skills, you are usually not so worried about potential copycats. In fact sharing your job, gives you authorship as more people will know from the beginning that the original idea come from you.

Ask for feedback more often and feel free to give your informed opinions, but be also humble enough to accept that something might need to be changed in order to achieve the desired results.

5. Know the limitations

Consider the time allocated for a project and know when to recognise you’ve brainstormed and researched enough so that you can move on to the design stage. Similarly, think carefully on other limitations and challenges surrounding the project such as: challenging clients, unrealistic expectations, lack of resources, hostile team culture, etc.

How to deal with all the above?

Unfortunately there is no secret formula. Learn to know about yourself and what triggers you. The more you know how to manage your emotions, the easier it will be to adjust to the circumstances even to the most challenging ones. What has helped me survive, according to feedback I get from my peers, is that I really practice listening and being patience, even when I wanted to just stand up and leave the meeting room.

I believe you can always try to make the most of what you already have.

That’s all folks!

At the end of the day, good design is about making people’s life better. If you are not able to engage with people in a meaningful and productive manner, you won’t be able to be a successful Designer, no matter how talented you might be. Although, you can always choose to do freelancing (*cough cough*) — but that’s a whole different story, with its own joy and dramas!

No one is born a highly desired Designer. Being a successful Designer means you have to constantly be working on both your professional and interpersonal skills. While nothing can replace years of hard work, nothing is stopping you from trying these tips.

I hope I gave you enough food for thought and that this post can help you be a Designer that can work with anybody, in any project, and be successful.