Recent research from the Design Council has shown that more and more industries are employing designers. They’re finding themselves based not only at traditional employers, such as design consultancies and creative agencies, but also in areas as diverse as aerospace, manufacturing, entertainment, construction, and the retail or banking industries – as well as more obvious arenas, such as the fashion industry.
So what are the essential skills you need as a designer today? It’s an important question, given that you may not find yourself safely ensconced among colleagues with a deep understanding of design.
Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for people with great soft skills as well as design talent. As a designer in a non-design organisation, you’re going to have to champion design and help people understand its value. Even if you work at a consultancy, you will have to do that with clients.
You need to be able to demonstrate that you can collaborate with other disciplines, communicate clearly, and bring people together. Think about the projects you’ve worked on in those terms, so you can tell recruiters a story that reflects your soft skills as well as design abilities.
Leadership is another area related to soft skills, in which designers are increasingly being required to shine. As a designer at a retail organisation (for example), you’re part of the voice of design. It won’t just be your job to practice design. You will also need to champion a design-led approach to things.
These leadership skills are increasingly reflected through job titles at the highest level. Many, many non-design companies now have a Chief Design Officer on their board of directors.
Designers unable to understand the basics of technology will struggle to stand out against their more technically literate peers
Whatever kind of designer you are, some digital literacy is essential. In the past, experiences, services, and products were categorised as ‘digital’ or ‘physical’. This categorisation encouraged a demarcation of the two skill sets. But no longer. The two worlds have merged, and designers unable to understand the basics of technology will struggle to stand out against their more technically literate peers.
That doesn’t mean you have to become a full-stack engineer. A solid understanding of HTML and CSS is a great start, and you can get that from several free resources like Codeacademy.
Human-centred design skills
All good design should be human-centred, but in many ways, the rise of digital products has bought new focus to this way of thinking. Human-centred and user experience design put the human being, or the user, at the centre of every step of the design process.
The crucial words here are “every step”. It means you’ll need excellent research abilities and the flexibility to build that research mindset into every part of your work – not just at the start. You’ll need to demonstrate through your portfolio that your work is solving real problems for real people, no matter how small.