What Makes a Designer Good at What They Do?

by Radu Fotolescu

posted on 02-01-2017

What makes a designer good at what they do? In order to answer this question, I first had to ask myself what drove me to become a designer.

It was shortly after I decided to become an entrepreneur after working in banking for years. I wanted to create, launch, and run my own business. I was mesmerized by the infinite opportunities that online services offered. Seeing new opportunities and new niches enabled by the growth in online services made me see the potential that great design has.

I was curious and hungry for knowledge. That’s why I believe the most important trait that one must have when starting on a career or evolving a career in design, is to be infinitely curious about people’s needs. Curious about how things work and how things could be improved for them and the people around them.

As designers we have to be infinitely curious about people’s needs, about how things work, and how things can be improved.

I remember how it all started for me. I had an idea for a website and asked a good friend who had a web design agency to help me out with it. He outsourced the task and when I received the Photoshop file with the final design I realized that many of the design decisions made didn’t take the project’s goal into account, and were mostly subjective.

That was the moment when I realized how important meeting a project’s goal really is for the client – in that particular case, myself. I knew this is what I wanted to do from then on, to design products that fulfill people’s needs.

At first, setting the goal of meeting client needs was much more realistic rather than aiming to exceed expectations, as I never studied anything design related until then. I simply wanted to be a goal-driven designer, and from that moment forward I dedicated all of my time to learn the fundamentals of design, design theory, user experience, and so on. I needed to know everything there is to know about designing a product or service.

I share this story because while I always considered myself a self-taught designer, but I realize now that all of my knowledge came from other people’s experiences. The fact that I chose to learn about design in my own time doesn’t make me self-taught, but rather self-guided. The people who wrote the articles I read, and recorded the tutorials I practiced were my teachers.

My professional development was solely driven by the curiosity to learn from those people, to know what they know, to save time and effort by learning from their experiences.

Curiosity exists in all of us. Cultivate it to solve problems.

Design in any form or discipline is about solving problems and that is why as designers we need to find effective solutions to every challenge. In order to come up with solutions, designers should choose their sources of inspiration wisely.

As a young designer I often found myself taking advice for granted and making design decisions based on other people’s experiences and research. Despite acknowledging this as the wrong approach when I started, I was still doing it. Why?

Likely because leaning on your peers was and still is the easiest way to find inspiration and answers. By using design galleries and style guides as definitive answers to good UX practices, the work can be completed much faster than by dedicating time for research and testing.

However, as more and more designers do this, the industry itself becomes isolated in its own bubble, ignoring the real world and its ever evolving need for better user experiences.

If we mechanically adopt third party visual languages for our projects and stop looking for answers outside of our comfort zone, we may not find the most effective solution to solve individual design challenges.

Now the harder way to find solutions is to look outside of the design industry. Understanding concepts used in psychology, engineering or even in science requires curiosity first and foremost, and then, the motivation to continue learning. This is an ongoing effort that we all must make as we need to constantly expand our field of knowledge.

Does that mean that we all have to strive to become generalists? Not necessarily, but as the saying goes, the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph. By continuously learning and expanding our knowledge, solutions will reveal themselves faster than any Google search.

From this personal growth experience I believe I finally learned what makes a good designer: curiosity and the motivation to push through own limitations.

As a driver of continuous learning, curiosity drives us to adapt as life changes, and it helps us take action to get out of our harmful comfort zone.

As designers we must improve what already exists, we must disrupt current patterns and search for new ways to solve challenges. Otherwise design will be outpaced by the continuous change in people’s needs instead of leading the way to better experiences.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud