Most design students will leave formal education with the necessary skills to work at entry level in their chosen design discipline, whether that is broad based or particularly niche. Some have other soft skills which set them apart.
These softer skills are the ones which will make them brilliant as design practitioners, but also open up new career opportunities to apply design thinking at senior levels in the world of work. They are the skills which will make the most difference to the world.
1. Controlled bravery
A great design thinker will challenge the accepted, whether that is the design brief, the end user’s behaviour or the limitations of the medium. Importantly they will also know when to stop, when to rein the challenge back to deliver a solution which is different, but viable.
2. Persuasive collaboration
Few designers operate as islands. A key skill is in collaboration to bring together diversity of skills and knowledge to deliver a successful outcome. A designer with these skills facilitates and brokers conversations to drive consensus, then communicates, evangelises and generates support for their designs.
3. Listening & empathy
Designers are seldom designing for themselves. To design for others they need to gather real insight and develop empathy with the needs, expectations, limitations and concerns of the end users, the business and their colleagues. To do this they must be able to listen, and observe to uncover opportunities and constraints. Only then can they balance the needs of the end users with the needs of the business.
4. Calm simplification
Designers are often asked to deal with extreme complexity. Context of use, materials, technology, data, skills, law, politics, visuals, user needs, security are all examples of the kinds of often opposing pressures which can overwhelm and lead to mediocrity or failure. A great designer can embrace the complexity, simplifying and managing it so that they keep their eye on both the big picture and the detail.
5. Something different
Design is not a self-contained profession. It is manifest through its application to something else. The best designers relish this ever-changing platform, and the resultant varied challenges. This means that a broad base of knowledge, and an enquiring mind, is of great benefit to the designer.
Many of these skills are character traits which grow through experience, but I believe that in the three to six years of higher education which designers do, they should be nurturing these skills so that they are ready to be honed in the workplace. Employers, like Foolproof, should then take the mantle and provide the opportunities and support for the designer to grow.