Beyond Craftsmanship: Essential Unseen Skills for Design Professionals

Raluca Angelescu
September 25, 2023
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As I dive deeper into client projects, I realize how valuable some skills can be, even though I didn't consider them crucial. I used to dodge them and think it was enough to master the craft; everything else would follow. Previously, mastering the craft seemed sufficient, believing other things would fall into place, neglecting the realization that these skills form the essence of mastery. Let's discuss about them.

Self Reflection

I have been talking about self-reflection since I started writing. But I realized that sometimes I don't provide sufficient guidance on how to do it or share sufficiently from my experience.

1. Do it often and do it your way. Engage in self-reflection regularly, in a manner that suits you—be it during a relaxed bath, a coffee break, or through writing. It's a personal process, with the choice to share being entirely yours.

2. Relaxed Setting: Choose a time when your mind is unburdened and fresh, not post an exhaustive meeting. Distance yourself from routine pressures; immediate reactions may not yield the anticipated insights. Cultivate a questioning approach over defensive responses.

Nobody is permanently performing at the same level. We all have our ups and downs. Having the habit of constant reflection and adapting behavior accordingly is the way to get back on track fast and more successfully than before.

man sitting in the top of the mountain

Google-ing stuff

This is a favorite of mine; it's uncomplicated, easily available, yet often underrated. It's the skill to gather your energy and start learning new things about the industry, business, and anything that can contribute to making you a well-rounded Designer. We all know that "knowledge is power," but are we truly exploiting it as much as we think?

As a product designer, earning a spot at the coveted table involves more than just being good at your craft. It needs a perspective that considers business objectives and the intricacies of the industry while also championing user needs. Your opinions and suggestions need to go beyond your specialized skills. It's comparable to an architect who's trying to persuade an engineer and a real estate lawyer to build a floating house.

This doesn't imply you must turn into an expert instantly in your design domain. However, you need to be capable of asking knowledgeable questions to understand your users and the business dynamics. How can your design contributions contribute to the company's growth? It's fine not to have every answer. Formulating and confidently addressing informed assumptions can significantly create an impact.

The most straightforward, cost-effective way to do this? Initiate a Google search and gather as much knowledge about your industry as you can. Indeed, consulting with experts, deeply exploring the industry, and gaining firsthand experience are irreplaceable. But, lack of immediate access to direct feedback shouldn't demotivate you. You'd be astonished at the amount of insight online.

person holding black android smartphone

Dealing with Feedback

Constructive and candid feedback is at the core of healthy growth as a Design professional. However, offering feedback is one, but having the skills to accept it is a different story. So how can we learn to receive feedback?

Ask questions instead of being defensive. The most valuable advice comes when it's hard to hear it or when it makes us uncomfortable. It's human nature to become defensive; we have been safely guarding this defense mechanism since we used to live in caves. The good news is that we can now look past that and ask questions if something is unclear. If you receive improvement feedback, the best thing you can do is suspend any defensive responses and dive into self-reflection instead. If it's too much on the spot, take time off. Agree to revisit this with a fresh mind and a new outlook. It can be in a couple of hours or the next day. It's better than jumping into a conflict.

Make an action plan. No matter how valuable a piece of feedback is, if we breathe in relief after a discussion and don't take necessary action, all the efforts will be useless. It helps you grow and provides the other person with the assurance that you took their view into account, leading to more opportunities later on. People like being heard and making an impact, so follow up on the feedback received and take ownership.

Focus on the content of the feedback, not on the delivery context. You can talk about that later. We all envision the perfect feedback session with two people staying next to each other, having a coffee, sharing a laugh, and parting ways by shaking hands and receiving a pat on the back. While this is the best scenario, it might be that sometimes fresh feedback will come in unexpected ways and probably not in the best context. It might reach you via Slack between 2 meetings or before stepping into a client conference. While this might not be perfect sometimes, it's not worth losing valuable feedback over a poorly chosen context. Think about it, be honest, try to understand its intent, and separate the feedback from the channel or timing. You can raise this problem after but don't lose valuable insights.

yellow Awesome-printed signage

I sometimes love a well-put-together checklist to guide me through the day, or a project, so here is one to help you start practicing now.

  • Take a glass of the beverage of your choice and reflect on what you've learned for the week. Or from an interaction. You can do it after all the information is fresh, but sometimes it's better to take a bit of space. It has to work for you.
  • When you receive feedback, make an action plan and follow up on the results. Can be a checklist like this one or simply a sticky note on your desktop to remind you to stop saying "sorry" in all the meetings.
  • You might not sometimes like what other team members have to say, but give them the benefit of the doubt and lend them an ear. You never know where the next lesson will come from and you might even make a friend or in the process too.
  • Did you hear something new that interests you? You have just heard about a project and have no idea where to start? Open Google and start typing. Look for the company, look for the competitors, and research studies in the industry. Sometimes, even a Twitter post can come in handy and lead to further thoughts and research. That doesn't mean you need to spend hours answering a question that could have been answered in 1 minute by the colleague next to you. It means laying the foundation for making informed assumptions and having productive discussions.
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