Note: This entire article is tool agnostic. That is, it doesn’t matter if you use Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD, or Microsoft Paint, these tips will help you.
We’ll end this guide by discussing the more strategic side of design and ways you can extend your design prowess outside of pixel-pushing.
9. Design less
This may seem counterintuitive because, well, you’re a designer, right?
Junior designers tend to design a lot. And I mean A LOT. If you look at their design files, you’ll see dozens upon dozens of artboards of what we’ll call “design experiments” — that is, iterations on the same design pattern in an attempt to zero in on a final version.
This isn’t inherently bad; experimentation and iteration are fundamental to the design process. But as you become more senior, you’ll start making more of these decisions in your head before ever opening a design tool, because you’ll know which patterns work and which ones don’t. This will only come through repetition and practice, so study your designs and make note of their successes and failures. Sooner or later you’ll internalize these decisions without needing to actually see them in pixels, giving you the freedom to assess even more potential solutions.
As you progress in your career, you may participate more in the ideation and solution-forming process than in the execution phase. Your value to your organization will tip away from pixels and toward the ingenuity you bring to the table. At that point, it’ll be your design intentions that matter most; pixels will simply be a means to an end.
10. Write more
Candidly, I felt like a bit of an imposter the first time I wrote about design. Who was I to be waxing poetic about topics my manager had just taught me days before? I didn’t feel like I deserved an audience because I didn’t have the “credentials” to back up my philosophies.
What I’ve discovered about writing is that when you first put pen to paper, you’re writing for yourself. It’s not about your audience, it’s not about claps, and it’s not about landing a book deal.
Writing about design is about reflecting on your beliefs, your technique, and your process.
It’s a meditative exercise. It takes time. But in the time it takes to form your words and develop your ideas, you’ll grow more as a designer than you would polishing a login modal or illustrating an empty state.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas:
- What’s something you’ve learned? Talk about how you got there and how it’s made you better. (Hey, that’s this article!)
- Teach someone how to do something. Break it down into individual steps and provide rationale along the way.
- Reflect on a strongly held belief. Research examples that both support and challenge it.
The best designers are outstanding communicators. The more in tune you are with your design motivations and rationale, the more effective you’ll be at persuading stakeholders and bringing your design to fruition.
- Why it made me better: I have a deep understanding of my personal design techniques, style, and methodology, so talking about design and executing it is far more efficient.
- Further reading: Why writing is the most important skill in design by Yazin Akkawi, Writing is a Designer’s ‘Unicorn Skill’ by Leow Hou Teng, Writing about design when you don’t know what to write by Craig Phillips, Become a Successful Design Leader by Being More Persuadable by Christian Beck
11. Emphasize outcomes
This is a difficult skill to develop because it involves letting certain things go. As a junior designer, the urge to deliver the perfect design can be absolutely unshakeable. Your design is your baby, and it has to look like this!
There’s a corner you’ll turn in your design career where outcomes usurp design. At this stage in your professional design journey, prioritization is key, and whether you like it or not, “good enough” will creep into your vocabulary.
It’s not until you fully appreciate business needs and user outcomes that you’ll start to hear this as a strategic phrase instead of a white flag of defeat. Diminishing returns are the enemy of design, and it’s hard to know when you’ve hit that plateau.
As you frame a design problem, work closely with product management and other stakeholders close to the roadmap to stay laser-focused on the user, the problem, and the solution necessary to address it. If you find yourself detouring outside of the requirements defined in the product road map, then it’s a telltale sign that you’re chasing nonessentials.
If you’re unsure, refer back to the outcome you’re seeking to achieve and weigh the consequence of your design against it: Is this an embellishment or enhancement? Is the outcome still achieved without this addition?
- Why it made me better: I’ve become a more strategic designer, always prioritizing results over decoration. But this doesn’t mean my designs aren’t visually appealing. I’m performant and effective executing design tasks, and stakeholders trust my recommendations because they know I’m always focusing on outcomes.
- Further reading: Become a Master at Design Planning, How to Be a Valuable Designer, and How to Frame a Design Problem by Christian Beck
12. Work collaboratively
I’ll end this guide with a reminder that we are not the center of the world. We are not geniuses, we are not superior, and we are not the stakeholder.
Humble yourself and remember that it takes an army to bring a product to life. From product managers to developers, to sales and marketing, each discipline plays a vital role in bringing a product to market.
It’s our responsibility as designers to be aware of the process and work collaboratively with others. If your team is in total alignment, you will succeed together. Lift each other up, anticipate needs beyond your own, design intentionally, and solve problems.
Empathy grows when you work with others. You’ll begin to better understand their motivations, anxieties, and intentions — all vital to maintaining healthy relationships.
So reach out. Schedule a meeting and listen. Learn about the disciplines around you and design with them in mind, too (not just the end users). You’re not only building trust, but you’re also building a team of people who will defend and support your design.
- Why it made me better: Particularly in the product design world, selflessness is a key ingredient to success. Learning the languages of other disciplines has helped me have more effective conversations, and we reach a shared understanding faster.
- Further reading: Designing for Buy-In, Designing for Production, and Designing for Quality Standards by Jon Moore
We made it! Now, you can’t just read a guide online and instantly become a pro, just like you can’t watch Lebron James play basketball and all of a sudden be an MVP in the NBA.
Mastering any domain takes years of time and practice, and each skill must be exercised and maintained. Use the techniques in this guide as a starting point and adapt them to fit your organization and professional desires.
Ask questions as you grow. Seek mentorship. Imitate the leaders you respect. Find what motivates you and aggressively pursue it for fulfillment. All problem solvers are designers — it’s just a matter of how you choose to contribute.