10 Non-Design Skills for Design Students

Whether you are a freelance, in-house, or agency designer, there are so many necessary skills and practices behind the scenes required to be a successful designer. Although this list is not exhaustive, it does focus on the main topics that you aren’t always taught in your design courses.

  1. Self Awareness

What are you good at? What do you know of? What needs improvement? Make a list of each. Constantly have a list of words/concepts that someone around you mentions that you are not very familiar with.

  1. Self Motivation

Start learning what you don’t already know. Once you start your job you will inevitably be given a task that you aren’t 100% sure how to do. Develop your ability to be self motivated. Take some initiative and find resources online to help further your current skills and develop new ones. Learning doesn’t stop after graduation.

  1. Organization

Not just for you, but for the sanity of your coworkers as well. Keep your files organized and come up with a system that works for your typical projects. Maintaining an organized and accessible schedule is important in planning meetings. Get comfortable and used to using an online calendar (Outlook or Google are two of the most commonly used).

  1. Writing

What is your design about? Why did you use those colors? Practice explaining what your most recent project was about, the intentions, goals achieved, and reasoning in writing. Don’t let your design skills stop at design, but develop the ability to write about your designs. You aren’t going to be able to meet with every client in person all the time, so relying on your conversation and body language isn’t bulletproof.

  1. Talking

Sometimes a phone call is the best and most accessible medium to connect with your client/boss/coworker/partnering businesses. Learn their language and vocabulary to be able to most efficiently communicate with them. Ask questions that will get you the answer you are looking for.

  1. Listening

Once you ask, you must listen. Often clients have ideas that are more difficult for them to communicate because they are not used to design/visual jargon. Give them time to complete their thought, then follow up with a question that may help them develop their answer on their own.

  1. Critical Thinking

The communication process is a cycle that involves ideas being shared and heard, but also understood. Critical thinking is crucial to develop when learning about others work and how their roles tie into yours. Prior to creating, think critically about your concept and how to best solve the problem you are faced with.

  1. Seeking Inspiration

Recognize where you get your best inspiration from and seek it out. Talk to designers, and others you work with to ensure that you aren’t attempting to create in a vacuum.

  1. Observing

When you are at the grocery store, or on your drive home, what catches your attention and why? This will turn into recognizing where you most often find inspiration.

  1. Coffee

Make a good cup. Try different strengths, flavors, and coffee shops. Identify your go to drink and enjoy it.

Obviously you aren’t going to go far as a designer if you have this list down, yet have nothing to stay up late working on with your new found lovely cup of coffee. Make sure your technical skills are on par. Identify your strengths and specialties, but continue to expand your knowledge of layout, photography, typography, html/css, infographics, illustration, and motion/animated design.

These skills and practices will pour into your design work, giving it more depth and allowing you to have a greater understanding of the purposes. Allow yourself to continue to learn, create from inspiration, and communicate well with your clients, coworkers, and business partners to better yourself as a designer.

Meg Dobinson | Harrisburg

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