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The trick to designing better

Becoming a good designer is basically becoming good in a lot of things. And the actual ‘design’ work is only a part of it.

‘Design’ refers to the craft part of it. This is where you practice principles of visual design, learn design tools, do prototyping, acquire knowledge about UI components, practice research methods, code in HTML, CSS, JS, etc. This is where you spend most of your time learning things during the initial stages of your career. The key to becoming a better designer does not end here. There are other aspects to that as well. It’s like being a great chef but not being able to run a successful restaurant. To be able to run a successful restaurant, you need to learn a ton of other things- logistics, people management, unit economics, health codes, demand and supply, the list goes on. Being a designer is more of a job. Your job is to fulfill business needs, which could be from your client or your employer.


So when you are working for a business need, you are typically working with a bunch of stakeholders. For example, if you are working for a tech company, you could end up working with a scrum team, with a product manager, a program manager, and a bunch of developers. There is also a good possibility that you could be working with other designers, product leads, engineering leads, and UX researchers. When you are working in such an ecosystem, it is very important to build skills outside of the ‘craft’ section of things. You have to be equally good in communication and collaboration.



Good design is not only about the ‘craft’ side of things such as layout, colour, and typography, but it is also about how you present it. Can you articulate your thought process? Can you present it as a story? Can you speak about intentionality in your designs? Do you abruptly pull up mocks or do you provide context about the problem you are solving? All of these things matter a great deal, and it most certainly impacts how stakeholders perceive your design. Being a good designer also means that you understand your business needs and organizational priorities. It also means that you understand your success metrics, your product lingo, and the overall challenges of the project. This is critical because knowing all of this helps you in weaving these things in your design presentation.



Understanding collaboration is the next key element in being a better designer. A good designer not only understands craft and communication but also understands the collaboration process. When we are working within a team, we need to understand that we are working with a bunch of people. People, a collective of individuals who have their own unique identities, preferences, thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and cultures. When we are working on solving complex problems, everyone has their own view of a solution. In such cases, presenting great designs through a narrative may not always work. You could work on a design for months, could have done multiple iterations and usability testing, but if you are not a good collaborator, your designs will most likely not go anywhere. A good designer needs to work well within a team and listen to everyone’s perspectives. They need to develop empathy towards stakeholders. They need to do relationship building. They should be able to do conflict resolution. They should invest time in understanding team dynamics.



As creatives, one of the most emotionally draining things we can do is deal with criticism. And yet, it’s absolutely essential if you’re to improve your skills. Positive feedback is great when it’s deserved, but you don’t really gain anything from it other than an inflated feeling of self-worth. And when it’s knee-jerk and undeserved, it can actually be counterproductive to your continued development.



It’s only by trying out lots of experimental design ideas and putting them into practice that you find out what works best and what you’re good at. It’s an approach graphic designer can learn from when it comes to experimenting with new media, skills and techniques. So, rather than always using the same fonts, colours, layouts or software for every design you tackle, mix things up a bit and try something new.