Becoming a superstar level designer

Jan 3, 2018

There are a lot of articles out there that will tell you how to become the best designer in the world! Some of them are probably pretty good.
However this one… Well, this one is mine.

Starting off, I will give you a bit of TL;DR. You will not learn here today the holy grail of skills of a perfect designer. If you are disappointed, I just saved you 4 minutes of your time, give or take. What you will learn today, is another designer’s opinion on how to make something meaningful out of your craft. And maybe you could follow a similar path.

This must seem a bit of a cliche advice but if you are not learning you are doing it wrong. Seriously, change is light-speed in the field of design. Just see any article about User Experience in 2013–2016 and now.

Some ways to learn:
Books (obviously)
– Articles (there are amazing publications on Medium and not only)
– Workshops (attending, working, practicing, networking)
– Hackathons (challenging your skills in lean multidisciplinary teams)
– Collaborate (Volunteer with fellow designers and engineers)
– Side projects (step out of your comfort zone and do a project that can challenge you, like mentioned also above)

Accept criticism
If you do not accept the fact that you can do mistakes then you are not a good designer. If you do not respond well to criticism, how are you going to improve? I believe that by challenging each other to do stellar work, we are creating an environment that people can thrive. Plus it also links to the first point – learning.

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new

— Albert Einstein

Bonus; Fail!
Fail, fail fast, fail spectacularly, then sleep it off and do it all over again. Most of us stress over the fact that our position is getting diminished if we fail. However, failing is a learning way (not mentioned above because it deserved its own space). Failing is one true nature of human beings and we must embrace it as a driver to better ourselves.

Give back to the community
I have established an acceptable network and I have some experience that allows me to be able to share one thing or two. I am convinced that one of the best forms of incentive for things you do, is people’s gratitude for teaching them stuff. And for this reason I want to continue doing it as much as possible.

As designers we have a responsibility when advocating for the user, to keep one fundamental principle up high: Being human. And we can do that by building ethical products, work in ways that we leverage our teams, and delight our customers. On top of that, giving back to young talents and people who want to be part of our craft. I like to think that design is the most inclusive craft. Is it?

Always ask the ‘why’
There are a lot of times that you will be presented with a decision that you will not agree upon, based on your experience. Challenge that. I am not telling you to be a d*ck about it… Just, defend your thesis. If you have a valid argument, present it. If the other person is wrong, lead her/him to that conclusion.

‘Why’ is probably one the most important tools in your box. Asking the ‘why’ to your methods, to your teams, to your products, to your own users, trying to understand and make sense of the world. How else are we able to add qualitative data to our decisions?

Be code literate
There is a lot of discussion and debate around whether designers should learn how to code, or not. This is a discussion that I personally believe wastes everyone’s time. It is solely up to you, as a person to build your career to your own needs and wants.

However, based on my own experience, I can give one small advice to keep in the back of your head. Knowing how to code (HTML, CSS, and a tiny bit of JavaScript), has helped me a lot as a designer. Working as a product designer in multidisciplinary teams, 95% of my time I do not have to code a single line. But by understanding those languages, their capabilities and limitations, has helped me to create viable products and services with my teams.

Be data informed
This last piece of advice ties nicely with the one above. Understanding data. You might have noticed that I didn’t use the word combo data-driven. Yes, this is correct, and there is a simple reason; I prefer being data informed, because understanding users is not just retention and activation numbers. Understanding users, require a suit of cross-disciplinary professions, that product teams should strike to achieve.

Document (2018 edition bonus)
This just in, a bonus advice for 2018. Document. Document everything you do. This last piece of advice (for now), is so important, but so normal to me that I almost forgot to mention. Every project you do, every feature you ship, every design decision that has lead to a bad or good result, have a lot of learnings, feedback, measurements (data huh!), technologies used, and ways of working with people (whether they are your peers or your users). So I hope you see what I did there… Documenting can contain all the points mentioned in this article. And by having an archive where you can recall and do a retro at any time, can help you learn.