You’re not a designer unless...

Remember when you were learning design and your tutors told you that all you needed was was Photoshop and some ideas? Well, it turns out that there’s a whole heap of other stuff that you simply cannot call yourself a designer without.


You’re not a designer unless…You’ve got all the gadgets

You seriously think you’re going to be able to solve a design problem on a hunk of Windows junk? Take a hike buddy, because you’re going to be laughed out of the coffee shop unless you have a gold-plated Macbook, some noise cancelling Bose headphones, an iPhone and strut around like John Travolta you’re in Saturday Night Fever.

This insatiable drive for the latest, overpriced, tech is not only toxic and financially nonsensical, it is only going to put those starting out off.

I remember turning up to my first day of university with an Acer laptop, and spotting the Macbooks on show, only to feel immediately out of my depth.

It turns out I wasn’t, but it’s what I’ll call the ‘all Macbook, no pixels’ effect — having the equipment is a facade that can get people very far. All you need to do is look at the impossible device mockups on Dribbble to realise that there’s a reason people are hiding the real work behind presentation.

Your tools don’t make great work, your ideas do.

Be confident in your skills.


You’re not a designer unless…You can code

Hold on, so you’re telling me that you want someone else to now code those pixel-perfect designs you’ve presented? It’s 2018, so that means that if you want to seriously be called a designer, you’ve got to at least know how to create a React component and submit a pull request to the engineering team.

Source: Giphy

I see the same question asked over and over again by designers, “should I learn to code?” For me, this is the wrong question. If that’s something required to get your idea over the line, or you have a genuine passion (important) for pushing curly braces around a text editor, then go ahead.

If you’re so-so about code, then focus on learning something you really do care about, and save it for people who want to earn a living doing it.

I can code a bit, so well done me, but that doesn’t mean I can code. I can write HTML and CSS, but there’s a higher chance of me barfing into my desk waste paper bin than being able to contribute to an Angular JS project.

And that’s fine.

Designers are hired to solve problems, and that should be from a platform-agnostic perspective. Can you solve this problem in a sketch? Fantastic. Can you prepare a properly noted flat design with developer instructions on how to implement your vision? Brilliant. Does it require a simple HTML markup change? Wicked. Smart bit of CSS to add some animation? If that’s what you’re comfortable with doing, then go ahead.


You’re not a designer unless…You carry out user research

Those design decisions you made on that feature, were they backed by user research? What do you mean you haven’t asked people about their usability preferences and needs? So you just made a hunch? Urgh.

Source: Unsplash

Much like the coding problem, there’s an awful trend of designers wanting to own every stage of the product process flying around, and we’re risking a jack of all trades situation.

There is absolutely no problem with user research being carried out either by a dedicated person / team, or by another part of the business, if that’s what works for you.

If your day is already stacked full of product and design work, or you honestly have no interest in driving an hour out of town to speak face to face with someone who couldn’t care about the product you’re building, then either delegate your research work, or work with the sales and marketing team to handle user research differently.

The unfortunate truth is that 99% of businesses out there don’t actually care what the user thinks, because dollars arriving in the bank mean you must be doing something right.


You’re not a designer unless…You write

Hey, how many newsletter subscribers do you have? Medium followers? Twitter followers? Oh, you’re not interested in pushing out molten hot takes once a week about design and the tech industry? Delete the word ‘designer’ from your LinkedIn profile immediately, you’re not worthy.

Source: Unsplash

The irony of this point is not lost, so I’ll be as candid as I can.

Another point on the ‘skills a designer must have’, copywriting is becoming another one of those merging skills, I assume being absorbed from the designers transitioning from an advertising setting into more of a product design position.

Copy/writing is a skill, much like coding, that requires genuine interest before you can start writing punchy onboarding lines that’ll convert. Again, it’s fine if you don’t want to write. Unless you’ve been hired to write, you shouldn’t beat yourself up if it’s something you struggle with.

If you’re interested in becoming more adept, what better way than to churn out garbage on Medium? Let your personality shine, and write about what you’re passionate about.

If not, carry on doing what you’re doing. Churn out those beautiful designs and hand over the copy to another member of the team. Or, better yet, pair up with someone who struggles with design, but is excellent with words. You’ll make a dream team that excels together rather than producing half-baked work if you were to tackle it yourself.


Designers are in an odd position, whereby we’re desperate to keep up with the lightyear pace of the digital landscape, but desperate to cling to our core classical design principles. The industry it changing, but knowing how to set up a grid, follow typography hierarchies and selecting a rock solid colour palette will never die. It’s these core skills that, if you hone, will set you up to to become an excellent designer, whether you code it up or not.

Don’t get clouded by the hype, it’s only going to pass, but a great font pairing will not.

Enjoy your work.


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