Ten of the most important qualities of a modern designer?

Last week I asked a question on twitter and in my workshop at UX London:

What are the most important qualities of a modern day designer?

I got two different sets of similar answers using the mentimeter.com tool.

Feel free to add your own by going to menti.com and entering the code: 54 52 00

What I got from twitter
What I got from my Shaping You X Workshop

An initial top 10

I roughly guess from this skewed and limiting process, that the top 10 is something like the below:

  • Empathetic
  • Curious
  • Creative
  • Collaborative
  • Communicative
  • Strategic
  • Inquisitive
  • Humble
  • Ethical
  • Understanding

For me, the words above are incredibly loaded, but unsurprising in some ways. I am going to take some guesses of what people meant in their responses and try to unpick them a little. I’d appreciate any builds on this.


If you’ve been to enough conferences, and done enough design / ux twitter, you are probably tired of the empathy trope. It sits at the core of user-centredness and is seen by some to be at odds with ego. My concern is that it seems to be directed mostly at the people who will use a product or service rather than the people that help create and deliver it. I used to talk of having equal empathy, and more recently having systempathy. Considering the different viewpoints in the system, and the system as a whole. I don’t think this is what most people think. I’d like to change that.


I love that curiosity is so important for people. I think it sits at the core of me as a designer. I like to observe people, products and services. I like to learn. I like to have opinions and others to challenge them. I like to critique to learn more. I think it’s an important quality. However, I don’t think that we are as curious as we can be. Beyond users that is.


I’m not sure what people meant by the loaded term of creative, but I hope it meant the ability to think through many solutions. Of being divergent. Not being afraid of the dumb or crazy idea. Something I see lost in many modern day designers.


I’m glad that collaborative made the grade. After all, ideas are worthless without bringing them to the world. And designers alone can rarely do this. There’s a lot of talk about being collaborative, but very little actionable theory. I very much look forward to reading The Sherwin’s’ ‘Turning people into teams’ for more of this. After attending their workshop on Futurecasting, I was impressed with the collaborative and egalitarian subtexts being brought to the fore.


Designers often have to communicate their solutions. Without that communication their solutions can be worthless. They rarely speak from themselves. I’d have loved to gone to Tom Greever’s Articulating Design Decisions workshop for this reason. I believe designers have to connect, engage, and ultimately persuade. If appropriate, that is. Kate Rutter talked at UX London about how as an industry we had mastered words.

I’m not sure that’s true to be honest. It’s certainly an area I’m trying to invest in.


I think I need to spend a whole post on this one. I’m not sure what people really mean when they say strategy or strategic. As someone who has given a lot of strategy away for free, and also sold it as its own pieces of work, I have a few different views from many of my peers. In short, for now, I’d say:

  • It’s not an opposite of being tactical
  • It’s not an opposite of being pragmatic and delivery focused
  • It’s not just about being holistic and long term

That’s a few NOTs. As I said, I need to sit with this one some longer. I actually think that people want it to be about having more influence, getting the seat at the table, seeing long term, and being holistic. Away from the detail. But I could be wrong.


Paired with curiosity, i’d say inquisitive is very powerful a quality. We have to be careful though. Asking too many questions can cause a paralysis that impedes creating something that can help us advance our thinking.


I think on the whole, designers are a humble species. They lack confidence most of the time. Which is understandable. There is rarely one right way. However, it feels like design on stage has rejected some humility in favour of coming across more convincing. I personally appreciate this tension. I’d say humility can be at odds with communication.


Being ‘ethical’ is definitely of the times. however, it’s always been there. There is a sense that designers want to do good for the world. But I personally recoil at the notion of ethics that is often shared in the design community. It makes me and other designers trying to make a living feel bad. And I don’t need to feel any worse. I look forward to more on ethics from Cennydd Bowles when he publishes his book ‘Future Ethics’ later this year.


I like that the more common language term of ‘understanding’ was more favourable for some. Empathy is a route to understanding for me. But it’s not the only way. Understanding of the world’s complexities, of the grain of materials and of what competitors are doing is as important as understanding what someone feels. Understanding different sides. Understanding different ethics. Understanding your own knowledge gaps.

I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this as I continue my research. Comments below, or add your input into the survey at menti.com (code 54 52 00).

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