5 Soft Skills Every Designer Needs

Looking outside of the obvious technical skills

Loryn Chen
Sep 19, 2020 · 5 min read

Hack University is a community of software engineers and designers. We post educational tech and design content, resources, and tips!

Hard technical skills are very important for any designer to have. Things like typography, prototyping, user research, etc are areas that affect one’s design craft and way of thinking. Apps like Figma, Sketch, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Principle, Framer, etc are all tools that help communicate and sell ideas.

However, these are skills that are often seen as being the most important. They’re commonly used as the distinguishing factor of what makes a great designer. Again, I think these are critical to have, but, there’s another piece to this that’s often overlooked; soft skills.

As designers, we work with humans to ultimately serve other humans. So, it’s essential for anyone to understand the human aspect of our work and the way we work. This is where the soft skill sets come in.

There are 5 soft skills you must master if you wish to elevate your design career.

1. Storytelling

The best brands and products are ones that are based around a cohesive narrative (usually the customer’s story or journey).

Why?

Because it creates an emotional response and pushes the intended audience to take action.

A recent rebrand of Robinhood by COLLINS really brought this idea home for me. Take a look at these LinkedIn posts below from Brian Collins (Co-Founder) talking about his team’s work:

Brian Collin’s LinkedIn post about his design agency’s rebrand work with Robinhood.

“To invest is to imagine a brighter future — and take the first step towards it. When enough people take that step, new communities can form, more resources can be developed, and entire industries can shift to better meet the demands of people.”

This is the idea that carried throughout their work: Imagining a brighter future. It’s what they sold to Robinhood and what they’re selling to customers.

A designer that can tell stories, especially when presenting their work will be able to display more compelling designs that speak to the intended audience.

2. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

EQ is the capability for you to recognize your own emotions, other people’s emotions, and handle them appropriately.

Why is this important?

Design is ultimately about people. This takes a lot of understanding of human psychology, empathy, and having the drive to want to help others. If you really understand your users’ pain points, then you’ll be able to design better solutions for them. If you understand your team members, you’ll be able to work effectively with them. If you understand your clients, you’ll be able to sell compelling ideas that resonate with them.

Someone with a high EQ will be able to work well with others and build long-lasting relationships.

3. Collaboration

I truly believe that the best designs aren’t done alone. Because of this, being able to collaborate well with others is a must. Whether working with other designers, engineers, PMs, or other stakeholders, taking the time to understand each other will lead to better-crafted designs.

This requires good communication and being mindful of what others need from you in order to do their best work. This goes hand in hand with having strong emotional intelligence.

4. Growth Mindset

We all strive to be experts in our respective disciplines. Knowing the full breadth of our work and understanding what it means to achieve success is, without a doubt, very important. However, when you think you know all of the possible ways to solve a problem, you fail to consider new and innovative ideas. This is where having a growth mindset, no matter how many years of experience you have, is vital to consistently innovate and improve on ideas.

When you approach problems with a beginner’s mindset, you consider ideas from a wider range and have a broader perspective. This leaves room for growth and improvements which frees yourself to try many different ideas, especially ones that haven’t been tried before.

The world and the technology we have are changing at such a rapid pace. Every day something new happens. So, opening our minds up to growth and change will ensure that we’re keeping up with the technologies that power the world.

5. Creativity and Innovation

As a designer, it’s important to understand established design patterns, rules, and system guidelines. However, it’s even more critical to know when to break these conventions. The best designers come up with unique and creative ideas for their projects when it’s appropriate.

There are many ways to set yourself up to think more creatively. In the digital space, it’s always good to look at things done in the physical world as inspiration for your work. For me, I like to look at other industries and understand how they do things in order to tie it back to my particular problem space. Another thing is that I like to get guidance from other people as a way to inspire and inform my designs.

These things help me approach my projects and work from different angles, which I’m sure can help you too.

Last thing

There’s actually one more I’d like to add, however, I wouldn’t count this as it’s own unique skill. Being good at communicating is essential for developing all of the 5 soft skills mentioned above. Verbal communication and writing are at the core of everything we do as designers and as people. So, being a good communicator sets yourself up for success when it comes to developing the 5 soft skills.

If you’re more of a video type of person, then check out this animated video from Hack University’s Instagram page 👇

That’s all, folks!

Hope this was helpful. Please comment if you agree or disagree with these soft skills and if there’s another skill you’d add here. Also, feel free to comment with any questions!

I’m Loryn. A Product Designer based in Washington, D.C. I’m the Co-Creator of Hack University. Let me know if you find this enjoyable and/or insightful. It would mean so much to me to know that I’m helping others around the globe. Also, reach out if you have any questions or are looking for career advice. I’d be happy to help. Let’s connect! Twitter | Dribbble | LinkedIn

Hack University is a community of software engineers and designers. We post educational tech and design content, resources, and tips!

Be part of the community and learn!

YouTube | TikTok | Instagram | Facebook | Medium

Hack University

A community of software engineers and digital designers sharing educational content.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store