3 Unknown Skills You Need to Level Up as a Designer in 2021

Improve these skills to become the best designer you can be.

Nick Groeneveld
Jan 4 · 5 min read
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

The start of the new year is here. Let’s hope for a better 2021, regardless of the ups and downs we’ve all had in 2020. We often start the new year by taking a step back and reflect. A fresh start. This year, 2021, is no different.

By taking a step back you can discover areas within your skillset that might have been, well… lacking. This can be a difficult and confronting process. Believe me, I know from experience.

Last year, I’ve worked together with over 50 designers spread across 4 projects. These people have been of great help and inspiration to me.

In addition to helping me reflect on my work performance, they have helped me get a better understanding of what it takes to be a great designer.

There are some ways to improve as a designer that doesn’t get enough attention. Yet, these are the ways that can make a big difference for you. Here’s what you can do to level up your design game in 2021.

Sketch and Figma. Your prototyping tools of choice. Credits to the author.

Know your design tools inside and out

First and foremost, you’re a designer. That means that you need to be able to design. I’m sorry for the cliché, but it is true.

I’m not talking about creating beautiful Neumorphism or Glassmorphism mockups you can share on Dribbble or Behance. What I am talking about is pure raw design skill. Fast. In great detail. Pixel-perfect.

You can greatly enhance your overall designer level by really digging into a prototyping tool, like Sketch or Figma.

Picking one of them is up to you. However, we recommend becoming proficient with both of them. If you do so, you will be an option for a wider variety of jobs. It is a quick win for any designer.

Here’s the how and why

If you know your prototyping tools, you can translate ideas to visual concepts. Even better still, you can translate the ideas of others. That’s where your added value is.

As a designer, you operate at the intersection of business goals and user needs. Being an absolute expert in your tool helps to create clarity between the two.

This is important since your stakeholders can’t create this clarity themselves. They need you. Better still, they need to pay you to do so.

You can become a pro quite simply by just using the tools. Again a bit of a cliché, but it is what it is. They say you need 10.000 hours of practice to become a master in your field. Why not try that with Sketch or Figma in 2021?

Sell your work

Now, being able to create the best possible design tools output is just the first step. Sharing your work with the world is an equally important second step.

A good designer who can sell is more valuable than a great designer who can’t.

I mean, how good is your work if there’s nobody there to see it? To tell the world about it? To sell it to? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This also applies to your design work.

Here’s the how and why

Stakeholders, colleagues, and potential clients need to know that you’re the go-to designer for all of their design challenges.

Being visible as a designer equals more leads. More leads equal more jobs. Finally, more jobs equal more money. It is as simple as that. Start at the beginning of this formula. The more you put in, the more will come out.

To sell more of your work you first must show it. We call this being visible.

You can divide visibility into external and internal visibility. The former is aimed at the outside world while the latter is aimed at the company or client you work for.

One way to start is to (further) develop your UX portfolio. Your portfolio can be visible both internally and externally. Take these tips to heart.

  • Always have your portfolio ready. You never know when you might get an opportunity to pitch.
  • Share your portfolio on your website, social media, and platforms like Dribbble or Behance.

Finally, another great way of increasing your visibility is to talk about your work at gatherings and events. Make sure your target audience gets to know you. Go on and network!

Be involved

Your work doesn’t end when you hand over your design to the development team. In fact, the most important part of your design journey is just beginning.

The difference between a good and a great designer is determined by how involved the designer is within the development process.

If you’re not involved, you can’t review the product. There’s no way of making sure that your design is actually being implemented the way you intended.

You can’t explain the potentially unknown outcome to stakeholders who are paying you to help achieve their business goals.

Here’s the how and why

When your design has been accepted by your client or stakeholders, it is time for you to hand over your work to the development team.

One way of doing that would be to just email them the final design and be done with it. However, that’s obviously not the best way to hand over your work.

Instead, organize a handover meeting where you explain the design vision that went into the project. Answer any questions your developers might have. Make sure you let them know that you are available to help and assist when necessary. This puts them at ease and it makes you more visible at the same time. Win-win!

Attend Scrum events like sprint reviews and stand-ups to remain involved and try and get a reviewer’s role within the process. By doing so, you will make sure you actually deliver quality design work.

Let’s go

These skills seem almost like basic knowledge if you read them like this. Yet, they aren’t. Sometimes designers can be a bit too invested in just creating pretty pictures. This is your chance to be different. To be better than that.

By focussing on actually becoming an expert in your craft, selling your design work, and being involved in the entire process you’ll be well on your way to become a great designer yourself.

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Nick Groeneveld

Written by

Designer & consultant. Working on providing designers the tools they need. Get your free UX Jobs Handbook at http://bit.ly/thedesignerstoolbox

The Designer’s Toolbox

The Designer’s Toolbox is a collection of how-to’s, tips, tricks and best practices in the world of visual, UI/UX and product design.

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