What Made me a Better Designer in 2016

Three things I learned which helped me become a more confident and valuable designer.

1. Questions are More Powerful than Answers

Amateurs give advice. Experts diagnose.

What makes designers valuable? The ability to ask great questions, gain insight and synthesize solutions that have a real impact. As designers, we should spend as much time diagnosing a problem, before prescribing any solution.

From Chris Do’s “Win Over Clients” presentation, I’ve found these three questions to be the most powerful when helping clients:

1. What are you trying to accomplish?
2. What’s getting in the way of achieving these goals?
3. Why do you believe this to be the case?

In Chris Do’s presentation, he goes over the difference between low-value and high-value questions. He also covers how as designers we can move up from being a vendor to an advisor, and eventually becoming a fiduciary.

Give it a shot. Ask these questions and attentively listen. Avoid the urge to give premature, ill-informed advice. I guarantee it will have a powerful effect on how your clients perceive you as a (valuable) partner.

2. Just Do it. Seriously.

Done is Better Than Perfect.

This year I decided to try new things that I was heavily resisting previously– out of irrational fears of the unknown, and the creative desire to make things perfect.

In 2016, I finally committed to two things I was avoiding for a long time: public speaking and teaching others. This year I presented to 4000 creatives in Manila, ran a design workshop in Singapore, gave a Tedx Talk, created The Pitch Kit, and started authoring content.

None of it was perfect.

But because I let go of that urge to make things perfect, and put myself into situations where I was out of my comfort zone, amazing things happened. 2016 was a very productive year for me, and I grew so much as an individual.

Me nervously speaking at TEDxCSULB about my experience working with Coldplay. How I stepped outside of my comfort zone and pitched an idea that I had no clue how to execute.

Is there something lingering on your to-do list? Remove your self-placed roadblocks of fear and excuses, and just do it. Make your 2017 your most productive year to date.

3. Mastery Comes Through Teaching Others

Mentoring and teaching others what I know has had a profound effect on my craft and career. It has forced me to reflect on, and formalize my own processes. I’ve become self-aware of my every design decision, which has helped me better articulate my ideas.

Teaching others has made me a more effective creative director and communicator. Giving direction to my team and working with clients has become almost frictionless. I feel like I’ve mastered new aspects of my profession, simply because I’ve had to teach it to another person.

Think you have nothing interesting to share? I thought the same. My mentor helped me realize that many of the things I do everyday– as a designer, an animator, and director– is special and valuable to others. I’ve just been taking it all for granted. Think about what you do well, and share that generously with others. You’ll be surprised at how many people will appreciate it.

Want to master your craft? Try teaching what you do every day, to someone else. A hungry mind, a junior designer, your mom. If you can train your mom to use Photoshop, you will not only be a photoshop expert, but you will have mastered the art of patience.

There were plenty of other things I’ve learned in 2016. For that, I have collected my recommended books, articles, and podcast on my page.

If you found this piece valuable, can you do me a favor by recommending it below? Have thoughts? Leave a comment. I’d love to discuss further. Thanks!

About the Author

Matthew Encina is a creative director at Blind, focusing on brand strategy, design and video content. He also authors content on pitching, design, and animation for The Futur Network.

Follow him everywhere @matthewencina

For those of you who have to pitch creative ideas to win business, but are struggling to land these opportunities, check out The Pitch Kit. I created this for those seeking clarity and structure in their design and pitch process.