Colouring-in and beyond. Need to Knows for a Designer in a Digital Agency

Crack open a designer in a digital agency and start poking around. You’ll find a heavily loaded job description and probably a lot of coffee.

Equipped with the latest Apple Google device, skinny jeans, a penchant for facial hair (just the guys) & music by bands you haven't quite heard of unfortunately isn't quite enough. Crack open a designer in a digital agency and start poking around and you’ll find a heavily loaded job description.

"Wait a minute, I thought it was just colouring in boxes and putting together eclectic playlists on Spotify?"

In digital, the term designer is pretty nondescript and doesn’t really do anything to enlighten that guy who works in the sandwich shop who just asked you what you do. The tech industry is evolving (in case you hadn’t noticed) with the emergence of many new design roles so knowing your UX from your UI is vital.1 There are now specialists in many of these fields but the reality can be that as an agency designer you will have to understand the workings of more than one discipline.

T-shaped designers (a phrase championed by Tim Brown at IDEO) are well-rounded. The stem of the ‘T’ represents being strong in a specific area and the horizontal bar points to having a broad range of abilities so that you’re just as comfortable talking about end-to-end user experiences as well as applying a grid layout based on the golden ratio.

"Ok, got it but is there not the phrase ‘ jack of all trades, master of none’?"

Perhaps, but then do they not say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill? Digital as a medium is fluid and constantly changing.

“Having a breadth of experience means you’re less likely to suggest an inappropriate solution.” James Bates @ Clearleft 2

To complement this there are skills that apply across the board if you’re not only to be successful as a designer but survive in a digital agency.

1. Empathy

Put yourself in the place of the person using the product. This isn't something found in the latest version of Photoshop, and requires empathy. Understand your users. The nature of digital nowadays requires consideration of the product over multiple platforms interacted with by all kinds of users in all sorts of situations.

2. Sketching

Just started a new project? You're on your 3rd cup of coffee and opened Illustrator after browsing Awwwards. You're all over it. If someone looked up 'innovative' in the dictionary your face would be right next to it. Awesome.

Step away from the stylus. Grab a pen and some paper and sketch your ideas out. Talk through, fail fast, and iterate. Work out the problem before jumping to the solution.

3. Selling your idea

You're really passionate about your work; you lie up at night thinking about how you can make things better. So spread that love. Not only do you have to sell it to the client, but also to the other members of your project team. If they believe in what you're doing then when things get tight at the eleventh hour they've got your back (hopefully). So many great ideas get binned because they’re not presented well.

4. Being immune to failure (and negative feedback)

It might be a shock but there's the chance that your psychedelic homage to Ken Burns (in an ironic way) explaining the world of investments might not go down well with the client. Rather than getting offended, ask why they don’t like it.

Asking the right questions allows you to understand their worries and helps you define a progressive solution.

5. Working in (as) a team

The romanticism of sitting in your corner and producing the winning designs at the last moment is not only going to annoy the rest of your project team but could mean a lot of re-work by yours truly. Understand that everyone in the team has their own angle. Collaboration is key.

6. Making things better

You're unlikely to get it right all the time but what makes the difference is learning from your mistakes and moving forward. Leave that 'badass designer' nonsense at the door. It's difficult I know but never give up, and always try to make the best out of (what you think) is a bad situation.

7. What about all that coding stuff?

To be a master of your art is a basic knowledge of the medium you are working in not a good thing? Not only to understand the possibilities but the constraints too. The way things are moving forward in the next few years it may even be a requirement to have front end coding skills with the development of interaction & prototyping tools.

Animation, transitions - these are all elements to be crafted by YOU the designer. Get involved.

This all might sound a bit idealistic but it’s based on some of the experiences I’ve encountered so far. It’s opinion not fact – a phrase you hear an awful lot of in this line of work…

By Stuart Clift, Designer

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