Design skills? Only half the equation.

A UX Design intern was in my office yesterday with some questions. He was seeking some career advice as he neared the end of his internship with the company I work for.

What I said was a surprise to him…

Actual design skills are only half of the equation, I explained. He already knew that developing her design skills and continually improving her deliverables is key. All of us know this.

However, there’s a whole different side to moving ahead in your career that has basically nothing to do with your craft of design itself.

Here are three tips that I shared with her that can radically improve any designer’s career IF they actually implement just ONE of these dead simple tips consistently.

1. Don’t make your boss follow-up

When your boss asks you for something, never make he or she ask twice. This may seem like a no brainer. However, over my years managing UX teams, I have observed that this is a relatively rare skill. When I have a team member that I don’t have to follow-up with for things, I take notice. It is no coincidence that both of the managers I put in charge of my UX teams require no follow-up. If I assign them something, I know they’ll get it done. If I walk into my bosses office, I have a notebook and a pen. Always. I write down the task. When he provides me an assignment, I ask him when he needs it by, and I get it done. Along the way, I proactively communicate back to him on the progress or obstacles that might compromise the deadline. He doesn’t have to follow-up. He can delegate to me with complete confidence that I will get it done 100% of the time.

2. Take the initiative and solve the problem

The designers who move ahead in their career have a history of solving some of the problems left by others too lazy to do their work, or too indifferent to care. See the coffee grinds left behind on the break room counter left by somebody else? Wipe it down, even though you didn’t make the mess. See a piece of litter in the parking lot as you walk in to the studio? Even though it doesn’t feel like your job, and even though you don’t think anyone will notice. It matters. Fix stuff before anybody even asks you to fix it. Be the person to implement solutions at work, and let others spend their time complaining about problems. In the long run, problem solvers get paid more than complainers. Take the initiative, and go solve the problem.

3. Never stop learning the other stuff

I absolutely would not have advanced to where I am in my career without without learning from audiobooks, podcasts, and blog posts. I would not be leading and managing teams of  UX professionals. I’m not talking about only the books and blogs that cover the topics of design. I’m talking about the other skills that make the difference between landing your dream design job and staying where you’re at. How to think big, how have a vision for your life, how to improve your people skills, how to develop your leadership skills. Don’t ever stop learning.

So there you have it. Three tips that separate designers who move ahead in their design careers from designers that get stuck in their careers. And none of the above items them have anything directly to do with design, typography, color theory, or visual hierarchy. Nada.

Actually EXECUTE CONSISTENTLY on just one of the above things, and you will improve your design career and your life.

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