Contributed by Liang-Cheng Lin, Senior Design Manager at Adobe
When I started my design career, design teams tended to focus more on hiring someone whose skill set most closely matched the itemized job requirements, qualifications, and relevant industry. Nowadays, it’s a little different. Of course, we’re still looking for expertise in specific types of design, domains, and possibly platforms, but our requirements go further than that. We need attributes that enable solid teamwork, the empathy to observe and understand end users, a sensibility to connect the dots, and a superb soft skill to communicate and cooperate with outside teams and departments.
I can only venture to guess that these extended skills aren’t unique to Adobe—but a requirement of today’s designers in general and a result of our ever-evolving digital landscape.
Here are just a few of the beyond-the-job-description skills and attributes we’re looking for in new designers.
1. Creativity in design approach
There is no perfect design process. Every designer, every design team, and every company has its own unique design philosophy and process. Great designers know how, why, when, and what design approach to take to accomplish their defined project goals.
We particularly appreciate the candidates who can articulate the pros and cons of various design activities, apply their past learnings, be frank—yet constructive—in diagnosing the existing process, and be adaptable enough to propose a tailored plan for the assigned design projects.
2. Empathy for the end user
Putting oneself in another’s shoes is crucial to building successful products that offer a delightful user experience—and it’s a skill we put high stock in here at Adobe. To make the right decisions for our users—whether they’re around features, styling, packaging, perception, or any other facet of the product—we have to deeply understand where they’re coming from, and figure out users’ motivation, goals, and emotional triggers. We need to know not just who they are and what challenges they face, but also how they feel, what they need, and why they need it.
3. A true team player attitude
The ability to work with all kinds of people has never been so critical to the success of design. The complexity of the products and services we are building requires a significant amount of cross-functional collaboration. Every individual has their own committed goal to achieve. Designers need to find a way to achieve these personal goals, accomplish the team’s objectives, and ensure the business unit’s KPIs demonstrate maximum productivity and efficiency—all simultaneously. To put it succinctly, today’s designers need to aspire to not just their own success, but also that of their colleagues and the organization at large. This ensures a healthy team culture and mutual support for all.
On top of this, cross-team communication is key. We’re not designing in a vacuum here. Instead, we have to coordinate, communicate, and work alongside countless other people—work partners (product management, marketing, engineering, etc.), managers, executives, remote consultants, and even other designers. Solid communication skills are important in responding to design feedback from these disparate team members and ensuring quality implementation of resulting changes.
4. Understanding of end-to-end customer journey
We’re not just designing something or making it pretty. We’re creating tools. That requires understanding the full lifecycle of the customer journey. Who are our target users and what are their challenges? How do they find us and use our tools? How do we retain, help, and support them? With the ability to dive deep into users’ interactions with us, designers can more aptly create delightful products and services that match their unmet needs.
5. Confidence in their negotiating abilities
Many times, designers are the end users’ only line of defense. What product management or marketing wants might not be the best thing for the user, and we need to have the confidence to speak up, challenge the status quo, and explain the reasoning behind our arguments.
Sometimes you need to defend, negotiate, and even fight for your design proposals or end users. Such soft skills are vital in executing these efforts peacefully and, ultimately, in the user’s (and our) best interest. In addition, they ensure a trusting working relationship, help build up credibility and ensure the projects you’re cooperating on go smoothly and effectively.
6. The AI edge
It’s no secret that artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the digital and design landscapes. This is definitely a new domain for those designers who are contributing to digital transformation within any industry. But just knowing about and understanding AI or how to incorporate it in our design efforts isn’t enough. It’s also about knowing when to leverage AI—understanding its applications, limitations, and the scenarios where we human designers have a unique edge.
AI might be great for more technical, predictable, and measurable elements of a product/service experience, but we designers are better at understanding the emotions, human intent, and psychology that should inform our design. Designers with an open mind and firm grasp on AI and machine learning will be able to add value to any modern design team.
The Bottom Line
Of course, these are just the attributes we’re looking for now. A few years from now, it could be a whole different story—especially as AI and machine learning solidify their places in the industry. One thing’s for certain, though: design will always be about more than just connecting the dots or making products beautiful and functional. We’re user advocates first and foremost—and that requires skills that often aren’t listed on a resume.