Computercheck. Photoshopcheck. Lots of free timecheck. It seems that this is all that is necessary to call yourself a ‘designer’ these days. I believe that there is far more to a designer than software, computers and free time. Designers should have critical thinking skills, understanding of design principals, knowledge of grid systems, typography and much more.

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills
Designers need to be able to think, reason, research and back up their designs. Critical thought is the backbone of design. Critical thinking is what separates designers from your clients cousins 10 year old kid with Photoshop that can ‘make a logo in 5 minutes’.  Design without meaning or concept is merely decoration.

Understanding of the Principles of Design


Balance, proportion, rhythm, emphasis, unity. The principles of design provide a designer with the basic tool set to product effective design. Good designers will utilize and manipulate specific principles to communicate and emphasize their message.

Principles of Design Resources:

Knowledge of Design & Art History

Knowledge of design & art history
A broad knowledge of design and art history gives a designer a firm foundation from which to be inspired and to reference in new and innovative design solutions. Designing without the knowledge of what has been done before is naive.

Design History Resources:

Sound Understanding of Typography

Sound understanding of typography

Typography can make or break an idea, layout, or design. A good designer should have a firm grasp of typography and should be familiar the different classes of typefaces and how their aesthetic qualities communicate and reinforce messages.

Typography Resources:

Knowledge of Grid systems

Knowledge of Grid systems
Designers should be aware of different types of grid systems and how they can help bring organization and structure to design. Without grid systems designs often end up in chaos.

Grid Systems Resources:

Sketching &  Drawing

Ability to draw/sketch or get your ideas out on paper

The design process should always start with sketching rough ideas or mind mapping. However drawing and doodling are often overlooked in the design process due to time and the use of the computer. There is an immediacy that is present when pencil or pen meets paper vs ‘sketching’ on a computer. IMO good designers will ALWAYS start with sketching.

Communication and People skills

Communication and People skills
One of the things that was left out of my design education was dealing with people – more specifically clients. Designers need to be able to clearly communicate about design in ways that clients can understand without making them feel inferior.

Communication Resources:

Knowledge of Color Theory

color theroy

A designer needs to have a strong knowledge of color schemes, color harmonies, and what they communicate.

Color Theory Resources

Work Ethic and Patience

Work Ethic and Patience
Design is a process and does not happen in an instant. Creativity tends to happen when we least expect it which sometimes makes things difficult. Designers need to posses the work ethic and patience that is necessary to see a design from concept to revisions to completion.

Willingness to Learn

Willingness to Learn
The design field is always changing and growing. Technology is updated on a daily basis that pushes designers to create innovative solutions for new mediums.  Designers need to be willing to keep their skills sharp at all times as well as push themselves to learn new skills, software and techniques.

What Do You Think?

I asked some of my twitter friends what skills they thought were necessary to be called a designer:

lmkdesign: you need the skills to create a marketing package for your client, without plagiarizing from somewhere else. Creaetivity+knowhow

mgoldst: You need skills in Translation, Visualization and Conceptualization.

jeffgolenski: you gotztah be articulate and have them problem solving skillz

lauraearley: A basic knowledge of the principles of design, talent, and a willingness to keep learning. It’s not all about Adobe and Apple.

standiaz: being able to explain why you chose a certain design element and what it does to the design.

lorissa: the ability to communicate your own ideas verbally and visually, and, in turn, understand what someone communicates to you

ralphsaunders: Remain optimistic about a project even when client wants to use comic sans…

curtismchale: communication with clients and organization

About The Author

Niki Brown is a graphic & web designer based out of the Boston. She writes for several design blogs as well as running her own design blogs The Design O’Blog and Daily Design Bits. Follow Niki (@nikibrown) on twitter!