In the past, being a designer was considered mainly a technical profession, requiring skills such as software expertise and theoretical knowledge of design. However, today it's become increasingly important also to possess a range of soft skills in order to excel in the field and stand out in the job market.
Having strong soft skills can make all the difference in advancing your career and accessing better opportunities in the field.
This article lists 9 soft skills that will make you stand out as a designer.
What is the difference between Hard Skills and Soft Skills?
Before we dive into the topic of this article, let's first provide some context and define another important concept: hard skills.
Hard skills refer to the technical abilities required to perform a specific role, job, or profession.
In the case of designers, for example, hard skills could be:
- Knowing how to use a specific tool, such as Figma, Adobe XD, or Sketch;
- Understanding design principles such as Color Theory or User-Centered Design.
It's important to realize that hard skills are distinguished by the same characteristic: they are technical and "simple" to learn.
And we mention "simple" because you can't just go on Youtube now, watch half a dozen videos, and expect to have the same knowledge as someone who has been using Photoshop for 15 years.
But in a way, it can all be learned. The technical skills are not so difficult to absorb.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are related to behavioral and social skills. In other words, it has nothing to do with technical knowledge and, in general, can be used by anyone, in any profession.
In this sense, examples of soft skills would be:
- good communication;
- people management
Why are Soft Skills important?
While hard skills may be easier to learn, developing solid soft skills requires much more effort.
Because they are linked to behavior, many soft skills can only be learned through experience, self-reflection, feedback, and a strong will to improve.
In this sense, teaching technical skills, such as using Figma, is much easier than behavioral skills like leadership.
Because of this, companies and recruiters tend to look favorably upon professionals who already possess the desired soft skills for their positions and opportunities.
In addition, behavioral skills can contribute to the well-being of colleagues and the work environment, which can also provide good results for the company.
Therefore, soft skills are important for professionals to stand out in the market, with behaviors and attitudes that benefit both the team and the company.
For designers too?
The first question that pops up when we talk about design is its technical nature. It is not rare to find comments saying that design is a technical area and that we only need to worry about hard skills.
Well, design is indeed a technical area. But jobs are no longer isolated; more and more interactions and group work are a reality in any company. In this sense, behavioral skills are fundamental for designers to develop their careers.
A survey by the Interaction Design Foundation found that 73% of hiring managers look for candidates whose communication (soft skill) is their best ability.
InVision, in its Product Design Hiring Report, also found that companies know the importance of behavioral skills and look for professionals with a good balance of hard and soft skills.
In addition, NN/g's UX Careers Report revealed that the majority of respondents believe that soft skills are important in a career in UX Design.
Top 9 Soft Skills for Designers
Below we have listed some of the Soft Skills that we consider fundamental for designers to develop in their careers.
Communication is a fundamental soft skill for any professional, and that includes designers.
As mentioned earlier, design is no longer an isolated role focused solely on technical tasks. Nowadays, it's becoming increasingly collaborative, with professionals interacting with each other more than ever before.
In this regard, communication is important to get your ideas across to clients, stakeholders, peers, or even recruiters.
Therefore, understanding who you are talking to and for whom you are talking is paramount. For each person or group, you may use a different type of communication, with a different purpose. So keep some questions in mind, such as:
- What do you need to communicate?
- What is your goal?
- Who are the people?
- How do you organize the ideas so that they are well understood by others?
When we talk about communication, it's important to remember that it's not just about speaking but also about actively listening.
Being a good listener is also a crucial skill for designers, as it's essential to listen to clients in order to understand their needs and preferences.
Listening to customers' requests allows designers to understand, discuss, and even question the desired solutions, making their work more efficient and productive.
Moreover, in fields like UX and product design, researching and interviewing users requires active listening skills to accurately identify and address their needs.
Reading Tip: UX Design In High Demand
Knowing how to and being comfortable presenting your work is also one of the soft skills we can place under communication skills.
However, making a presentation does not mean knowing how to use PowerPoint or simply how to put slides together.
In many cases, designers will present their results, proposals – or even their own portfolio – to people who are not designers. So it's important to adapt their communication style for clear and effective understanding.
In addition, learning how to organize ideas and create a compelling story can help designers present information in a more understandable and engaging way. Studying Storytelling can be a valuable tool for improving presentation skills.
2) Giving and receiving feedback
UX and product design processes are iterative and rely on constant feedback for continuous improvement.
Thus, it's important that designers know how to listen and provide constructive feedback.
Understanding that constructive criticism is not personal and is meant to improve the project or your own skills is essential to improvement.
Therefore, when it comes to receiving feedback, it's ideal to have an open mind and be able to filter and absorb what is being said.
On the other hand, it's fundamental that designers also know how to offer feedback. To do this, it's important to put aside personal issues and focus on examples, highlighting opportunities and how they can be improved.
Describing this soft skill is simple, but this skill requires a lot of experience and training.
Empathy is a vital soft skill that every professional should possess, regardless of their field.
Empathy is essential in UX and Product Design, where the design processes are centered around fulfilling the user's needs. Practicing empathy involves putting oneself in the other person's shoes and seeking to understand their frustrations and desires in order to create designs that resonate with them.
By exercising empathy, product development and UX Design processes will become more and more assertive.
This skill is so important that we have an article about it:
4) Time Management
Time management is another important soft skill for any profession.
It is not uncommon to find several tools that help take care of time management, in many different ways.
However, time management is not about knowing how to use these tools. Time management is about knowing how to prioritize your activities.
The day-to-day routine of projects is very dynamic. Activities and deadlines can change more frequently than we would like.
Because of this, it's essential to understand what the priorities are and adapt your activities to meet the deadlines.
The dynamics of projects, and work routines, also make flexibility an important behavioral skill.
As mentioned, designers face frequent changes in deadlines, scope, budget, and goals in their work routine.
To be more flexible, designer should pay atenttion to:
- Adaptability: not only with the dynamism of the work environment but also with the advance of technologies, products, trends, etc.
- Open-mindedness: to be open-minded is to be willing to create and innovate without being stuck in old habits.
Reading Tip: Does UX Design Limit Creativity?
6) Broader perspective
Having a broader perspective is a soft skill that enables designers to demonstrate the value of UX and Product Design within their company and achieve better results.
On a higher level, broader perspective allows designers to understand about business and know how to direct their efforts and work to achieve the company's goals and results.
On a lower level, broader perspective allows designers to work more harmoniously with their contact areas, such as developers, marketing, and product.
To achieve this, it is important to participate in integration meetings with other departments and teams within the organization. This allows designers to better understand how different processes and routines work together and how their work can impact and be impacted by other activities within the company. By collaborating with others and sharing knowledge, designers can develop a more comprehensive view of the organization and its goals, and work more effectively towards achieving them.
They say patience is a virtue, and that is true.
Patience, for designers, involves understanding that product development is an ongoing process that is never truly finished. UX and Product Design are iterative processes that require continuous improvement and being patient means recognizing this reality.
In addition, patience helps us maintain a certain level of mental health in situations over which we have no control.
8) Leadership and people management
Other important soft skills for designers are related to leadership and people management.
It is not uncommon to see designers holding leadership positions, even more so when we talk about UX and Product Design. Achieving this kind of role is, in fact, a career goal of many designers.
Being a leader means taking responsibility, motivating and engaging people, creating a supportive and productive environment, and aligning the team's work with the company's goals.
It also involves delegating tasks, developing people, building a diverse team, controlling risks, and maintaining productivity without affecting people's mental health.
Leadership and people management are certainly complex soft skills to work on, but they are very important and valuable, both for professionals and companies.
Finally, the last soft skill on our list is like a summary of everything we’ve already seen in this article.
Knowing how to work in a team is not simply being in a team, doing your part, and making handoffs.
Being on a team, and being productive on a team, requires:
- knowing how to communicate with teammates;
- empathizing with people, creating a safe environment;
- knowing how to give and listen to feedback from people on the team;
- being flexible and knowing how to manage time and requests, so as not to hinder or delay the activities of teammates;
- having a broader vision, knowing what each person does and what their impact is on your work and what your impact is on their work;
- have patience;
- if you are a manager, know how to lead and manage the people in your team.
Of course, you don't need to work on all these soft skills simultaneously. Maybe you already master some of these skills and need to improve others, or your moment requires more attention to some and less to others.
Take a moment to reflect on your current soft skills and consider which ones you should work on to achieve your professional goals.
Remember that improving behavioral skills requires more patience, experience, and a lot of practice.