5 Skills That Boost Your Design Career

This is a guest post from Chris Garrett. Chris is an internet marketing consultant from the UK. You can read more at his blog, chrisg.comSubscribe and receive a free ebook.

While I have never been a web designer, over the years I have commissioned a good deal of web design and worked very closely with hundreds of designers. In most cases the designers had excellent artistic abilities and many had years of experience. What I found separated the “must re-hire” from the rest though were the following attributes. As well as making you a more valuable member of a team, they will also make you much more sought after and could allow you to raise your prices.

If you read this list and find yourself unimpressed, congratulations, these skills are remarkably hard to find! On with the list, and remember, this is my list, feel free to disagree in the comments …

1. Communication

To win the work in the first place will require good communication skills. Once you have the project signed it really helps when you can easily communicate with team members. A lot of design requires good communication, from extracting accurate requirements, discussing changes and options, explaining why something just.plain.won’t.work! A designer today will likely have to write clear emails, hold skype conversations crossing numerous timezones and cultures, and countless other communication tasks.

2. Usability

Critical in the success of a web project is ease of use. It’s no good turning out cutting edge, beautiful design only to find it confuses the hell out of people. It might seem common sense to you, but there is a lot of it about! Knowing how to make a design useful as well as good looking is a crucial skill. Related to usability but not the same thing, information architecture knowledge is a very salable skill. Combine IA expertise with usability and excellent communication skills and you can command far higher fees. Why? It takes you from being a commodity to being a sought after

3. Technical Skills

You can argue the jobs of design and markup are separate if you like, in my experience though there is a premium when both skill-sets are found in a single package. While you might not always be expected to do your own CSS and XHTML magickery, having a deep understanding of the technical aspects helps both with team communication and when things go wrong.

4. Project Management

A lot of designers consider being organized sufficient, but on larger projects it really helps to have a grasp of project management fundamentals. A designer that can actually project manage the design part of a project has an edge over another designer who needs to be told what to do and when to do it and sits there waiting for input.

5. Marketing

If you learn about marketing you will get more work or a start, but knowing some of the art and science of marketing will help your designs work for what they are intended. Consider that many of a web designers deliverables will ultimately exist to get attention, build brand, sell stuff, it stands to reason a designer who produces work that achieve those goals consistently will be invited back!

What do you think of my list? Agree, disagree? Let me know in the
comments …

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.

40 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Swift Creations, June 29, 2011

    Very nice article with some solid advice. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • web design leeds, September 22, 2010

    Nice article. Wish we were given some of this kind of preparation from our University courses! We’ve also written a brief article for new designers on things to consider when applying for a job. You can view it here: design career advice hopefully it might just help someone to get moving in the right directions.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Surrey Web Design, May 29, 2010

    Communication and technical skills are priceless assets, surely for a career in design the most indispensable skill is a flair for design. It may seem a bit obvious but I know quite a few designers I think should be moving sideways :O)

  • David Dorey, May 29, 2010

    nice article. Communication and technical skills are really priceless, but ultimately for a career in design, having a great imagination that you can focus in on the clients goals is absolutely vital.

  • Website Design, May 8, 2010

    Excellent points Chris. I work closely with the marketing folks at my day job and have picked up a thing of two along the way

  • Download Photoshop, March 3, 2010

    I agree with all the points, I can only advise one thing: if you’re a freelancer, make sure you take the advance payment, at least 50% …

  • Outstanding info. Good solid tips for anyone getting discouraged in this personnel-flooded biz.

  • Good article – very important to remember that technical skils and design skills need to work in together!
    Way too many websites have great designs but are not functional, or have perfect functionality and poor design.

  • Promotional Merchandise, July 21, 2009

    Usability is one of the most important concepts of web design that I have discovered impacts on customer flow and actual overall sales results. All points are relevant as shown in the article but for me the relativity of a well functioning design that doesn’t scare the customers away is a very important factor and making changes in this area can greatly improve profit.

  • 4design, May 26, 2009

    Well, in principle, it is the basic principles that can be called communication. It would be nice to have another of his personal manager to search for new customers! ;)

  • Leah, January 28, 2009

    I think it is important to have good technical skills for designing. Your right about that. Good post!

  • Lazarus, August 12, 2008

    Thanks for the tips! However, I believe that I’m far away from a proper candidate for a design career… But now I at least now better what to work on!

  • Tom findjobs, July 31, 2008

    All those points are not related! What relation could be between technical skills and project management? A project manager should have communication skills and stuff; a good programmer
    should write quality code, right?

  • Wayne, March 10, 2008

    Article is quite simple but consists of several important points that every web designer must master in order to be successful in their careers. Well said!

  • Poster Maniac, October 16, 2007

    maybe i can learn something from here then try to apply for part time or home based designer job….so that i can earn some side income…but 5 skills is it enough for a beginner like me to get a job?

  • Andreas, October 14, 2007

    5 skills, should be more than enough for me to develop my carrier path in the coming one year time? can you provide more for other field as well so that i can share with my friends.

  • Wallace, October 13, 2007

    im not in the design field but some points you mentioned is abit related and useful for my working path. thx far sharing your skills, really appreciate.

  • Vandelay Design, October 11, 2007

    Yes, I really like SU too. It does send pretty consistent traffic, although to different pages just about everyday.

  • Karthik, October 11, 2007

    I’ve always appreciated StumbleUpon traffic anyway – they don’t bring your site down and are a constant stream rather than an abrupt one like Digg.

    It is a very good post all the same!

  • April Holle, October 11, 2007

    Great post! I think everyone who works in design can take these points away and be more valuable. While these points are KEY for freelancers it also helps that everyone in an internal team has a firm grasp of all of these traits.

    Whether you’re just a code monkey or the account rep having a strong sense of what’s involved in the entire project makes the transition from team mate to the next so much smoother.

    Communication is also important to make sure key details aren’t lost in the bigger picture of just making an online web application “work”. Devil’s in the details after all. ;)

    Thanks again for this awesome post, sometimes the simplest traits are still the most valuable.

  • Jim, October 10, 2007

    The article provides some good points, at the same time, i also agree with others that communication skill is very vital. We also need to be able to sell ourself to others and to be good designer.

  • Vandelay Design, October 10, 2007

    No, this one did not hit the front page of Digg. It has been doing pretty well with StumbleUpon though.

  • John W. Furst, October 10, 2007

    Hi Chris! Really amazing to watch, how you can condense the essence into a comprehensive blog post. Yes, Web design should not be restricted to header, graphics, and logos. Add usability with salesmanship and move towards persuasive design.You say it by listening 5 skills, not just 2 or 3. A holistic approach brings you further. That you mention project management skills is definitely something that most authors miss. Two thumbs up!

  • Acopic - Web Designers, October 10, 2007

    I agree. Marketing is very important whatever line of work you’re in.

  • Deceth, October 10, 2007

    Great tips. I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of project management. Without good management, a project has much greater risk of either failing, being delivered late, or being delivered over budget!

  • Karthik, October 10, 2007

    Chris, great post, I guess this was the one that hit the front page of Digg? Nice points, and yes, I agree with everyone else on the importance of communication – its a surprise that most freelancers don’t speak English even reasonably well and so are not able to communicate effectively.

  • Janna | Prime Blog, October 10, 2007


    This was a great post…I looked at this from a team stand point & looked at that these factors together make a great design team. I think you hit on every important well. The one thing that I think you added with communication is sales…you have to be able to sell yourself or your team to be a good designer.

    Thanx for the post. This was a good check list of things that our web team should be doing!

  • Felix Ker, October 10, 2007

    I’m lacking many of these skills!

    Good post, once again!~

  • T. O Donnell, October 10, 2007

    Many designers don’t have a good portfolio online, and can’t communicate over the ‘phone. If you have/can do both, you’re well ahead of the pack.

  • Discount Web Design, October 10, 2007

    Thank you for allowing such a guest post vandelay.

  • Chris Garrett, October 10, 2007

    I think for designers have the advantage, it is much easier to learn those other skills, including marketing, than it is for a marketer or techy to learn design :)

    Communication skills definitely help no matter what your role, but I think some designers do not realize just how much clients and team members need explaining to them. What is visibly self apparent to the designer is often just not on the radar for the rest of us :)

  • Tim, October 9, 2007

    Excellent points Chris. I work closely with the marketing folks at my day job and have picked up a thing of two along the way. Marketing and design are two different animals, that’s for sure.

  • Vandelay Design, October 9, 2007

    Thanks for the article! You have really good points. I think communication is pretty important in just about anything you do. As far as the marketing goes, I’ve found that a lot of clients don’t necessarily see the difference between design work and marketing work. Sometimes they assume you’re an expert at both, so it helps to know what you’re doing.