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3 underrated habits of highly successful designers

Emily Belden's Layout avatar

Being a designer is about so much more than just knowing how to maneuver the latest and greatest design programs. To be successful in the world of design, you need to master the art of being efficient and productive. You also need to be adaptable, and while you may not always be in a client-facing role, there’s merit in being proficient in that realm, too.

Though it sounds like a lot, I’ve summarized some of the most underrated qualities of being a successful designer with a long and robust career, and listed some tips on how to achieve them.

1. They communicate like a writer

Designers don’t necessarily have to be wordsmiths, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to slack on communication habits. Admittedly, you may think in “pictures” more than you do in words, which means that effective communication is even more important so you can accurately convey what you’re thinking. Even though it may require more effort, buttoning up your communication habits will take you further with internal colleagues, supervisors, and clients.

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If your communication skills need a little work, here are a few easy ways to start improving them:

  • Make sure your emails are written in complete sentences.
  • If that’s not working super well, have a copywriter proof your emails.
  • If you are having trouble writing your idea down, suggest a phone call or webinar to talk through it instead.
  • Ensure that any and all creative briefs contain the entire project scope and all of the client’s expectations. Again, have a copywriter help you to make sure nothing is missing.

“Good communication is the key to success, even when your job is focused on visuals. ” If you and your client are on different pages due to a misunderstanding in an email or contract, it’s going to be a long road ahead. By cleaning up your communication style, you’ll ensure that projects advance as planned and everyone knows what’s going on.

2. They have a buttoned-up way to manage their workflow

Whether you’re working on a single project or juggling several for different clients, you’ve got to stay organized and apply the same high-level standards to each incoming task. This ensures that your clients remain happy and you stay afloat as more job requests come in.

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Are you wondering if you have a stable system for handling your workflow? Here’s a little three-step check:

  • First, map out the entire experience of a project’s life cycle from that first call or email from the client to completion of a project.
  • Then, identify the good, bad, and neutral parts of your processes.
  • Finally, for any areas that you spot inefficiencies or clunkiness, brainstorm ways to revise and make it better.

“Auditing your workflow is essential because it helps identify areas for efficiency. ” The more efficient you can make your process, the more clients you can take on without feeling overwhelmed and overloaded and the more successful you will be.

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3. They are nimble

When you’re a designer (if you haven’t defined a niche), you need to be able to go from working on a food and beverage client to working on an insurance client all within a matter of hours. You also need to meet tight deadlines and quick turnarounds. If you’re unable to keep up with those changing demands, your success as a designer is in jeopardy. To prepare yourself for these kinds of on-your-feet tasks, be sure to:

  • Take time out of each day to learn about a new design trend.
  • Identify skills you don’t have or need to work on and add them to a “betterment” plan.
  • If you work in an agency, volunteer to be on teams that support different clients from the ones you are on daily. If you’re a freelancer, try to team up with another designer on something that’s a little out of your wheelhouse. This will help you grow your abilities and expand your reach.

When in doubt, a positive mental attitude will do a long way with being a successful designer (as does a healthy dose of humility). What have you found is a lesser known, but very important quality for being a design pro?

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