Is an amazing portfolio always reflective of a good designer?

We at Futureheads enjoy meeting the people we work with to get a feel for their personalities. As recruiters, we meet many talented designers with a range of skills, as seen in their portfolio work, however it isn’t until we speak with them do we gather their soft skills. Matching a candidate with a client solely based on their talent and skills is half the battle. Through initial interviews with prospective candidates, we can gather their soft skills and traits, allowing us to find the best possible match for both our clients and designers.

For example, I recently put forth a candidate, who on paper lacked the commercial experience our client was hoping for, for an interview, simply because I believed his thoughtfulness in how he spoke of his work would resonate with our client. So, looking beyond hard skills and incredible portfolios, I want to share five key traits I’ve found have added to the employability of designers.

It’s great to be:

  • Empathetic

The ability to “empathise” is the first stage of the design process. I’m not necessarily talking about the ability to “share people’s feelings” here – empathy in a design context means taking the time to think about the end user and using your findings to guide your design process.

It’s important to understand who you’re designing for because, by nature, people tend to make decisions emotionally rather than rationally. Putting yourself in their shoes will help understand the mindset of a user – their emotional responses, motivation, and constraints.

Empathising with fellow team members often means putting your ego aside. I’ve worked with many clients who pride themselves on working in an environment with no egos, and I believe this culture is propagated by the empathetic nature of the team and its designers.

Understanding each others’ needs means a smooth workflow too – crucial when working with other team members and cross-functional teams during the design process.

  • Patient

Realising a design as you envisioned it requires oodles of patience, as it will likely see several iterations before completion. It is imperative designers remain patient during the user testing phase, where the tiniest of elements, details, and changes may be required. Taking the time to understand users’ needs throughout every stage of a design’s lifecycle is a key trait found in successful and effective designers.

It is important to deliver consistent and quality work to your clients, and while it may be tempting to compromise certain areas of the design process to meet tight timescales, it is critical not to cut corners.

  • Meticulous

It might sound obvious but an eye for detail is crucial in design, alongside the ability to notice things others might not. Typography, colour palettes, and layout patterns all need to be consistent and cohesive, and no aspect of a design is too small to ignore. For example, when designing high-quality micro-interactions which require a clean narrative and flow, a highly detail-oriented designer will recognize even the most minuscule of changes to a product, will result in the biggest of changes for the end user. A meticulous designer will find the right problems to solve, offering a value-add to both their clients and ultimately, to end users. The good news is, if this is not a natural trait, it is possible to develop!

  • Self-questioning

It’s useful to constantly question yourself as a designer. I don’t mean your technical and creative abilities but your design process: being honest with yourself and checking in regularly with what works and what doesn’t.

Continuously assess your reasoning behind your decisions throughout each phase of a product’s life. For example, during the iteration process, ask yourself, “Is this right for the client/user?” and “Am I being lazy by doing x instead of y?”

Asking yourself whether you’ve pushed yourself to your limits or admitting to cutting corners requires a level of self-honesty, which all great designers possess.

  • Logical

Being creative isn’t always about making decisions based on emotion, or having “creative flare.” Designers must also be logical to understand design constraints and boundaries, and the methodologies used to overcome these obstacles. Thus, successful designers possess high levels of creativity and logic.

As specialists in our field, I’d like to think we at Futureheads are empathic ourselves. Taking the time to meet with our clients and candidates provides us insight into character traits and values – important qualities not found in a company profile, CV, or portfolio, but through conversations.

For tips in assembling a great portfolio, my colleague Sophia Harding wrote a great piece of her top tips. A worthwhile read whether you are new to the field, or an experienced designer.

I enjoy talking with designers because of my own background in graphic arts and design, so feel free to give me a shout at shelby@wearefutureheads.co.uk

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