“What does being a good designer mean to you?”

I was asked this question a while back and I’ve been pondering it recently. I also asked that question on Twitter to see what others think about this. There are as many answers as there are designers and it was interesting to read different perspectives. The answer I liked the most was this:

”[A good designer] must have results, we are not artists.”

This especially applies to less experienced designers, who, in my view, tend to focus on pixels over people and outcomes of their work. I used to be the same. Being a good craftsman is nice, but solving problems for people is more important than getting that shadow just right.

I would like to explore the question of being a good designer in a bit more depth and I’ll use the rest of this post to explore my thoughts on this.

Good means creating value

First I want to define what “good” means to me in this context. There is a myriad of skills and qualities that might make you good. Ultimately, however, I believe that all of it leads to one thing: you either create value or not. Creating value is in my view what makes someone good, in any field. The more value you create, the better you are.

Now, this is very abstract and vague so I’ll break it down a bit.

Three levels of good

I’ve identified three levels on which you can be good as a designer: being good for users, for the business, and for the community.

If you think there are more, I invite you to discuss it. For now, though, let’s explore each of those.

Being good for users

This is the most obvious level and most designers probably focus on this. This is about creating designs that are good for their users, advocating for them and generally trying to help them through design work.

Questions that designers can ask themselves here might be:

  • How can I get to know the users better?
  • How can I make sure the designs I produce are useful/usable/delightful/etc.?
  • How can I expand my knowledge of design theory?

This level is about the outcome that designs create for the users. It’s about solving their problems.

Being good for the business

Business means the clients or the company that designers work for.

Here it’s about creating value for that business. Design work often impacts both the user and the business level. When good design plays a role in people using or buying a product, that’s obviously good for business. But a good designer should look beyond that.

Some questions to ask here include:

  • How can I help the business reach its goals?
  • How can I help my teammates?
  • How can we work more efficiently?

This is about looking to create value beyond design work itself and being a team player.

Being good for the community

And last, but certainly not least, good designers create value for the community. As designers, we all want to be better at what we do. We all want to be part of a healthy, helpful community. And it’s our responsibility to contribute.

Questions you might want to ask here are:

  • How can I share my knowledge and experience?
  • How can I help someone who is just starting out?
  • How can I engage with the local design community?
  • How can I engage with the global design community?

This is about lifting the whole community up.

Good designers make others better

To sum up, my view is that a good designer creates value for the users, for the business and also for the community.

Another way to put it can be that good designers make others better. The users, the business, other team members and also fellow designers.

What is your take on this question? What makes a good designer?

On being a good designer

I’ve identified three levels on which you can be good as a designer: being good for users, for the business, and for the community.