I’ve always been a huge fan of Debbie Millman. It goes without saying that I admire her work—concerning her sophisticated graphic design work alone it’s clear that Millman is a talented individual. But what sets Millman apart from many designers is her willingness to mentor others in the graphic design community. From her incredibly popular Design Matters podcasts, to her honest speaking engagements at conferences like HOW Design Live and Adobe Max, to the generous career advice given in A Brand Called You in 2016, Millman definitely gives back. You could even say her level of strategic creative embodies the meaning of deliberate differentiation.

I was beyond thrilled when Debbie Millman agreed to be interviewed for the Blueline Magazine on the topic of branding. For any design or branding professional, her take on today’s various forms of branding—from messaging, to design, to positioning, to the importance of starting with a solid foundation—is completely fascinating. The accompanying video also resonated with me, especially when Debbie Millman concludes that today’s designer must have a multifaceted skillset.

I completely agree—today’s designer must do more and be more. And I’m not just talking about possessing the ability to create multiple deliverables, such as designing a printed piece, editing a video or creating website. What can truly differentiate designers from everyone else in the workforce is the ability to apply design thinking to strategically solve problems and create solutions that actually work and resonate with a target audience. Design thinking can be thought of as the process of dreaming big while also paying attention to the details. By using the same thought process that a designer goes through to create effective and engaging design—such as truly understanding the problem and consideration of the end user—today’s designer has the ability to add exceptional value to a multitude of fields.

Don’t let the idea of today’s designer doing more scare you. If anything, it should be exciting! It means today’s designer can have more opportunities than ever to move forward in their career. The key is to showcase that you can apply design thinking skills to innovate in areas both in or outside of the field of design. Or, in other words, deliberately differentiate yourself.

As an individual with a BFA in Graphic Design that began my career as a graphic designer, here are the top skills I focused on in order to differentiate my skillset:

  1. Develop, and Perfect, your Writing Skills. Communicating your ideas has always been critical in order to sell your design and promote yourself. And in today’s world, where many individuals get their news from blogs and social media outlets, any designer who isn’t developing their writing skills is missing out on an incredible opportunity to show off their storytelling prowess, thought leadership ability and communication dexterity—all of which are critical skills in building influence.
  2. Learn to Present Well. Presenting is something that a lot of people do but very few do well. Designers begin any project by first considering the end user—why not harness that process to uniquely present in a fashion that’s both informative and engaging? If you’re nervous about presenting, start by helping someone else craft the storyboard for their presentation. Believe me, the audience that doesn’t have to sit through yet another monotone bullet point-ridden PowerPoint will thank you.
  3. Show Off Your Problem-Solving Mastery. By nature, designers see the world differently. Additionally, we have a lot on our plates. Due to this, we’re masters of innovation, agility, prioritization and working smarter, not harder. Take a look at the agency or company where you work, identify the gaps, then think about how the process can be improved. To take things a step further, show off your problem-solving skills by doing a little pre-work and presenting your idea. Sure, the idea of taking a risk and attempting something outside of your core focus is scary, but the results could be well worth the effort.

So, creatives, do you agree that today’s designer needs to be more? What design thinking skills did you focus on to either move forward in a design-based career or transition careers altogether?

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