While hard skills are needed in order to do high-quality design work, they’re not the only things that matter to clients. Nor should they be the only things that matter to you. In this post, we’ll examine what exactly soft skills are and which ones you could benefit from as a web designer.
When someone goes looking to hire a web designer, they’re not just looking at the hard skills they possess. Hard skills are ones that enable designers to build digital products. These skill sets include things like programming languages, design software, as well as concepts like design principles, color theory, typographic hierarchy, and so on.
But hard skills aren’t the only things that matter to prospective employers or clients. Soft skills matter, too. They’re often what differentiate one designer from everyone else who applies to a position. So they should matter to designers as well.
In this post, we’ll look at 14 of the most important soft skills for designers and how they’ll not only make you a more attractive job candidate, but also make your job easier.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone doing the hiring or contracting.
Whenever you hire a service professional, the most important thing is that they have the skills to get the job done. Right?
However, let’s say you’ve hired a carpenter to build out a custom closet for your home. What sort of skills outside of carpentry and woodworking would you like them to have? You might be thinking, “It doesn’t matter so long as they get the job done.”
However, you won’t be singing that same tune if they go way over the original budget they gave you. So there are a couple of soft skills you’d want to look for to avoid that specific issue—like budget-consciousness, time management and integrity.
Communication is also one of those essential soft skills that every service provider should have. Can you imagine how anxious you’d feel about hiring someone who couldn’t articulate what sort of work they were going to do for you or the results you’d see in the end? Or someone who was radio silent throughout the job and remained that way long after it was due?
Even if they’re not the first things that come to mind when hiring someone, soft skills matter a good deal.
The next time you get a chance, check out online reviews for different service providers. When there’s a negative review, it might be due to poor results. It’s just as likely though to be due to a bad experience even if the customer got the results they desired. And that poor experience is likely attributable to a lack of soft skill.
So never underestimate the value of soft skills to your work.
Which soft skills exactly should you foster as a web designer?
Start by focusing on ones that help your work go smoothly and that will build your reputation as a web designer. Here are 14 soft skills you can start nurturing now (if you haven’t already):
There are a number of ways this soft skill comes in handy for designers.
First is having the ability to communicate technical and complex concepts to non-designers. Being able to speak the lingo of your client or employer is critical—both when initially pitching your services as well as when you’re discussing the details of the job you’re working on.
Second is being able to wield your communication channels the right way. For instance, rather than go back and forth discussing feedback on a landing page over email, you can save you and your client time and headaches by proposing you hop on Zoom and hash it out in 15 minutes together.
Knowing what to say and what delivery method to use to deliver that message can greatly improve your relationship with clients while simultaneously making your jobs go smoother.
This one goes hand in hand with communication.
Think about your relationships—with friends, family, colleagues, etc.—and how you interact with these people. It’s most likely not a one-way street.
When you speak with them, you’re not just waiting until it’s your turn to talk again or looking for ways to one-up them. You’re actively listening to what they have to say and giving a thoughtful and relevant response in return. This is needed in your professional relationships as well.
Criticism is a natural part of our work as a creative. But mastering this skill requires more than just the ability to listen to negative feedback.
It’s important that you not take criticisms as personal attacks, even if the person giving the feedback gets emotional about it. If you view it as a criticism of yourself, you’re more likely to respond emotionally. Emotion-driven exchanges are rarely ever productive.
In order to deal with criticism properly, everyone involved needs to be calm and rational. You’re the one in charge of the project, which means you’ll also need to take control of the feedback discussion and ensure that it’s resolved positively. Otherwise, the rest of the job will be a battle.
One of the reasons why communication and criticism can be difficult skills to master is due to a lack of confidence.
It’s actually quite common for creatives to feel less than confident when they start out. And, at some point, all of us deal with impostor syndrome—usually when things are going better than expected.
But if you want to succeed as a web designer, you need to grow a thick skin and you have to believe in yourself. Because if you don’t, no one else will.
A lack of confidence will not only make it hard to get new clients, but it’s a major creativity killer. So even when you do get work, you’ll second-guess everything you do. Plus, if you get a client who senses your lack of confidence, they’ll doubt your ability or, worse, exploit your weakness.
One of the reasons I’m a huge advocate for choosing the right niche as a web designer is because of this soft skill.
When it comes to picking a niche, it should be one that:
Without first-hand experience or direct knowledge about a field, it can sometimes be difficult to build great digital products for brands. However, when you can pull from your experience and interests, you’ll feel more empathy for your client and what they need and, thus, be more invested in what you’re building.
When it comes time to show your client what you’ve done, good presentation skills will be useful. Effective communication will be part of this, but so too will be how well-organized and planned your presentation is. You’ll make a much stronger impression on clients if you’re not having to say, “Hold on a second,” while you figure out where you put the files or to log into the CMS.
Knowing which platforms to use to present your work—and being super familiar with how to use them—is also important.
For instance, using a tool like Zoom or Google Meet would be superior to ones that force meeting attendees to download software or to log in. They also give you a wide range of tools that could be useful—like screen sharing, messaging and whiteboards.
It’s tempting to make promises to prospects and clients in order to earn brownie points. But why risk falling short of the expectations you’ve set?
A client will respect you more if you are honest from the get-go about needing six months to build out their app. And for clients that question why you need that much time, you shouldn’t be working with them anyway. Because if they’re going to question your judgment that early on or ask you to cut corners, they’re going to be difficult to make happy no matter what you do.
Honesty, transparency and integrity are important qualities to have if you want to attract high-quality clients and to do more satisfying work.
When a good client hires you to be their web designer, they’re not doing it because they want to control you and dictate your actions. They’re hiring you for your creativity and expertise.
They’re also hiring you so you can take the reins and make the hard decisions that they aren’t able to or don’t want to make on their own.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve built an app or website before. A few times or a few hundred times. You know better than the client on what needs to be done. So there’s no reason you should hesitate, get stuck or ask your client for direction.
One of the most important hard skills of a web designer is their creativity. That said, creativity can become unwieldy if it’s not balanced out by logic.
Critical thinking forces you to put aside your emotions and biases in order to tackle matters objectively. So while the creative side of you will come up with beautiful designs and unique experiences, the critical thinker in you will get things done.
For example, critical thinking will allow you to:
By becoming a masterful critical thinker, no challenge will be too big or stressful for you to take on.
Take a look around at your work setup. Is your computer desktop a mess of icons? Are your documents and templates saved to your cloud drive as loose files? Are you managing your web design process by memory?
There are different ways in which good organizational skills can help you be a better designer.
Having a clean and well-ordered workspace, for instance, can help you work faster while reducing distractions. Creating a structured process and templatizing repeatable parts of it would also be helpful for working faster and smarter.
It’ll also help you make a good impression with clients if they see how well-organized you keep things for your business. Because if you can prioritize organization for your business, then they’re sure to feel the trickle-down effects of it.
You have a limited amount of time to get your work done. And when you’re balancing multiple projects all at different stages and with varying client demands, that time can easily get eaten away by the wrong things.
By implementing time management strategies for everything you do, you won’t lose as much time to distractions or inefficient processes.
To master this skill, you’ll have to become really good at buckling down and getting a specific amount of work every day. Setting daily and weekly goals will be helpful. Also, use tools like Toggl and RescueTime that help keep you on track.
Do you know how much money you’re spending on your business? Or how much money you’ll bring into it by the end of this month? And every month going forward?
Money management can be stressful for freelance web designers, in particular, because of the feast-or-famine nature of the job. And stress can do terrible things to our bodies and minds if we don’t address it (which can also negatively impact our time and financial management).
You don’t need to take accounting courses in order to master this skill. All you really need is a firm grasp on a few concepts:
By paying closer attention to how money moves in and out of your business, you’ll quickly get the hang of this skill.
There are any number of things that can happen that force you to switch gears and change plans. Rather than falling apart when unexpected changes or chaos come your way, it would be more beneficial to adapt.
Adaptability can be a tough skill to acquire, especially if you’ve never faced major obstacles in your work or life. But it’s an inevitable part of web design.
Sometimes themes or extensions break and you need to scramble to find alternative solutions. Sometimes clients change their minds about the scope of a job and you have to quickly pivot in order to keep the job on course. Sometimes a client backs out and you need to find a way to replace that lost revenue for the next couple of weeks.
When these sorts of things occur, the web designer that can quickly react and adapt will be in the best position.
The stereotype of the penniless artist isn’t really a thing anymore. That doesn’t mean that getting started as a web designer and keeping the momentum going is an easy thing to do though.
Without resilience, it’s easy to get discouraged with every rejected proposal, with every nagging client, with every mistake you make. And when times do get really tough, it’s easy to give up and go back to doing whatever you were doing before you became a web designer.
But if it were easy to be a web designer, everyone would do it. What makes you different from all those people claiming they could build a website or app if only they had the time is that you made it happen. A lot of people aren’t able to make that claim.
This is why resilience and resourcefulness are such valuable skills for designers to have.
Want to be a competitive force in the web design space? Then you need to grow and nurture different sets of skills.
Hard skills will make you a better designer and enable you to get better results for your clients. Soft skills, on the other hand, will make you a better professional and enable you to get better results for you and your business.
While your resume and portfolio will show prospective employers or clients what your hard skills are, you’ll need to convey your soft skills to them via your cover letter, interview or consultation call. Fail to do it and you could end up working on design projects that are rife with conflict, confusion and chaos. Do it right, though, and clients that are better suited to your manner of working will want to work with you.
A former project manager and web design agency manager, Suzanne Scacca now writes about the changing landscape of design, development and software.
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