What Designers Need to Learn Aside from Their Design Education

In a conversation with one of my friends about the problems that designers face in their professional life, she highlighted that while designers may get good design-related skills during design education, they lack other skills that are needed in the typical work environment. For example, designers may only think of their tasks without considering the whole project requirements. Designers may find it hard to communicate with the managers or the marketing teams and  this may hinder their creativity.

This notable observation highlighted the importance of extending the designers’ knowledge outside the design curriculum over the course of their degree to prepare them for their professional career. Actually, designers need to have basic knowledge of a number of skills highlighted below in order to complete the toolset required to excel in their future career. These skills vary from business, marketing, and psychology…etc.

Business skills

As highlighted in my previous article, 5 Common Myths About Design, design extends its role inside the company to cover the strategy of the company. Therefore, designers should be ready to be able to positively contribute to discussing critical decisions and putting the business strategy along with the stakeholders’ body.

design education
Business skills

Designers need to learn the basics of business administration skills such as understanding business models and how to implement  them to achieve innovation inside the company. Some design students do a minor in business administration, which contributes to boosting their skills in this domain. However, this may not be available for all design students. Therefore, business administration courses or online courses can help fill this gap in their skills. Fundamentals of Business Management is one of the useful courses for beginners in business provided by Edx online learning platform.

Recommended books: Understanding Business

Management skills

Management skill presents an important skill set that designers need to acquire for two main reasons:  to help them  manage their freelance work, and to be able to manage their own tasks and teams inside their companies. Currently, many designers are working as freelancers, which means they not only do design tasks, but they also contact the client, get feedback and build project plans that include cost, time, and human resources. On the other hand, designers working  full time inside a  company needs to understand how their project managers manage the project and how they can manage projects in case they are promoted to managerial level.

design education
Management skills

In order to handle these tasks professionally, designers are required to have project management skills. The good news that there are many project management courses both  online and offline such as the PMP courses that end with a certification exam to show proof their  project management skills.

Recommended books: Head First PMP

Marketing skills

Designers work closely with the marketing team as the marketing team builds a clear understanding of the consumer and formulates  a marketing plan that targets the proper  segment of the market while the designers work with them to reflect this  marketing analysis on the final product. Learning marketing  skills help designers to design for their audience through the clear understanding to their problems and needs.

design education
Marketing skills

Many design schools provide marketing courses or advertisement courses. However, others don’t have these courses available. The Internet has a lot of resources on this topic. Introduction to Marketing Essentials is another course from Edx that provides a basic introduction to marketing.

Recommended books: Marketing Research (7th Edition)

Psychology skills

Design principles depend on psychology to understand how consumers perceive colors, lines, and other design elements in a  layout. Also, it is important to understand user behavior in the interactive media. Psychology helps designers to think about their consumers and achieve the target of the design through applying psychology principles.

design education
Psychology skills

For example, designers use warm colors, such as red and organization to attract the consumer’s attention, while blue colors reflect calm and purity.

Recommended books: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

In the field of interaction design, designers need to learn how users interact with the computer in order to communicate with the game, application, or website. The HCI lets designers understand the technological, psychological and human factors involved in the interactive experience when  designing digital games and apps.

Recommend books: Interdisciplinary Interaction Design

design education
Human-Computer Interaction

The above skills help to build the designers’ strengths to face  career challenges professionally and overcome the gaps that may occur due to the narrow vision of the design curricula. Furthermore, these skills can help designers to find opportunities or start their own businesses without the need to seek external assistance. I have seen good designers who fail to start their own businesses due to lack of business and management skills. In summary, the above skills can add a great knowledge base  for designers and  can easily be acquired  from different sources including class sources, online courses, and books.


Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy is the founder of Designorate.com, author, and design and innovation consultant. He is an affiliated faculty teaching design at the American University in Cairo. He holds a master degree in Design Management with Distinction from Staffordshire University, UK. He has more than 17 years experience in the field of UXD and interaction design, and his books are published by John Wiley, O’Reilly Media and Taylor and Francis. He is also a contributor at the Design Management Review. Rafiq is a jury board member for the A'Design Awards, Poster for Tomorrow, and Adobe Achievements Awards. His design artwork was exhibited in many locations including Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, and Spain.