5 Underrated Skills That’ll Make You a Rockstar in the Design Industry

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The design industry is a popular one, but it’s saturated as a result. For those seeking their first or next designer role, you’ll need to work hard to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Read on to discover five underrated skills that will have you crowd-surfing above the competition like the design rockstar you are.

Recommended reading: 7 Effective Ways to Look More Professional as a Freelancer


Coding used to be the domain of IT teams and computer geeks, reams of arcane code, intelligible only to the few initiated. But today, coding is a precious skill that is as important as literacy and numeracy.

In the future, coding will be a key prerequisite for a variety of industries, from finance to healthcare. And that’s as true for the design industry as it is for the rest. A basic grasp of coding is vital for the workforce of the future.

This is especially true as we move ever closer towards a digital-first world. As designers, you rarely work solo, instead collaborating with programmers and developers to bridge the gap between customer-facing design and back-end design.

Coding is the building block that make up our world, so design industry professionals should feel comfortable using HTML, even at a basic level.

How to develop this skill

There are a number of free and affordable coding courses available online for you to get started with. Your local community college might even provide courses.

And learning is always easier when you’re doing it with someone else. #100DaysOfCode is a great community that encourages aspiring coders. Simply code for an hour a day for 100 days and share your progress online.

Don’t be disheartened if you struggle to pick coding up straight away. Keep at it, and it will gradually begin to fall into place.

Print Design

Yes, digital is the future, and knowing how to code will set great designers aside from good ones. But that’s not to say good old fashioned print design doesn’t get a look in. Despite the rise in digital design roles and opportunities, print design is still an important skill to have.

Magazines, menus, posters, flyers, even product packaging — there is still a big need for skilled and accomplished print designers in the world today. And even as we move towards digital, this need will continue.

Indeed, many younger designers struggle when it comes to the minutiae of print: CMYK color sets, print resolution, scaling, and even proofreading are all important parts of print design that require careful attention.

Take the time to learn how to code, but don’t neglect the basics of print.

How to develop this skill

The best way to learn is by doing it firsthand. Reach out to print production houses to arrange some valuable work experience. Bigger production houses often have dedicated work experience schemes, but smaller outfits also tend to be more than happy to help out a junior designer.

Alternatively, try reaching out to your college’s student newspaper. Even a few weeks helping out there gives you a solid foundation for developing those all-important print design skills.

Time Management

While less tangible than the other skills on this list, time management is a vital skill that is worth developing. This is especially true if you plan on pursuing a solo design career. Without a manager or co-workers to liaise with, it can be easy to miss your deadlines.

Whether you’re working solo, in-house, or as part of an agency, strong time management skills are crucial. Not only does the end client demand work to be completed at a certain time, but the other teams and individuals you are collaborating with will too.

Copywriters, web developers, marketers, and so on all rely on each other to get projects completed when expected. A delay at your end means a delay elsewhere on the production line, so take the time to get better at time (management).

How to develop this skill

If you’re really struggling to perfect your punctuality, consider using a time management app. There’s a variety of free tools online that help you stay disciplined and on-task.

Pomodoro is a handy time tracking app that lets you sets timers for working, while having short breaks in-between to keep you focused. And Forest is a quirky app in which you plant a tree which gradually grows as you focus, but withers and dies when you falter.

We all struggle with time management occasionally — it’s natural. But find the app or technique that works for you, and your time management skills will increase considerably.

Social Media

As a candidate for a job, you are no longer just your résumé. Your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and more will all be under scrutiny. But interviewers aren’t just looking for those dodgy spring break photos.

Prospective employers are more likely to be seeing how you handle social media. Is your Instagram beautifully curated? Does your Facebook cover photo align with your profile image? Are your Tweeted images sized correctly?

Show potential employers that you understand the visual intricacies of each major social platform. You should understand how visual content and style differs between them, and what customization features (such as filters or stickers) are available on each.

How to develop this skill

Unfortunately, most colleges don’t offer social media 101 on their syllabuses. Until they do, the best way to learn is to create a profile on each major channel and spend some time exploring and experimenting with each.

Your own social networks are a good chance to show potential employers your skills. For example, creating a marketing campaign for your portfolio across social media shows that you are social-savvy and a self-starter. That’s an attractive prospect for prospective employers, and it gets your portfolio some exposure too.


Communication is what binds humans together. It’s how we convey meaning and have discussions. And those that succeed in developing strong communication skills often make strong leaders and outstanding colleagues, so it’s a vital skill that’s worth nurturing.

And it’s especially important in a creative field like design. You will often be working to someone else’s brief. However, this will often no more than a few lines of text, hardly enough to accurately understand what it is your client needs.

So it’s important that you’re able to communicate clearly and concisely, knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them in order to realize exactly what your client envisions.

Beyond your client, it’s also useful for communicating with your co-workers and other teams involved in the design process. You know your role inside and out, but those individuals from outside your team probably only have a basic grasp of what you do. Communicating this accurately makes everyone’s lives much easier.

How to develop this skill

Maintaining eye contact (but not excessively so) is a good way to silently build a rapport. And using natural hand gestures gives life to your language. Pay attention to your body language too: folded arms and pointing your body away from someone is standoffish. Present an open body, and the conversation will flow.

Above all, remember to listen. Communication is a two-way street, so learn when to listen and when to speak.

Of course, spouting theory is all well and good. But communication is a tricky one to nail. It is complex and nuanced, and everyone has their own style.

The best way to crush your communication skills is through practice. Attend networking events for your industry and push yourself to speak to at least five new people each time. For those lacking natural confidence, it can be daunting. But you will develop vital skills that will make you stand out in your design industry career.

The design industry is a competitive one, but it’s not impossible to crack. Develop the skills listed above and your next interview will be a real show-stopper. Good luck!

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