Let’s start with a bit of context around what a designer currently does. 

Actually, that’s too broad, let’s start with what a graphic, visual, webby-type designer does.

Okay, so you’re some sort of designer that works with shapes, text, colour and images.

Role established.

There’s a lot going on in the design space and it can be hard just to keep up with what’s happening from week-to-week.

So, when someone says to you: ‘Hey, you know what you should do…’.

Oh boy here it comes... 

‘You should learn or study business/how to write code/how to write content, or some other new endeavour that people take years to master’.  

Ahh, thanks for that.

‍Deep down...I knew I needed to get involved in other areas outside visual design.

If you were like me, you didn’t really want to hear that sort of ‘advice’.

I’ll be honest, there was a time where I just wanted to design websites and logos and not be involved in the processes prior to or after the visual design phase.

Nope, I was pretty happy in my little designer box.

People would hand me wireframes – I’d design sites. Someone else would conduct branding workshops – I’d design the logo. Another person would write 100 per cent of a website's copy – and I’d copy and paste it into my design.

I was pretty content. 

But, I knew deep down that it wasn’t sustainable. I knew I needed to get involved in other areas outside of visual design.

So what is the right direction to up-skill? 

There are a few factors to consider when trying to work this out:

  1. Is there someone/a team where you work that you can learn from?
  2. Is your boss/manager/workplace supportive of this? Usually they are. They might even be the one that gives you a gentle nudge.
  3. In what areas is your place of work growing or need assistance?
  4. What areas interest you? That’s important.

Let’s break down three main areas that designers are currently getting told they should expand into.

Should designers write content?

Well, most probably already do write a little bit, but we can’t always dump it in lorem ipsum for placeholder text. My personal favourite is the Samual L Ipsum website (*warning – strong language).

Working with content writers is probably the best way to learn how to write – particularly with designing for the web. 

If we go back a step further, wireframes will help a content writer (and you the designer) with where and how much content should go on a page. Much like design, content should be a simplified message and tested.

So should designers write copy?

Probably. Designers should at least get skilled in the basics and if it’s something that appeals to you, go for it! You could become a design-content-writin’-semi-unicorn in no time!

Get started with:

‍At least get skilled in the basics of coding.

Should designers learn code?

Again, there’s probably a good number of designers that already know a bit of code. Should you go further?

Well, if you’re designing for the web or a device, yes, it’s helpful for you and the developers you may be passing you designs onto.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been that guy. Not really having much knowledge (or concern) for what I was designing could potentially be difficult to implement. 

After doing some introductory coding courses, I realised the error of my ways.

So, let me take this time to make amends with my dev family:

  • Timon – I’m sorry for all the difficult mobile designs you had to develop in the past.
  • Shawn – I’m sorry for not knowing what the heck you’re talking about half the time. Kind of still don’t.
  • And finally, I’m sorry Mike: The Allfather of coding, for not taking those short courses earlier.

So should designers code?

Again, probably. And again, at least get skilled in the basics. It’ll give you understanding of how hard or easy a design is to develop and you can do some frontend projects yourself!

Get started with:

  • Treehouse has a 7 day trial if you want to cram in some coding goodness.
  • After you get the basics, give Webflow a try. It’s laid out like a photoshop-type interface where you can drag and style elements. They have tonnes of tutorials as well.
‍Being business savvy means you'll have a better idea about project direction and can offer advice to clients.

Should designers learn business?

The range of responsibilities can vary quite a bit with designers, but most tend to interact with clients. This is a good place to start with building your communication skills.

A good reason for a designer to learn business is to know which direction to take a project, offer insightful advice to clients and give more ‘credibility’ to their designs.

Maybe internal business problem could be solved with design?

Learning these skills in your current workplace could be pretty easy. You could ask to help out with workshops, go to client meetings (especially if it involves design), take responsibility and manage a design project, and even organise a skill sharing session. 

Learning some basic coding could be a good session to organise; learn some code and business management – two birds, one stone.

Get started with:

  • Here’s a nice article about designers studying business. Don’t worry too much about the ‘designers shouldn’t’ code part.
  • As mentioned, most of the resources are probably already in your current workplace. Ask someone there who is business savvy what a good starting point could be.

Should designers do any of this?

Yes. For all of the reasons above, plus, to get out of your design shell.

Just a quick note  – don’t get caught up in our “never enough” culture and be cautious of leaders who might see this an opportunity to exploit you by piling on the work.

Make sure you're in a healthy work environment to seek guidance and experience. Otherwise, getting skilled-up in your spare time might be a better option. Meet-ups are a cheap and easy way to do this.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Maybe you could start with either what interests you or what you workplace needs.

Either way, you’ll be giving more value to your role (in a healthy work environment) and in return you’ll learn new things, expand your skill set and become a better designer for it.

Do you have an idea for a project that you'd like to see become a reality? Get in touch with SEED to make an enquiry.  

Sheda uses design and emerging technologies like A.I and blockchain to solve complex problems that make and accelerate impact and bring about postive social change.

Matthew John

Senior Designer
@ Sheda
Matt is our Design Lead overseeing the entire process of UX, visual, interaction design and branding. Trained in graphic design, Matt has over 9 years experience designing clean UI, mobile and web applications for various platforms.

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