Design expectations

Let me tell you a story. This was 2008, I was out of college looking for my first job as a designer. Your typical big tech start-up or a rich design culture didn’t exist back then, so one had to look very hard to find something reasonable.

Let me tell you why reasonable. Back in 2008 an average design job spec went on like this:

  1. You work with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Freehand, Flash, Dreamweaver, Premiere, 3D Studio Max.
  2. You will be expected to do logos, flyers, other print material and develop graphics for our website such as web banners and Flash animations.
  3. You have knowledge in Action Script, HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  4. You work well under pressure, you take initiative and you like to work alone.

The above was the norm. Designers out of college had to be comfortable with all that. You had to if you wanted a job. Eventually my first job was at a local newspaper where I helped with their website, designing and coding, paginate the journal in Indesign so it could go to print on Thursdays, take out the camera, get on the streets and do video interviews so I could edit in Premiere to put them on the website later that day.

Let us fast forward to today. Today the expectations are quite different for a designer coming out of college but still a bit unrealistic in my point of view. Here is a list of a few things that are basic expectations of designers in our present.

1. Designers are the voice of the user

Go to any design conference or open any book on design subject today and you will find this topic in it. As designers, we have the responsibility to bring the user into conversations. To make sure that everyone knows we are building this for a human being. We are expected to influence people around us to think about the impact of things we are building in the world. Not because it is part of our education, or because it’s part of our job performance, it’s expected because every influencing person in the design community says it’s our responsibility.

I live by these ethics. My work impacts people and therefore I need to be mindful of what I am designing. But my question here is, why is it our responsibility alone and not everyone’s? Why is it that when we go to most developer conferences or read the latest product management books, there is little mention of this? Aren’t we all responsible?

2. Designers are change agents

How many times have we heard about the design led approach being the differentiator between successful companies versus ones that don’t have design at their core? Let me tell you what happens. Most companies that don’t have design at its core hire designers. And by hiring designers, one expects that design is now part of the business, outsourcing the responsibility of business transformation to people that are supposed to change company culture from bottom up. Many of these initiatives are about implementing Design Thinking, Design Sprints or other fancy thing that comes out of Silicon Valley. And as designers, we are expected to make this happen.

There is not enough emphasis on how these design led companies work. It’s not one department doing the work, it’s the entire company. Legal, Accounting, HR, Product, Engineering and others are working together to find the best solution to a need. So this idea that designers alone will bring more success to the company is fantasy, isn’t it?

3. Designers are multidisciplinary

The design industry is probably one of the most demanding ones. Is there any other discipline that has changed so much in few years? Remember how I started this article, on how in 2008 a designer was expected to know all those things? Now today it’s all that and more.

Designers should code; Designers should sell; Designers should write; Designers should…

The other day, as I was trying to write a designer job description and responsibilities and I stopped for a moment to realise how crazy this was. Designers today are expected to understand aesthetics, code, animations, psychology and human behaviour, analytics, product management, how to communicate, to speak business and the list goes on.

Perhaps this is the result of design maturing across the years or the result of designers wanting to be taken seriously for so long that they had to learn all these things. Or our college courses are not aligned with reality. The truth is, today for designers to find a job in a good enough company, they will have to demonstrate some levels of proficiency in a lot of subjects. This is not a bad thing, just interesting, right?

So what can one expect from designers?

Everything that was mentioned above and much more. The design industry is still maturing and trying to find its place and this is not the end of the line. Read the latest report from John Maeda and you’ll understand what I’m saying, there is one every year, every year!

Every year we are talking about new things, designers deserve a seat at the table, the new software tool that is better than all others, a radical design approach to solve problems or news skills a designer should learn. So the expectations are high and responsibilities are many. But I truly believe this is the best time to be a designer. Lets just hope that most of us are ready for what will be expected.