What do designers really need to learn?

When I was in college, one of the requirements for my design degree was going through and taking a business class. For me and my classmates, this seemed completely out of left field.

A what are we doing here?”-type class.

So you can imagine that we all didn’t take class seriously when we enrolled in it. We were close to graduating and wondering why we had to learn anything about business, because all that mattered at the time was learning Photoshop.

Getting out into the business world, I quickly learned why. I should have taken my business class more seriously.

It’s an amazing thing to learn how much design impacts business. It’s often tied to the hip of marketing, and I know as designers that gets a little bit tough, because we often only care about the visual impact.

It’s super easy to get very close to our work and then get offended when a marketing person has data to prove that our deisgn isn’t working as well as it should be. 

So then what?

Learning about busiess and marketing helps you see more of the larger picture. It’s why veteran designers always tell younger designers that they need a seat at the table when meetings are being held to plan out marketing strategies. 

Typically, meetings like this already include managers, writers and strategists. Creative (and developers) are usually left out of the room. 

Unfortunately, the plans that get made quickly include how design plays a role. If you’re not there as a designer, it’s easy to have decisions being made without you. And before you know it, you kind of get into that whole human Photoshop cursor that we talked about a few episodes ago

Knowing where you fit into the plan is crucial.

Knowing where you can push things in something like an advertisement can affect the success of it (in a good way!)

Being able to focus your time and attention at the start of a project can make a significant impact on your work at the end of it. It can also help manage everyone’s expecations toward the end.

Another thing that helped, particularly as a freelancer, was learning about budgets. For some designers, you might not even run into this at all.

It’s one thing to always have the resources we need or want, but sometimes a budget impacts that. Knowing what the restraints are at the start gives us space to be creative. Being able to plan for those constraints can be a huge advantage, too.

If you have a seat at the table, it might allow you the opportunity to allocate a budget to get the maximum impact for a future project. It might allow you to splurge on a good photo shoot or a font that you really want. On the flip side, you can prepare yourself for just the opposite on what’s hopefully a smaller project.

That said, I’ve learned there’s more to being a good designer than being a good designer. But having business sense can put youat an entirely different leve. You don’t need to be any kind of expert. 

Simply having enough knowledge to be dangerous can be enough. And, if you’re applying to a job or pitching a client, it might set you above other designers.

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