Here are some key traits that separate great designers from good designers:
Great relationships: Great design can’t ship without great relationships. Be pleasant to work with! Design is the minimum bar, relationships are the highest bar. Work that ships without relationships is often referred to as 'art'.
Mastery of typography: Nearly all interfaces, at their core, are type. I’ve been asked the “best design book” question many times in my career. Robert Bringhurst’s 'The Elements of Typographic Style' is and may forever be my answer.
Mastery of hierarchy: Visual hierarchy is art & science of contrast. It is the underpinning of all visual communication. Without it design has no value. “I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.” –Henri Matisse
Mastery of problem defining + solving: Problem definition becomes clearer as we begin solving the problem, refine the problem further, solve the problem further, repeat. The process is circular, not linear.
Strong opinions, loosely held: A loose grip on your opinion means you’re invested in allowing peers to change your mind. A strongly presented opinion means you’re invested in changing theirs. Reserve the strong-opinion-tightly-held card for more important situations.
Design is the minimum: Good design is the minimum bar. It facilitates a conversation. Everything above the bar—critical thinking, strategy & vision, relationships, etc—is what leads to a successful hire, successful product outcome, successful team DNA, etc.
Strong supporting rationale: Great design is championed by great narratives. Storytelling, research, data, dogfooding, personal anecdotes, and more.
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