What makes a great designer?

Years of experience for sure, but there is more to being great than simply putting in the hours. Besides being able to create amazing work, you come to realize certain universal truths that guide the design profession.

Based on more than a dozen interviews and biographies of famous designers, I’ve distilled a list of 6 core beliefs that all great designers share. Let’s dive in.

1. You’re not designing, you’re solving problems


Pretty pictures are part of what you do, but you’re not just creating pretty pictures.

Your thought process starts with understanding the client, the product and the audience, as well as the unique challenge you are trying to solve. The facts, insights and details you discover while doing this are the primary fuel for your creativity.

You know and understand before you start designing.

2. You start with words and end with pictures


Ideas come before execution and you know how to control the urge to start designing right away.

Thinking about attributes and metaphors that reveal the truth about your product is part of your daily routine. “Is this more like a James Bond or Justin Bieber” is a perfectly normal question for you.

In your world, strategic thinking comes before Photoshop.

3. You know the difference between perfection and hard-work


Honesty is your policy.

You will toss and trash dozens of ideas and designs until you figure out the right one. The secret is… there is no secret, just hard work. But you also know when you’ve done the best you can do and trying harder simply makes no sense.

You know your limits and that makes you powerful.

4. You obsess about certain details (and you know exactly why)


Years have passed since you stopped paying attention to people who cannot figure out why you obsess about certain things. That’s okay — it’s the reason you’re a designer and they’re not.

You know exactly how certain details can make or break your work and you pay proper attention to them.

At the end of the day, it’s the details that make your work stand out.

5. You know how to talk the talk


You never bought anything in your life without being sold first.

The same truth applies to your work and that’s why you know how to sell it. More importantly, you know that selling doesn’t mean convincing people to take something they don’t want — it doesn’t work that way.

Selling is the fine art of making the client understand how and why your ideas meet their objectives. You’ve figured out how to do this, and the rest is history.

6. You’re not afraid to swim against the tide


Everyone is into flat design these days. You love it but you know it’s not the ultimate answer to why we exist in the universe.

You’ll abandon all trends and do what needs to be done when the project requires it. If it means you create a glossy button when everyone creates a flat one, so be it. You’re not afraid to rock the boat when there is a perfectly good reason to do it.

Swimming against the tide comes to you naturally.


While nothing can replace years of hard work, nothing is stopping you from accepting some of the beliefs and truths shared by big names in the design industry, especially the ones that resonate well with your personality.

The more you emulate how professionals think and act, the better you will actually become at design. Fake it until you make it is another universal truth shared by everyone who has been around long enough to witness it.

What’s your advice on being awesome?