Skills you won’t learn in design school

Nicole Steinberg
Dec 4, 2023

It’s easy to think you know everything about design after graduating from school. You’re competent in the Adobe Suite, you know all about type hierarchy, and you can design a kick ass logo. What else could you possibly need to learn? The truth is, a lot.

Now, we don’t want to discredit design professors—the lessons you learn from them are invaluable, and they more than likely will touch on some of the skills we’ll cover in this blog. The fact is that there simply isn’t enough time to thoroughly cover every skill that will benefit you as a designer, and many of them can only be learned through experience. Whether you’re a new grad trying to land your first job or a design student looking to get a leg up on the competition, we’re sharing some non-design skills that have proven beneficial in our careers.

How to speak

Knowing how to design doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to speak about your work. More than likely, your future clients aren’t going to care about which program you made something in or that you chose a sans-serif over a serif typeface. All they want to know is why you made the design choices you did and how a design will benefit them or solve their problems. Remember that the average person doesn’t have the same knowledge of design as you, so ditch the jargon and speak only in words they’ll understand.

How to write

You won’t always have the opportunity to speak about your work, so make sure you know how to write about it properly as well. Be clear and concise—there’s no need to share all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into a project. Only highlight the things you want a reader to take away, like the expertise a project demonstrates or how it solves the problem you were presented with. The subject matter isn’t the only thing that’s important when it comes to writing. Be sure to check your spelling, correct your grammar, and make your high school English teacher proud.

How to take criticism

Accepting criticism is probably the hardest skill to learn and one that you’ll continue to develop over the course of your career. Check your ego, don’t be married to your designs, and be receptive to other people’s opinions. Understand that true constructive criticism is never meant to devalue the work you’ve done, only to improve it or force you to look at it from a new angle. It’s not always easy to hear (and it might not even be right), but learning to take other perspectives and opinions into consideration will challenge you as a designer and make you a better one in the long run.

How to advocate for yourself

While you need to be able to take criticism, you also need to be able to defend yourself and your work when necessary. Don’t just cave to the opinions of other designers or clients; remember the value and knowledge you bring to the table as well, and advocate for yourself where appropriate. This also applies to getting the respect you deserve in the workplace. Don’t become a pushover or a workhorse. Design is a skilled profession and should be treated as such, so if you’re not being respected fairly by clients, coworkers, or employers, call it out.

How to keep learning

Learning doesn’t have to stop after graduation and should be a lifelong venture in both your professional and personal lives. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of other designers' knowledge and ask lots of questions. Read books by other creatives to gain new ways of thinking. Keep in touch with alumni and share your experiences while also learning from theirs. Watch tutorials and take classes to better your skills or acquire new ones. Above all, stay humble and remember that continuing to learn and take in new information and experiences is what will keep you creative.


While design school might equip you with technical expertise and a knowledge of design principles, your success as a creative relies on skills that extend far beyond the computer screen. Learning to communicate effectively, how to take criticism without taking it to heart, and how to stand up for yourself and your work will be the things that take you from a good designer to a great one. Above all, embracing lifelong learning and the community around you will send you on an ever-evolving creative journey that will keep you acquiring new skills for years to come.

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