Design as a craft and a mindset

To be a great designer, you not only need to master your craft, but you also have to have the right mindset.

The common understanding of what makes a designer, is that a designer is someone who is able to articulate his ideas in a visual way. Be it in a sketch book or on a Post-it, in Photoshop or Sketch, in clay or Solidworks.

In recent years, more and more technical skills came into the mix: like being able to code, or as industrial designer having a deep understanding of materials and manufacturing processes. Furthermore, the last decade added methodological skills to the designer’s tool kit: conducting user research, design thinking workshops, and work in agile design sprints. All of this is what I consider skills — the tools of a craftsman. 

When scanning applicants at IXDS, I’m always looking for people who excel in one or more skill. Mastering your craft is the basis of almost any profession. But I do also look for something else: the right mindset.

In the same way some people were born with a talent for picking colors, drawing beautiful shapes, or reading the matrix, some people just have the right mindset to be a better designer. There’s not one exclusively right mindset. It can take many shapes. But here are a few that stand out:

Great designers are observers, not influencers.


In most cases you’re not designing for yourself, but for others. So constantly absorbing other people’s views, challenges and opinions is crucial to get to the core of any design challenge. This shouldn’t be limited to a user interview during the research phase. It’s a designer’s mindset day-in and day-out.

Being an observer also means that you’re not influencing people (yet). While designing products and services, the designer shouldn’t try to influence people to confirm his prejudices.


Great designers are thoughtful.

Everything they create is considered. Be it a concept, a slide in a presentation, a wireframe, or a design. With very few exceptions, random choices are not the best ones.

Great designers are open to change.

A cowboy’s job is never done – same goes for a designer’s job. A mindset for constant change is not only pushing to "fail early, fail often to succeed sooner". Although you as a designer should take ownership of your design, you should never get too attached to it.

The right mindset, a good cultural fit, emotional intelligence – these are key qualities for any team member.

This interest for someone’s mindset leads me rather to an applicant’s Medium.com profile, rather than to his Dribbble page. In many cases, the cover letter is also a good indicator.  But you can only really tell by talking to the person. 

Call it what you want – the right mindset, a good cultural fit, emotional intelligence – it’s a key quality of any team member. So at IXDS, applications with links to Medium articles about motivations are more relevant to us than Dribbble links to nice screens.

Because in the end, we will always choose mindset over skill when looking for new team members.