Of the evolving list of dream jobs for designers just out of school, the global design firm Frog might have the broadest appeal simply based on the nature of its work. In addition to pushing forward the design industry with sharp, curiosity-driven projects, its approach to design is interdisciplinary—which means it employs designers that work across digital, industrial, and interactive design.
A couple of weeks ago, two Frog product designers took to Reddit to give advice to young designers. What emerged from their Reddit AMA—led by Inbal Etgar, from the San Francisco office, and Francois Nguyen, out of New York—were some key insights into what a place like Frog is looking for in new talent, as well as a more general view of how young designers should be preparing professionally.
“Young designers are usually overly focused on their talent and hard skills, tending to overlook the role positive attitude and grit play in their success,” Etgar writes in an email to Co.Design following the AMA. “In a way, hard skills are easier to acquire than grit or positive mental attitude, as the latter is more subjective and a result of personal growth. It’s common to see young designers fall in love with the hard skills and lose sight of the visionary part of design, the ‘why.'”
We asked Etgar and Nguyen to elaborate on some of the skills—hard and soft—that designers need to have working in the field today, and how those so often differ from the skills designers think are most important.
Concepting Isn’t Everything—Learn To Edit Your Work
Editing is important to all creative endeavors, yet designers in particular can have a hard time sacrificing attention to myopic details in service of the greater whole. “Those are the two key problems: emotional attachment and not seeing the bigger picture,” says Nguyen. He suggests imposing self-enforced constraints, like hard deadlines or limiting the number of slides per presentation, for example. It’s also helpful to ask for an objective opinion from a professional. As with any type of editing, a fresh pair of eyes can catch things overlooked by someone who is too close to the material.
Nguyen, who is also a musician, illustrates that last point with a story about struggling to complete an album. He brought in a friend who is a music producer to help. “He asked me to cut my 15-track album down to 7, fire my drummer (and friend), hire two other musicians from elsewhere and re-record 90% of my existing parts,” he writes in an email. “Eliminating these tracks that I had lovingly crafted over the years felt like chopping off my limbs. While it went against everything in my creative fiber, I did everything he asked. The result was something beyond anything I could have ever achieved on my own.”
Being Proficient In Digital Tools Doesn’t Make You A Great Designer
“I have noticed a trend in recent years with design students and young designers embracing digital tools to the extent that they let go of physical tools and designing in physical space,” writes Etgar. “That approach usually results in design blind spots. CAD and rapid prototyping have changed the way we iterate and develop solutions [quickly], but they are no replacement to hands-on design and prototyping.”
Particularly in industrial design, understanding and solving problems in the physical space is critical, and a love for and connection to materiality is a must. As with most things, balance is key. “My advice is to integrate advancements in digital fabrication with traditional methods and make the best of both,” writes Etgar.
Working Hard And Enjoying Life Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
The fact that Nguyen is a musician on the side is not unusual for people who work at Frog—nor is it particularly unusual for the industry. People who work in creative fields tend to have many creative talents in addition to the one they get paid for. Outside interests can certainly serve as an outlet, but they also inform your professional work, whether directly or indirectly, consciously or not.
Nguyen and Etgar say that cultivating other interests and hobbies will indisputably make you a better designer. “When you consider the alternative that one studies only design to inspire their design, all possible results will be drawn from the same pool and obviously derivative,” writes Nguyen. “A diversity of experiences will always bring a diversity of approaches, methodologies, and perspectives. This can only enrich and evolve the design discipline in a healthy way.”
In additional to outside interests, it’s important that design actually is something that thrills you—as it is what you will be doing with most of your day. As Etgar notes, good design is both personal and professional. “It comes from a place of wanting to do something the right way, and that takes a level of commitment that borders on obsession at times,” she writes. “Every good designer I’ve met suffers from this condition on some level. I say suffer jokingly, though—I think we all embrace that part of our work because we love it.”