Building personal skillsets: Where should a designer focus?

Designers need to continually redefine themselves to keep up with rapid changes in the business. However, we also need to choose our next growth area based on skills, personality, and past work experiences.

2017-12-20 – 5 min read

Design is one of the fastest-changing disciplines, and today it can mean very different things. That's why it's important for designers to re-think their skill set and define the directions they want to grow into.

Over the past 30 years, together with digitalization, new design fields have repeatedly entered our lives. As a graduate of industrial design, I've been enjoying this ride and have been a part of this constant change.

The first sub-discipline to emerge was user interface design: designing the interactions (human-machine interfaces) and visual interfaces for devices such as computers, mobile phones, and the first generation of websites.

As devices and interactions started to be more complicated, we began to talk more about holistic experiences. User experience design, as introduced by Donald Norman, entered our daily lives, and companies started to hire UX designers to design complete experiences within digital services. At first, UX focused more on screen flows, usability, solving tasks by providing relevant features, functions and prioritizing information. Soon enough, UX was not enough to address the experiences across various channels and touchpoints. It was time for something high-level enough to describe complete user journeys, but still able to fill the gaps between touchpoint-level experiences.

That's when service design came into the picture, defining cross-device/ touchpoint/ channel experiences links with the internal operations and strategical objectives.

As in all design fields, service design focused on users as the focal point to solve their needs, wants and desires. Understanding the users' insights and designing the moments, journeys, processes, touchpoint and channels to cater to those insights. However, soon enough it became clear that service design needed more business input to achieve desired financial results. This is when business design came into the picture, to combine customer insights with business targets. Business design is an emergent field and one of the most controversial. Meanwhile many design consultancies/ product companies have an in-house business designer to bring business insights to design decisions.

Similarly, as the design discipline expands, the role of designers shifts. At Motley, we use the following diagram to map competences of designers as part growing our own skills. This way we can concretize personal growth areas and know what we need to focus on as an individual. Being a unicorn designer/ master of everything is possible (some call this end-to-end designer). However, for most, it is better to choose what your passion and focus is. Here is a competence mapping chart we are using at Motley.

This diagram is to be used as a self-assessment tool for designers.

Here is an example of Designer A, who started his/her career in UX/ UI and Visual designer. As the type of clients changed, she/he moved more into a service designer role to design holistic experiences. I know many friends in this category. It is not easy but a very rewarding process.

Here is another example of the growth; Designer B who started as a service designer to gather customer insights, arranged co-design workshops and designed both service processes, front stage + backstage. Later Designer B expanded into business planning, KPI generation, business model prototyping and eventually to high-level system thinking, future road-mapping, and strategical planning.

In summary, I believe that designers need to continually redefine themselves to keep up with rapid changes in the business climate. However, we also need to choose our next growth area based on your current skills, personality, passions, and past work experiences.

Interested in what we're doing? Check our open positions.

If you are interested in reading more on these subjects, here are some book recommendations.


The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage >>

HBR's 10 Must Reads on Strategy >>


Design a better business >>

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers >>

The Business Model Navigator: 55 Models That Will Revolutionise Your Business >>


This is service design >>

Value Proposition design >>

Service Design for Business: A Practical Guide to Optimizing the Customer Experience >>

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Written by

Korhan Buyukdemirci

Korhan is Service Design Lead at Motley.

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