'Design Currency' Excerpt: Knowing Your Value as a Creative Professional

Do you ever have difficulty getting clients, non-design colleagues and management to understand the suite of skills and capabilities you bring to the table? Do you feel uncomfortable when justifying your fees or hourly rate? Are you searching for ways to help reduce the amount of meddling and pushback you face during the creative process? If so, Design Currency (New Riders, $34.99) by Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady is for you.

Here's an empowering excerpt from the recently released book:

Understanding Your Skills

On the surface, a designer's aesthetic and creative abilities, cultivated in school and polished by hours on the job, may seem specialized.

But our educational and professional experiences have also supplied us with knowledge that can be broadly applied. Leveraging that knowledge into emerging opportunities requires a thorough understanding of your tool kit. So let's talk about what you do well, the design skills that provide professional "shelf life" and ensure you'll remain competitive over the arc of your career(s).

The following skills present designers as valued players in the information and knowledge economies, increasingly in demand even outside the aesthetic universe of graphic design.

Design, Thinking + Making

Traditionally, a designer's value has stemmed from the ability to create artifacts: objects, books, posters, websites, marketing collateral, and the list goes on and on. In that act of creation, while crafting the visuals, we're also crafting the message: Visual communication doesn't exist without storytelling and persuasion. In recent years the scope of "artifacts" has expanded to include the intangible, and now designers are crafting experiences. Those larger goals – to form encounters, mold perceptions, and elicit feelings – can include well-positioned artifacts (traditional design products), but are really part of a larger cultural shift that recognizes the designer's ability to visualize new futures. Our services list has grown to include "design thinking."

Design thinking adds value by harnessing creativity, promoting an iterative approach to problem solving in which success is achieved through rapid failure. Design thinking manages the process of innovation. As companies race to improve existing features and cultivate new products and services, it's a concept that's commanding a lot of attention in business circles.

As designers, we need to remember that our ability to manage and apply the design process stems from our experiences in the crafting of artifacts. With all of the emphasis on design as a strategic tool, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the fact that designers make things. Being able to make things is an essential and increasingly rare skill in the twenty-first century.

Making affords us the ability to bring abstract ideas into concrete form, an indispensable talent when sharing new concepts. We spin straw into gold.

Project Management

Most designers, by necessity, wear many hats. Our daily duties, outside of creative generation, include relationship management, cost analysis, coordination of production with third-party partners, and rainmaking for the next round. As a result, we're natural project managers with honed organizational and time management skills. We have a comprehensive understanding of budget and scope, as well as the unique ability to take an idea from concept to marketplace. Deadlines? You eat them for breakfast.

Lifelong Learning

In addition to considering cultural, economic, and technological changes affecting our industry, designers have to stay on top of shifts in popular culture and developments that are industry-specific to your clients (or to markets you'd like to enter). As such, designers must have an aptitude – perhaps even an appetite – for self-directed learning.

The speed and accuracy with which you locate, analyze, and apply new knowledge can be a tremendous advantage.

Comfort with Risk

A great deal of business philosophy focuses on avoiding or mitigating risk, but those same actions can be detrimental to innovation. And risk is something you become accustomed to when your job is to be creative on-demand. To produce the novel or unique, you have to embrace the potential of failure.

A fancy term for success-through-failure is "iterative process. " Think about your sketchbook or the first round of brainstorming you undertake for a new project. What percentage of those ideas are gems? How many do you need to discard or adapt or polish to get to the best solution? Did your missteps lead to viable new ideas? Creatives embrace small-scale risk and failure on a daily basis. The "try it and see" philosophy, second nature to designers, sets you apart from many other professionals.

Responsive to Criticism

That comfort with risk is directly related to our critique training. From the first day of design school, like it or not, you've been honing your ability to seek out and adapt to criticism.

Having your work pinned up and publicly scrutinized by faculty and peers, day after day, indoctrinates us in a culture of critical self-evaluation.

Most people bristle at the idea of criticism, but to the seasoned designer it's essential, expected, and welcomed.

By the time you're comfortable receiving critique feedback, you've also become accustomed to giving it. That makes designers better listeners, better questioners, and better public speakers, too.

Comprehensive Communication

Visual communication is a designer's bread and butter, but think for a moment about how much interpersonal communication factors into your workday. The give and take of frequent critiques has a secondary benefit: You're pretty darn good with people. It takes finesse to tell a colleague or a client that their idea doesn't work and still join them that afternoon for lunch. Our verbal delivery and ability to problem-solve on the fly are as valuable as our aesthetic skills. From identifying what message resonates with an audience, to negotiating and influencing decision-making, comprehensive communication skills are essential leadership components.

Organization and Systems Thinking

Days spent designing grid structures, detailed type systems, flowcharts, and wireframes have sharpened your critical analysis skills. For many designers, the drive to organize leaks into other aspects of life. Necessity may dictate your digital file management on the job, but we're betting that your closets and cupboards at home are benefitting, too. When we apply systems thinking to human activities, we can engage new audiences, craft new experiences, eliminate old frustrations. Whether you manage information sets, processes, or people, this ability to see connections and create efficiencies is highly sought after.

Excerpted from Design Currency: Understand, define, and promote the value of your design work by Jenn Visocky O'Grady and Ken Visocky O'Grady. Copyright © 2013. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.