This is not another article about how the pandemic has changed the way we work.
The reality is that plenty of creative professionals – especially freelancers – have been working from home and in remote environments for a long time. It’s probably why so many of us were quick to adapt when so many others hopped on Zoom or Slack for the first time.
But there are some skills you need to stay relevant in today’s job market in addition to that adaptability that you likely already have. If you are thinking of advancing your career (and who isn’t) as a freelancer, at your current job, or by changing jobs, keep reading.
1. HTML and CSS Foundation
Unless you only touch print design, you need to have a clear understanding of HTML and CSS as a foundation for everything that you work with digitally. Whether you work for a web design agency, or as a freelancer, this is just a core “table stakes” skill.
It’s more than website or app design. HTML and CSS are at the core of any digital element from designing emails to creating images for social media to connecting a tracking code for advertising or marketing.
This foundation can open the door to understanding other web languages as well. Further, appropriate use of HTML and CSS will help you create and code web designs that work like they are supposed to and are as lightweight and zippy as possible.
You won’t become an expert in this area overnight and may have to work on developing these skills. Ask questions, talk to developers who understand better than you, and play with HTML and CSS when you can to see what visual impacts happen as a result of code changes.
2. Presentation Skills
Designers are becoming the primary points of contact to talk about visual elements and work.
There was once a time when it seemed like designers we always in the background. We didn’t have to deal with a lot of the public-facing work that comes with the creative space.
But more commonly, designers are becoming the primary points of contact to talk about visual elements and work, explain how something functions, and create presentations for projects.
So, now is the time to upgrade your Keynote or PowerPoint skills. You’ll probably need them.
This skill may be partially due to changes in work during the past year to 18 months. With so much more presenting happening online, stellar visual presentations that are easy to understand are vital and you are likely being asked to provide more of this support for your team.
3. Time Management Tools
Have you ever started working on a creative project and gotten lost in it? Did you look up from the computer to find that the day is practically gone?
Time management is a vital skill when you work on independent projects. It can help you stay on track and focused or prevent you from spending too much time in an area where you should not.
The tool that works for you may be unique. For some, it is as simple as setting a timer for projects on your phone. Others love tracking software. Sometimes time management comes in the form of list-making.
Regardless of how you do it, the important factor is that you manage time and tasks in such a way that results in meeting deadlines and goals without working yourself into the ground.
4. Baseline SEO
If you are still in the mindset that search engine optimization has nothing to do with website design, you are wrong.
At some point – probably sooner rather than later – a lack of SEO knowledge will hurt you.
While SEO skills are not design per se, there are a lot of design techniques and elements that directly pertain to search engine rank. Website speed, use of alt and meta information, and overall structure and site architecture are all contributing factors. They are all things that you impact as a designer.
If you aren’t thinking SEO, make it a priority to understand the SEO elements that most directly pertain to what you do and how to incorporate best practices into your workflows.
5. Strong Typography Skills
One of the things that’s becoming more evident almost by the day is that design projects with stellar typography win. Between visual appeal and readability, typography is the thread that holds things together.
You must have a strong eye for pairing typefaces, identifying font options that speak across mediums for brands to maintain visual stability, and use text in a way that helps make the design better.
Typography trends tend to be all over the place, making it important for you to have a solid understanding of how to best use text elements to create something that will last for the duration of the project.
6. Collaboration and Digital Fluency
In today’s marketplace, digital fluency and the ability to collaborate are make-or-break skills.
Being able to work with others and work seamlessly between real and digital spaces seems like a no-brainer, but it is too important not to re-emphasize.
7. Understanding of Color Theory
The color of almost every design element matters. Color choice can help a website visitor follow the information on the screen, connect the design to a company or brand, or even create a mood that facilities making a purchase.
Further, color reiterates common user behaviors and flows such as click- or tap-ability of a button, the act of submitting a form, or the trustworthiness of a site or design.
Educate yourself on the basics of color theory and how color can impact the emotional response people have with an overall design as well as individual design elements. There’s a lot of science that is at the root of how people respond to color and how it can best work in your projects.
Additionally, color can relate to overall readability and accessibility.
If you are looking for a place to start, we have some of the best color schemes of the year posted here.
8. Solid Grasp on User Experience
The best designs are visual and engaging to use. It only makes sense that you need a good understanding of visual and user experience design.
It takes just the right balance of visual and user experience design to create something that resonates with users.
This is thinking about the design concept in multiple ways. Something can look pretty but not function at all. Conversely, functionality can be stellar but isn’t successful because the visuals are off-putting.
It takes just the right balance of visual and user experience design to create something that resonates with users. If you only understand one side of the equation, the design process can get clunky and overwhelming, but if you think about it at the same time, that’s where the magic happens.
A good designer has to switch gears between right- and left- brain operations to be the most effective and efficient in work processes. That’s often a learned skill that happens without a conscious effort to “switch brains.”
Think about how often you do it. Design really is a mix of creative and analytical work. It balances soft skills and mental labor.
The best designers know how to plan their days and time to maximize the use of different brain spaces so that creativity has room to flourish, but details are taken into consideration. Everyone does this in their own way; the starting point is giving yourself the grace to learn how to pace and manage these skills effectively.