A designer in the studio

What is a designer?

Milton Glasser said:
"Design is the process of going from an existing condition to a preferred one. Observe that there’s no relationship to art.”

The design discipline has evolved greatly in the last 20 years. On the one hand, it has gained relevance and importance within organisations, from the initial product and service design, to adding the design process to strategic decisions, and, finally, positioning design in the very centre of organisations. At the same time, the addition of new more sophisticated tools, and the expansion of the field itself, has led to a hyper specialisation of the discipline: product, UX/UI, micro-interaction, animations, and UX content, which requires special attention to detail, and knowledge of the technical complexity that this detail entails.

Richard Buchanan – Orders of Design

Being an all-round designer is becoming more and more difficult, but we aim to achieve that ideal – we believe that design is unique and it’s timeless, and that a good designer must unite certain abilities that belong to different aspects of knowledge: analytical and defining techniques, client managing skills, design culture – and general culture – speaking and writing communication skills.

Schematic education of Ulm School. The design of this school was referential because they created an educational programme based on arts and science.

We look for inspiration in the traditional disciplines of the last century: architecture, art, photography, fashion, publicity, graphic and product design, music from the last 60 years and the culture around it. We look up to and seek insight from figures like Dieter Rams, Ray y Charles Eames, Mies van der Rohe, Rem Koolhaas, Massimo Vignelli, Otl Aicher, Coco Chanel or Ayn Rand, among others.

It is of great importance to us that every member of the team is nourished by these references and, although we don’t share their ideals 100%, we like to think we are aligned with the majority of them. From this multi-disciplinary, humble and contemporary vision, we want to establish ourselves as professionals, as a team.

Technical abilities

We are a digital product design studio, the majority of us are product designers. Our creativity and our skill, particularly with technical tools and interfaces are, to a great extent, the main way in which we communicate.

Here, we offer a quick summary of the key skills that we think ought to be developed in order to be a good product designer:

  • Creation and representation of complex products, with internalising patterns of use and advanced interaction.
  • Ability to define components, design systems and carry out technical documentation.
  • Visual concept generation, developing brand narrative.
  • Competency in typography, layout and publishing, use of grids and blank space. Synthesis in definition and the ability to elaborate accurate, informative, adapted-for-use copies.
  • Critical capacity is crucial in design. Knowing how to get rid of unnecessary elements to get to the essence of an object of design is what allows us to reach exceptional results.

Analysis and Definition

Our reality has almost no limits. We move within a world of constant information and stimuli. We design complex products. But, before we get to the design of a screen, we must establish multiple levels of observation, with space for thought and analysis. Mission and vision, values, brand, visual identity, product and services, architecture of information, design flows… And, of course, to understand the role of technology in all of this.

Knowing and comprehending each and every one of these disciplines takes time and dedication. When a designer steps away from the screen and delves deeper into the process, that is when you see growth and progress. A designer must understand the context and build a personal archive of knowledge. To understand and get ahead of the information that the client provides, search for new knowledge online or in the real world, process it and analyse it, make discoveries and define concepts through them, understand what is the relevant data and how it helps us.

These skills also require a designer to be familiar with new tools: research, workshops and interviews, shadowing, information analysis, product canvas and visual moodboards, value proposition definition, CRM, concept generation… The more you know, the better you can face a problem and find a solution.

Consultancy and Customer Management

Above all, we are a design studio, we put our client and their public in the centre of every decision we make. That’s why we must constantly repeat these questions to ourselves:

How can we add value to our client? How is this action adding value to them?

This is just a mantra, and it’s just the beginning. We have to understand our clients to help them.

Some other keys points to remember are:

  • Understand their bid. Why did they decide to trust us?
  • Gain their trust: convey sincerity, kindness and a lot of enthusiasm. Understand their expectations and stay once step ahead.
  • Empathise: with their context, their time availability, their workload, the in-company dynamics, their way of thinking and the team they surrounded themselves with and other teams they have around them.

Other skills that will help you have a successful relationship with your client:

  • Learn how to manage their expectations.
  • Provide context and visibility.
  • Be more knowledgeable than them.
  • Communicate: keep them up to speed.
  • Be open: avoid both complacency and intransigence.

Be meticulous:

  • Document every meeting.
  • Take notes.
  • Ask questions whenever there is something that you don’t understand.
  • Provide regular updates.
  • Identify issues before they’ve spotted them.
  • Manage value, not tasks.

Culture of Design, Culture in General

It’s complicated to defend a work of design without having a foundation of design references and influences to support it with. It’s almost impossible to find inspiration without these references, without knowing the tendencies and styles that have been coming and going in the history of design. The pride of belonging to a group of professionals must encourage us to discover the history of design, its origins, its influences, its present and its future.

But we must go even further, our discipline requires an in-depth knowledge of the context: of history, politics, art, science and technology. All of this allows us to comprehend the limits of our job while also making it easier for us to design products that fulfil their purpose.

We are immensely lucky that our profession requires and feeds an insatiable curiosity. A good designer captures the zeitgeist of the time. They are eager to know the intention behind things. Any knowledgeable reference - from the hermeneutics of design to Pop culture - can be useful if we know when to use it.

Growing one’s understanding and knowledge of culture isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a continuous and holistic process.

It’s something that happens every day and sometimes it will go unnoticed - we regularly add new pieces of knowledge to “our box”.

It's an active endeavour – where you choose to inform yourself and decide what you want to learn - and a passive one too - nowadays we learn, sometimes unaware, through the platforms we use and the feeds we follow. Everything contributes to your cultural understanding: your online consumption, the books you read, the people you follow, the channels you subscribe to… That’s why it’s so important to analyse them and review them with a critical mind:

  • Is what I’m being told useful?
  • Is the way they’re telling it really how it happened?
  • Should I seek out another point of view?

Asking ourselves these questions is important and diversity plays a crucial role here: diversity in the sources, origins and experiences; diversity in personal, financial, social and cultural perspectives.

Communicative skills: asynchrony and contextuality

The leap to a remote culture presents a series of challenges. The most important thing has to do with communication habits.

What is effective communication? How can one communicate in an effective way?

Communicating in an effective way demonstrates respect towards other people’s time.

It’s using calls and meetings as a last resource. It’s communicating in an asynchronous way the majority of the time, without expecting or demanding an immediate answer.

If you need an immediate answer to a question, think of what can be changed to avoid that need for urgency next time.

Communicating efficiently consists of taking time to read things thoroughly and stopping to reflect to check we have understood what we’ve just read. Reading requires understanding the context by ourselves without relying on someone else to solve our doubts or go over something again if we were distracted. It demands more effort and attention on our part. Once you develop these skills, it makes the whole process quicker.

Written communication vs. oral communication

Written communication, using our writing and formatting resources (bullet points, italics, etc.), helps us simplify, express ourselves more clearly and be understood. To sum up:

Writing well makes us better communicators.

Oral communication only helps those who are present, while written communication helps people who are absent, or teammates who join a project at a later stage. This is why documentation is your friend. If the documents are accessible, clear and up-to-date, we all win. Therefore:

  • Make the effort to document the context and the goals of the tasks (not only the title).
  • Get in the habit of taking notes in all meetings and type them into the projects on Notion.
  • Go back to format the texts and send the information to your teammates.

Keep in mind that bad communication leads to more work. Focus and make yourself understood and communicate unambiguously: if your words can be perceived in different ways, it’s very likely they won’t be understood correctly. If you have to repeat yourself that means that you have not been clear enough: learn from your mistakes, think twice before starting to type.

As we mentioned before, context is key and it helps people assimilate information more easily. We work faster if we don’t need to go looking for the required information. In order to prevent this from happening, we can take advantage of tools like the comments section on Figma. There are many other helpful ways to provide context: we can use the comment function on Notion instead of using Slack or making a call. That way, the information is stored in the right place, easy for people to access.

Personal Competences in The Professional Context

To be able to work properly as a team, there are certain skills that are necessary. Developing those skills takes time and, importantly, requires focus and self-perception.

Professionalism can be shown in many different ways: in your image, your attitude, punctuality, disposition, presence, visibility.

All these aspects require introspection, feedback and communication, communication, communication.

A great designer is a great communicator: with the brush, the pen or their words. But that is only half of it: a great designer knows how to listen, how to read and how to understand. Having a critical capacity towards our work, but also towards what we listen to and read will allow us to know ourselves better and to be more aware of what is happening around us. Diving deeper into the analysis of procedures and systems is going to help us define products, services, organisations, brands and business models.

The false myth of time management consists of building up complicated folder systems and tools. The truth is that time management consists of three basic points:

  • Self-awareness: be realistic with your time and understand that it is a limited resource.
  • Disposition: resisting the conventional. Call everything into question and don’t take anything for granted. Don’t play along. Stand out.
  • Adjustment: monitor how you use time in your activities, including re-prioritising and dealing with interruptions.

Choosing a different work tool allows us to think outside the box. Experimenting with new ideation techniques can yield original ideas. Keeping an updated tool range allows us to move forward when we get stuck.

In a globalised world, speaking, reading and writing in English is crucial. English is the lingua franca of the internet and an essential tool to understand both the world and technology.

Authors and co-editors

Autores y colaboradores

Patricia Pérez

Head of People

Salvador Serrano

Chief Design Officer / Partner
Onboarding: First Steps at MS
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