Be a designer, plus
A designer has no boundaries
I write this while on an airplane. Which is an apt metaphor for where design has gone (and is going). Design is now a world without defined disciplines, boundaries or restrictions. It is a world with endless points, all interconnecting and leading to a greater destination. Each one of these connection points is a chance to build pieces of a greater story. You are the architect of your own flight path: Create your personal journey by taking advantage of every opportunity that arises.
A designer is everything, plus
Think like an anthropologist, a lawyer, a marketer and a business owner. The design part is what you're taught in school. It is a trade you will learn and grow along the way. But the way you think is what will set you apart as an employee and as a partner to a client. Think strategically and be a student of life. Look at each design problem you're presented with as an opportunity to solve a problem with every tool, experience and bit of stored knowledge you have in that amazing brain of yours.
A designer is a student of the world
Look at the world around you as a personal palette that you can draw from at any time. Design books, annuals and catalogs are all great, but the most valuable resource you have is your own experience and how you uniquely view and resource your surroundings. The personal insights and experiences you bring to your work will set you apart. They will lend a passion to your projects that will result in creating the emotional connections that we strive for as designers.
This essay originally appeared in the 2010AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries.