Be a super-designer-renaissance person
AIGA's 2009 national conference was entitled “Make/Think.” Important skills or abilities, to be sure, and to those two words I would add: “Explain.”
Assuming commitment, creativity, deep and broad visual literacy, and an understanding of design processes (oh, is that all!), you will need to be able to articulate your (design) thinking in a way that will be meaningful to analytical and political thinkers, not just intuitive thinkers. You will need to be able to do this both verbally and in writing. Additionally, you will need to be able to collaborate with others, including those who live and work well outside design-related fields, and process the information and experience they provide. You will also need expertise in a particular design area—preferably an area that you love—that will allow you to give form to ideas.
As this was being written, Steve Jobs debuted the iPad. Game changer or overgrown iPod Touch? We'll certainly know in three years. Regardless of its success, it is clear that having the skills to be a media-independent designer is essential. That suggests, for example, that the necessary area of expertise may be in coding languages and how they can enable interface design. Three years from now, expectations for flexibility and customization on the part of a user—no matter the interaction—will be even greater than they are today.
Design will continue to be about broad thinking, about the what and the how, about making connections between seemingly disparate activities or experiences. How else to make the unfamiliar familiar? To be successful at that, you will need to be able to think, make and explain.
This essay originally appeared in the 2010AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries.