How can designers stand out in a crowded industry?

Tweet your questions about how to land your dream design job—or just how to get your foot in the door—to our resident career expert @thegiantthinker. We’ll publish his answers here each month and keep the conversation going on Twitter @AIGAdesign.

What can give you an edge in this brutally competitive industry?—@Kristalyn_04

The short answer is this: demonstrate a higher standard of work, which is possible once you’re exposed to greater and more diverse experiences.

To clarify, today’s competition is more in volume than anything else. There is a huge quantity of designers crowding the industry, but quality remains scarce. It’s rare to find high-performing designers who can deliver with informed relevance, qualitative research, data-driven process, and proven results based on unbiased metrics.

This phenomenon stems from the fact that “designer,” by definition, has been rapidly changing. Its association with visual craftsmanship is becoming less prominent as non-designers learn to use design tools beyond competence—or clients can easily and cheaply outsource visual assets. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t dismiss the importance of visual craftsmanship; it simply acknowledges the reality of the fast-moving landscape of today. The proliferation of services such as 99designs, Fiverr, and Upwork are a product of this.

So what will give you an “edge” in this inundated industry?

Put value in improving skills in problem solving and business thinking, starting with emotion design, interaction design, and service design methodologies. These skills go hand-in-hand with the current state of design, where being a designer is more than crafting or executing. Good design is a process of unraveling human-centered problems while considering intentions, organizational objectives, and future ecosystems. And a designer’s ability to solve these complex problems is directly in proportion to their experiences, including the depth and breadth of our interactions, and the quality of our relationships.

In line with this “process,” I’ve pinpointed seven specific qualities that will help you stand out among the crowd:

1. One goal, diverse background

Cultural fit is always a factor in the design and creative industry; this is where personality, individuality, and unique experiences come in. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, this makes a designer different from another, and companies embrace the diverse experience—it translates into diverse design thinking and problem solving.

2. Strong communication skills

In many instances, designers will be brought in half way through a project—usually to help out, or even at the tail end. It’s important to always ask questions and communicate constantly. The error I see many designers make is going a full day without a “check in” with the creative lead to make sure the task is on track. It can result in an entire day wasted, or worse, days in some cases.

3. Confident negotiation abilities

Design is a service-led business. In order to succeed as a designer, you need to be confident in operating in this role, without losing your vision or sacrificing standards. Project rates or hiring rates can be negotiated, but all too often, I hear of designers being cut short of their worth.

4. Leadership in every role

Designers must take charge of the task or project given to them. They need to own it. Designers may not necessarily lead an entire project, but should still use their leadership qualities on even smaller scales—this includes making any relevant suggestions and injecting enthusiasm to the project.

5. Readiness to perform

The design industry can be fast-paced, especially in corporate, commercial environments. Most of these projects require a fast turnaround, meaning the designer needs to always be ready to hit the ground running.

6. Agility and adaptation

Changes can happen in a heartbeat. Project scope can increase or decrease in scale one minute, and delivery timelines can change the next minute. Being ready and willing to go with the flow is crucial for a designer’s survival.

7. Be a chameleon

This means you often won’t have the luxury of waiting for perfection. Use what you have and what you know, then do what you can with it. Remember: done is better than perfect. Don’t be afraid to improve as you go.

I hope this helps. And remember, persistence trumps circumstance. Keep going and you’ll either win or you’ll learn.

About the Author:

If you'd like to be a designer, read Ram's internationally industry acclaimed book here:


Ram is an award winning Design Director, Blogger, top ranking Podcaster, Speaker, Instructor and Author of the internationally acclaimed book 'How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed'. He's based in Sydney, Australia and in 2012, started the blog which helps thousands of design students and graduates be employed. Ram has since been featured in Communication Arts, HOW magazine, Herman Miller, deFrost*, and Apple. 


Twitter: @thegiantthinker
Instagram: @thegiantthinker
Periscope: @thegiantthinker
Snapchat: @thegiantthinker