15 September 2010


I've been crafting a list of tools as I consider how I might support individuals who are new to design. Since I'm teaching undergraduates this fall, this inquiry has become even more relevant. Many students are worried that they aren't taking the right path and fear that they might make a mistake in their education/career choices. Haven't we all? In my estimation, some of this stems from the temptation to compare oneself to another and assume that in order to be a good designer, I need to be like ______________.

In light of this, I reflected back on my own journey and asked myself how I got to the place I am today. Looking back, I can't underestimate the value of knowing the often overlooked skills that don't fit into a typical "list of tools." The reason? They are unique to each individual! While I am a proponent of developing and nurturing one's craft, there is also great value in actually knowing and identifying your strengths.

In the words of Socrates: Know thyself.

Some might classify these as "soft skills" but I would suggest they are fundamental to developing your toolkit. And since design operates as a collaborative discipline, understanding strengths can help build strong and effective teams.

I went back to some notes and readings from my own search and came across a few tools that have helped me frame these "soft skills" for myself and others. They may be obvious options but in re-reading them, I was encouraged by the direction my work/life/career has taken.

1. StrengthsFinder
StrengthsFinder proposes that we should reduce the amount of time we spend worrying about what we aren't good at and instead nurture what already comes naturally. Here are my top 5 strengths discovered in this process:

a) Ideation
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

b) Connectedness
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

c) Strategic
People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

d) Input
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

e) Intellection
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

2. Myers-Briggs
We've likely all taken this test! Here's a brief breakdown of my INTJ-ness:

With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way.

In education they are most often found at the college and university level. In the professions, they may be a lawyer, a business analyst, or strategic planner. Some have a strong artistic/creative bent and may become an artist, inventor, or designer. Whatever they do, they do it with intensity.

Final Note: There are many other tools one could draw upon! These are but two that have offered me some language to articulate skills that might be missed in talking about a "toolkit" (and were actually assessed more than 10 years ago). I believe that this type inquiry serves to help a designer acquire the most important tool in these times: a unique voice that will speak to the complexities of our world through the discipline of design.

Photo credit: Martin Whitmore

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