5 Steps to Becoming a Problem Solving Designer

Becoming a designer has been a difficult and winding path. It looks like a difficult and winding path ahead too. But I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are 5 steps I’ve taken to become a better designer.

Zoom Out

One of the worst habits I’ve ever gotten into as a designer is jumping headfirst into a assignment only to get halfway through it to have an existential crisis.

How did I get here?

What am I doing?

What is the meaning of life my design?

me halfway through a design

One of the most valuable skills a designer can have is the ability to zoom out and see the big picture. More specifically, the ability to boil an entire design down into a singular goal.

“My goal with this design is to sell shoes”

“My goal with this design is to inform people about shoes”

“My goal with this design is to tell the story of my shoe company”

Whatever your design is, it should be accomplishing a goal. If you can’t tell someone what the goal of your design is in one sentence, zoom out and find it. You’ll be thrilled at the clarity and productivity that will bring you. Without a clear goal in mind, you aren’t solving any problems.

Gather Evidence

Whoever told you that design is an art is a liar. It’s a science.

A lot of people assume that if someone has the word “designer” in their job title that they must be a wizard with a sixth sense for pixel placement and color and know exactly how to make something look and function wonderfully. For some, this may be true. For me, it’s not.

However, all designers have a secret weapon that allows them access to this sixth sense of design. That secret weapon is research.

That’s right. Want to become a pixel placement wizard? Break out the spreadsheets and surveys.

Any “designer” can throw something together. A great designer has the evidence to back up every decision.


Bonus Points: evidence makes you seem way less pretentious. NOBODY likes a pretentious designer.


The worst designs are created in a vacuum.

In order to fully maximize what a design can be, feedback is a must. It needs to be happening at all stages of a design. Most importantly, it needs to be happening before a second of time is put into placing pixels.

graciously accepting feedback

I don’t feel comfortable designing anything until I’m confident that I fully understand the goals of what I’m designing. Don’t just settle for knowing what the design brief says. Seek to understand the goals and all the ins and outs of what and why you’re creating.

Feedback  pushes you to grow. It’s overwhelming to have somebody pointing out every nitpicky issue of what’s wrong with what you’re pouring your creative energy into, but you and your work will be better for it.

Stop Saying Everything Sucks

Mindset is a huge part of the design process. To truly solve problems as a designer you must embrace positivity.

I’ll set the scene for you. You are asked to be critical of a design. The creator of the design is not present. You proceed to tear the ever living sh*t out of the design. Your fellow designer  joins in with you. Before you know it, you’ve given every reason under the sun why the design is “horrible” and proceeded to question the author of the design’s sanity.

All the while, you’ve not presented any ideas about what could make the design better.

Perhaps you are doing this to other people’s designs. Perhaps you are doing this to your own. Stop it now.


Focusing on what makes a design “horrible” breeds a mindset of fear. You’ll constantly be in fear that what you are designing is horrible and always be failing to please your own hyper critical self. It’s not a productive place to be and will make you hate your job.

Instead, focus on what makes a design good. Appreciate what is working. For elements of the design that aren’t working, focus on the solutions that would make them better.

This mind-shift will make you a better designer.

Bonus Points: You sound like a huge a-hole when you rip a design and say everything about it is horrible. So shifting this mindset will make people like you more. Maybe.

Trust Yourself

You are a designer for a reason.

Whether you are totally new to the field or have been doing it for 20 years, you have been uniquely equipped to solve problems through design. You may be a pixel placement wizard, a research guru or just someone who can empathize with your users. No two designers are the same.

You must dedicate time into finding out where your unique skill-set lies and after that dedicate even more time into trusting in your abilities.

Let’s get something out of the way, there is always going to be somebody better than you. And in a world where you are constantly being bombarded with the  wonderful designs of others, it’s difficult to feel like you stack up sometimes.

But you can’t spend the rest of your career wishing you were someone else or had someone else’s skills. They always say that confidence is one of the most attractive qualities you can have to a potential romantic interest. You can’t spend the rest of your life bummed you don’t have Chris Hemsworth’s biceps to get the girl. Focus on what you’ve got going on and go get the girl / boy! Same for design! focus on what makes you, you and go design something wonderful.


So go forth uniquely skilled designer, and solve the problems that await you!



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