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Why designers must learn new skills if they want to become irreplaceable.

What do Bo Jackson/Deon Sanders and Jennifer Lopez have in common?

The answer is, they both reached the pinnacle of multiple and separate professional career tracks.

Bo Jackson was an All-star in baseball and football while Jeniffer Lopez was a professional Dancer, singer, and actress performing at the highest levels of all three.

How does this answer the initial questions? Well, it doesn’t. What it does do is shatter the myth that you have to focus on one thing if you really want to be really successful at it. I would even argue that what they did was even more challenging than what I propose most designers do.


So why do I think that designers must learn new skills to stay relevant?

It’s because in today’s ever-changing economy, designers of all types, are being challenged from everywhere. A few of these challenges include:

  • Freelance networks are conditioning businesses that design is a commodity and should cost $20,
  • Businesses are wanting requiring more skillsets from their designers such as the new hybrid coder/designer,
  • Designer are struggling to explain their value offering in terms business owners can understand, and
  • Anyone with Photoshop is now calling themself a “designer”

If you haven’t recognized these shifting views then this is your wakeup call.

This is why the name of the game for designers should be about value creation. Designers in any capacity, whether freelance, contract or in-house need to understand that the more value you bring to the table the more VALUable and less replaceable you become to any organization.

How can you add value?

As Marc Andreessen put it:

One of the single best ways you can maximize the impact you will have on the world and the success you will have in your career is by continuously developing and broadening your base of skills. Seek to be a double/triple/quadruple threat.Source

Here’s another perspective from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert:

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths. Become the best at one specific thing.Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. Source

Ok, so now you know that adding more skills is definitely possible and strongly recommended.

The reason this is so important for designers is because of 2 main reasons:

1. The more skills you have the more value you add to any organization
2. The more complementary skills you have the better designs you will produce

More skills = more value

As mentioned earlier businesses are not in the charity game. Every position in any organization adds a certain value to that organization.

Let’s look at a simple scenario:

The business you’re working for just lost a few large accounts and needs to start making a few layoffs.

They decide to start in the marketing department.

Employee A is a pretty good designer.
Employee B is a pretty good coder.
Employee C is a pretty good designer and a pretty good coder.

Who do you think is going to get canned?

I don’t know but I can tell it’s probably NOT gonna be employee C.

I know this is a very simple example but the principle is there. People that can do more are more valuable.

More complimentary skills = better designs

Did you know that the more related skills you learn the better your designs will be? I have personally lived this.

Most designers that want to be better designers study and read about design. However, this has never been a recipe for greatness. The reason is that they are only building upon one set of experiences.

Imagine if instead of reading about color theory and typography you read about conversion rate optimization and web analytics.

I will guarantee that the next time you design a landing page for a client it would outperform anything you would have built before.

That’s because you’ve seen a different angle of the same picture. This gives you a deeper understanding of how pieces fit together.

Understanding how headlines play into your design and how to measure the impact of your design will teach you how to design landing pages that not only meet aesthetic requirements but can meet business requirements as well.

Designers are also in a great position because a lot of these related skillsets have what I call a lower barrier to learn.

What I mean is, it will take a designer a lot less time to learn online marketing than it will for an online marketer to learn design. This means you have a leg up on most of your colleagues if you choose to broaden your skillset.

What new skills should you learn? (Complimenting skills)

There is no magic formula or exact combination for success. But there are a lot of related skills that overlap very well. Here’s a few:


  • Paid advertising
  • SEO
  • CRO – Conversion Rate Optimization
  • Web analytic


  • Ad copywriting
  • Blog writing
  • Writing for social media


  • Motion graphics
  • Video editing
  • Content creation


  • Front-end coding
  • Back-end programming
  • Mobile app development

There are many coding boot camps that do a decent job of training you in as little as 3 months. A very worthwhile investment if you choose to go add coding to your repertoire.

Why every designer should learn new skills and become irreplaceable.

The world is changing and designers need to adapt to stay relevant and smart. No email required