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A Hard Look at the Softer Side of Design (and Why it Matters)

Let’s not beat around the bush. In today’s job market, soft skills are important. We all want to work with people who have valuable soft skills. And as a designer, it’s important to build a project strategy around those soft skills so your design doesn’t end up working against you.

Problem solving, adaptability, collaboration, and teamwork — those are soft skills printed on sloth posters in your dentist’s office. The soft skills that designers want hanging next to that sloth are things like copy, microcopy, and design application.

So why exactly are these soft skills so important? Allow me to explain how they can make you a better designer, collaborator, and editor.

Copy // Microcopy

Great design can tell a story, but even the best design can benefit from a little help from what the ancients referred to as “the written word.” No copy can leave your audience confused, and bad copy can completely ruin otherwise good design.

Sure, sentences are easy to overlook when they’re just swaths of Lorem Ipsum, but replace those with grammatically incorrect nonsense and suddenly the tone of your well thought-out design is completely thrown out the window.

Even microcopy can change the tone of your design. This example from Hubspot is a great example of how microcopy can transform even a straightforward input box into a thread of their brand story.

Wordy, fluff-filled, or poorly structured copy can all undermine good design. So when adding copy and microcopy to your site, make sure it checks the following boxes:

  1. It reinforces the brand (even if it’s just filler for an input box),
  2. It builds trust trust with your audience
  3. It succinctly communicates your point
  4. It’s written in a consistent voice
  5. It’s grammatically correct

The Application // Environment

The app you designed may look great on a computer, but 90% of your users are viewing it from their phones. Unfortunately, most design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The habitat in which the design will coexist should help to inform the design. Thinking in terms of both where your design will appear and how a user will interact with it should be the starting point of any good design.

Before you start a project, think where, when, and how your design will be used. Are you designing for usability on a computer or a mobile experience? Regardless, you’ll want to change your design assets so that they work for the environment in which your design will live.

Take, for example, the Apple Watch. There’s a reason Apple implements round icons in their watch instead of square. According to this post from HowToDesign, circles allow “ the ability to have more points adjacent to your finger at the same distance when touching the screen. With squares, the path to the next item would be variable and there would be a smaller limit to the number of items you could fit around a touch point.” Not to mention, square icons can also be more easily clustered together in a tight space.

Designing in a vacuum can lead to design that’s hard-to-use, or even worse, completely useless. Before you build anything, take time to think about the greater universe in which the end result will live.

Call to Action // Purpose

Without CTAs, you might as well be throwing your good design down the toilet (in my delicate point of view). CTAs put your design to work. There is, however, a fine line between gently guiding your user in the right direction and hitting them over the head so hard that you send them into a coma of inactivity from which they never return.

Make sure you’re putting your calls to action in the correct stage of a user’s interaction so they always understand the context of your ask. Take Netflix’s homepage, for instance. Instead of a button that just says “Join” or “Sign Up”, the user is positioned with an opportunity and clearly asked to “Join Free for a Month.” Here, the action, “Join” is coupled with a benefit “Free for a Month,” which incentivizes their audience to click through.

When adding CTAs, here are a few things to avoid:

  1. Vague language
  2. Too many asks
  3. Asking too soon (before you’ve made a case for value)

Good design doesn’t just mean finding the right balance of colors and shapes. Soft skills go beyond those we’ve covered here. What are some of your favorite soft skills and how do they make your design work harder?