What does it take to emerge as a thought leader in the design community? By ‘thought leader’, I refer to an individual who can voice an opinion about design or designers that resonates, gets blogged about, retweeted, and sparks debates among thousands of professional designers and others in related fields.
We will delve into some common characteristics of such individuals and discuss ways you can potentially reach that stature.
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Excel as a Designer
Producing high-quality work is the primary key to becoming a leader in any industry, particularly in the design field. Your work should essentially speak for itself. No one will heed a designer whose work lacks quality. While not everyone may agree that your design solutions are the best for the problems you address, almost everyone can acknowledge a high-quality design when they see one.
The significance of this trait cannot be overstated. Designers can be a very discerning, highly critical group – it’s part of the job. Getting unanimous agreement that your work is “good” may never happen. However, they can concur that you’re a seasoned professional who is proficient in tools like Photoshop or Illustrator.
Mastering your craft and honing it to perfection is crucial if you aspire to lead others in the industry.
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To be heard, you need to be visible to others in the design world – not just within your specific niche, but anywhere your ideas can make an impact.
If you’re a web designer, this means print designers, software designers, product designers, and anyone else related to your industry should also be aware of you and able to engage with your ideas.
Strive to spread the word about yourself and get people talking about you. This could be through blogging, social media, or even going viral on YouTube.
Promoting yourself is a constant challenge that every designer could do more of, but it’s particularly crucial if you want to be a thought leader. If no one knows who you are, then your words will only matter to you. And perhaps your parents.
Your credibility as someone worth listening to is built on how accountable you are for your words. If you voice opinions anonymously and never respond to challenges to your ideas, people will notice, and at best, you’ll be ignored in the design world, or at worst, ridiculed.
This doesn’t mean you have to disclose every single thought you have on every topic. In fact, that’s likely an imprudent strategy if you’re trying to build a reputation as someone worth listening to. However, you should aim to own your ideas and make it clear to others that you can support and defend them if necessary.
Continually strive to raise the standard, not just with your work, but also with what you communicate to fellow designers. Once people recognize you as someone who always fosters engaging conversations, they will be inclined to participate and respect your ideas.
Have an Opinion
This is a given. If you don’t have any opinions about design or designers, or if you never express them, you’ll remain in obscurity.
It doesn’t matter if your opinion is controversial or even upsets some people – the design community needs to be continually challenged and introduced to new ideas for designers to maintain their “edge”. Even – no, especially – if those ideas provoke them or make them think.
As I mentioned earlier, designers can be judgmental and somewhat harsh at times. And honestly, you wouldn’t want it any other way. If the design community passively accepted every idea with equal regard, the quality of the designs being created would significantly decline.
Designers need some resistance for their ideas; constructive criticism makes youa stronger and more innovative designer. As a thought leader, when you voice a controversial opinion, designers will either strive to prove you right, or they’ll attempt to prove you wrong. Either way, they won’t remain idle.
Lastly, remember that becoming a thought leader in the design community is not an overnight process. It will take years of building your reputation and becoming widely recognized enough to not only be heard but also respected by your fellow designers. Remember, being an exceptional designer comes first, and everything else follows.