2 min read

A comprehensive, well considered list of things designers simply can’t do.

A weird question came across the Dear Design Student desk recently: “What are some things (if any) that designers are incapable of?”

My immediate reaction was, “nothing?!” Why would anyone seek to define limitations to someone’s capabilities? I grew up in a community that assumed anyone from fifty miles out was better, smarter, and more successful. That point-of-view sucks and it took me decades to understand that it’s simply not true.

That said, after giving the question more consideration within the context of my experiences as a designer, I uncovered more than a handful of things designers are incapable of doing.

Things Designers Simply Can’t Do, The List

  • Designers are incapable of fixing your disaster in a fraction of the time and of the budget that it took to create the problem in the first place. If you want a miracle call the Pope.
  • Designers are incapable of reading minds. When they present work to you, speak up and provide constructive, useful feedback. Share user and/or sales data that can help inform creative and user experience decisions. In short, be professional and stop playing stupid mind games with your designers.
  • Designers are incapable of delivering their best work for free. Stop asking designers to waste their time and your’s through the creation of misinformed, misguided comps as a way to help you make a hiring decision. Look for results and recommendations — good designers will have both in spades.
  • Designers are incapable of doing their job when they are art directed by someone without any design sensibility. I’m talking to all of the CEOs, Presidents, VPs…anyone who feel they know better. Take your misguided OCD malfunction and direct it towards HR.
  • Designers are incapable of learning if they are not nurtured. Invest in your designers through continuing education opportunities. Start with a modest book budget, time off for related community events, and throw in an annual conference.
  • Designers are incapable of working well with developers and engineers if they can’t collaborate. Throwing work back and forth over a fence never produces great results. So stop doing it. Designers and developers should work side-by-side (that doesn’t have to mean cheek-to-cheek, there are plenty of ways to work collaboratively remotely).
  • Designers are incapable of helping to take your company to the “next level” when they are directed to copy what the competition is doing. And, holy hell, stop asking designers to “just do what Apple does.”
  • Designers are incapable of creating “tomorrow’s future.” I heard that from a client once and it still makes me want to reach through the phone and smack them upside the head. So stupid. Stick to the fundamentals of good design paired with good data, user insights, and creative freedom.
  • Designers are incapable of being happy with their work when they are micro-managed. Just, stop micro managing. It probably kills babies or something.
  • Designers are incapable of coming to work excited, energized, and ready to deliver amazing work when they are merely asked to color in wireframes or make whatever engineering cooked up look “good.”
  • Designers are incapable of growing if they don’t read, write, and share their thoughts with the community. Give your designer time to do these things and require outcomes on a regular basis.
  • Designers are incapable of saving the world with design. We have a lot of problems and challenges on this planet that are not going to be fixed by an iOS app. Sure, design has a role to play in working towards a better future, but we’re not going to do it alone. Sorry FastCompany.

Each of these points was written based upon a lot of career experience earned the hard way over the last twenty-plus years. There are a lot of bad expectations out there regarding the design trade. That said, if you treat designers right, they can be capable of a lot. Give them the proper support, a collaborative environment, the freedom to do their job, and then prepare to be pleasantly surprised.