What do good designers have in common?

UK_ww2_fashion_designerSomeone asked me to describe the characteristics that all good designers have in common but I couldn’t go beyond platitudes such as “good communication”, “highly skilled”, “professionalism” and “no baggage”. Subjective answers like those aren’t helpful because these apply to any work situation. Hard definitions and qualities that can be measured within this context are needed.

For example, it is obvious that experienced and professional designers are easier to work with because they have experience but what is it about their experience that makes it easy? And what experience? It’s not so easy to answer while steering clear of circular logic. It has also become increasingly more difficult to answer in an era of increased job competition and the plethora of design degrees.

It would be greatly appreciated if you could -based on your experience of working as support staff or as a supervisor- describe core competencies and characteristics shared by good designers as concretely and thoughtfully as you can. Thanks so much!
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  1. Good designers have a point of view. They have the ability to observe the world, identify fabrications, silhouettes, colors, prints, textures and functionality demands in the marketplace. A good designer had a innate sense of what is coming next a designs their next line with the future in mind.

    A good designer understands fit, form and function and is able to communicate their imagined requirements in an articulate manner, so that pattern makers, technical designers, productions planners, and any other support staff are able to construct the design sketch and spec into apparel or products.

    A good designer knows how to navigate the ebb and flow of the creative process, meeting deadlines so the rest of the team has adequate time to accomplish their part of the process.

  2. Heather says:

    In my experience, the designers with a good amount of sewing knowledge are the best. They know how a garment goes together, what works and won’t work (most of the time).

  3. Rocio says:

    A good designer can:
    – Take responsibility for their decisions
    – Answer questions without getting defensive
    – Anticipate construction requirements to meet price points
    – Provide sketches that accurately convey proportion, dimensions and styling
    – Tell the difference between a style change and a technical change
    – Incorporate sales feedback into current developments
    – Recognise their technical limitations and give credit to those he/she turns to for guidance

  4. Kimmie Hart says:

    A great designer will understand fabrics. They would be able describe in detail, the characteristics of drape, cut, weave, and maintenance/cleaning requirements, etc of at least several 100s of different fabrics. A great designer would understand anatomy and anatomical ratios, as well as maintaining current knowledge of sizing trends and statistically common body types. A great designer can design for one size and recreate the same style in a variety of sizes and body types and make the design work well for each of them.

  5. Lisa says:

    Can I ask a supplementary question as the subject of experience came up and many of us don’t have that yet –

    What makes a good “newbie”?

  6. Donna Johnson says:

    A designer must be a leader, not a flaky emotional unpredictable wreck. Just like a professional athlete, the designers role is to go out every day and train doing whatever is required to get inspiration, come to work on time, inspire her teammates to do their best, and do everything she can to define and maintain her vision. In every company I have worked for designers have a certain status. A proper designer takes on the role of a leader who understands and embraces that role.

  7. As much experience in as many different areas as possible, certainly including sewing techniques (basic, theater, couture) and being able to build patterns.

    For the newbies wailing that they haven’t got their 10,000 hours in and don’t know where to start, start with whatever pulls you. Picking up any skill helps everything else.

    If you haven’t got work yet, use your time to make samples. Take classes. Learn your library resources. Hang out with groups with people at least as competent as you, and better if you can find them (be easy to get along with so they tolerate you). If you’re not being challenged, you’re not learning.

  8. Sally says:

    In addition to many of the above skills and qualities, I would say a good designer should have an ability to visualize 3 dimensionally. This used to be draping but now maybe it’s working with 3-D modeling.

  9. rama says:

    A good designer should be able to shorten then lifespan of the sampling process by identifying the way the design blends with respect to the fabric, drape, fit and production needs. it will help hit faster time lines.

  10. Bo Breda says:

    A good designer is a perpetual student, always learning more. There is no end to the techniques which can be inspirational, can broaden your range of skill. After 45 years as a professional textile and clothing designer, fashion design educator, and consultant to industry and publishers, I still take workshops even while teaching them in the next room. A good designer never sits on his past triumphs but looks to see new developments.

  11. Kathleen g says:

    ” Tell the difference between a style change and a technical change”

    as a newbie, i ask, what IS the difference?

    thank you

  12. Mary says:

    I agree with Rocio above and would add that a good designer is able to
    -mentor and teach their assistants so they can grow- I don’t know an assistant designer that would like to stay an assistant forever
    -work within the assortment plan/ design requirements/ capacity of the factories and price points- I once worked with a designer who told me that if the customer wanted a short sleeve shirt (according to the assortment plan) that they should just roll up their sleeves. Huh?
    -give credit and listen to technical design/ patternmaking/ product development that make their design come to life.

  13. Barb says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with Bo Breda, and I add that they should be a good listener too.
    -Listen to their sales and marketing team to understand the feedback from consumers.
    -Listen to their tech about how to best construct the style to fit, function, & feel good.
    -Listen to the marketing team to learn what they think the market will be receptive to.
    … The list goes on and on, but when all is said and done they must also remember to listen to their creative mind, to be true to their own sense of style and vision, while STILL taking into account and learning from all above. A designer who can do that will earn the respect and cooperation from their team. A good designer knows they will always benefit from having a good team to support them.

  14. Sarah_H. says:

    A good designer is one whose ideas sell and make a profit. Nothing else is essential. He/she can be knowledgeable or not, can be pleasant or a total (your favorite epitaph here). It doesn’t matter. If they sell, they are a good designer. If they do not sell, they are not a designer for long. One of the best designers I ever worked with almost sent me into a nervous breakdown before our company kindly parted us. But she probably was responsible for half the profit that company made that year. (Yes, I know, as her patternmaker I was partly responsible for that too.)

    I love all the thoughtful comments that have been made. I just thought I would throw a little contrary opinion into the mix.

  15. Karly says:

    Hmm… What a post! I think that a good designer must carry certain natural traits. As the above comments are all obvious answers that only scratch the surface. A good designer can work a specific task to the best of his or her ability. Every designer out there has experience in a specialized field of work. For example, you are going to hire a designer who is familiar with the type of work regarding your target audience. You wouldn’t so much want to hire a “Jack of all trades” kind of designer. Style is the utmost concern is finding the right designer. “If you’re corporate, choose a designer with a clean corporate aesthetic. If you’re going for an urban vibe (let’s say you’re starting the next great urban shoe craze), then choose a designer with an urban aesthetic.” [HT]

    A great designer is fully functional. Has a portfolio, as well as a plethora of designs, showcasing his or her work and training. I don’t believe you must have a degree to be considered a good designer. I think your designs should speak for themselves. A good designer is always learning something new, whether it be in the form of school or past mistakes. I think that a designer learns something new with every design that is created. An amazing designer takes an original and graphic approach to work. A fantastic designer knows what will work and what won’t work at the right place and time. A terrific designer knows the competition and is always striving to bring something new and authentic. A designer should not become generic. A designer should be comprehensive and should never copy or steal another artists work.

    If you are that good of a designer, people should be able to take one look at something you have created and know that it was you. That’s when I think you know that you’ve “made it”. There are so many elements to design I could probably talk about it forever. You must be able to make decisions and choose what you want to master. A designer must have a passion for design! Some designers cannot afford to go to college to maintain a degree. Some designers are self-taught and they learn on their own. Some designers have no experience so they have to create it for themselves!

    A good designer is open-minded and works within a reasonable criteria.
    -Can influence the audience in a given context
    -Knows the when and the why
    -Adaptable with a number of interfaces
    -A problem solver
    -Considers all available options

    There are so many ways to look at it. This website explains the outlook differently than I do: http://www.wikihow.com/Become-a-Fashion-Designer

  16. Lisa says:

    Really appreciate all of the responses and the different perspectives. I have to admit a little “squee” for Sarah_H’s response. As a sales exec in my current life I act as a bridge between the customer and my company and I’m very aware of how important it is to be customer-centric, at the same time knowing how important the “back-end” is to the total customer experience.

  17. Dara says:

    I would stay that good designers have drive and editing ability. Anyone can spit out a design on paper in a few minutes or draft a pattern in an hour or two, it seems to take a sort of stubborn focus to see things though successfully and understand why or why your design was not successful in the first place. If you can hear real criticism about your work and learn from it then you can edit and grow. Otherwise, you’ll go through 20-30 years of selling crap and wondering why no one wants to buy it. These are the most depressing people for me to deal with. Designers who are in their late 40s or 50s still waiting for their big break, but unwilling to hear feedback beyond themselves on how they need to grow. It’s as if they wasted their whole lives because they were unable to objectively see their work.

  18. Andrew says:

    I believe a good designer is someone who let’s their inner child be inspired by the world (ART). Then they design, sketch, pick fabrics, etc. with the outer adult (Commerce). Fashion is commercial art. Great designs meet somewhere in the middle in my opinion.

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