–What it takes to be a Badass Designer and Change the World
18 minute read
There are “Baddies” on many different levels and even playing fields. It makes sense that you’d find plenty of baddies in the world of design.
These are designers with skills and accomplishments that we look up to and admire because they seem to effortlessly “slay” both the brief and the competition.
They are put together and they keep their s##t together, too.
More importantly, these total badasses know what they want and they go after it!
Does this sound anything like you?
Regardless of how you answered that question, just know that you can get closer to becoming a “baddie” just by deciding that you want to be a Baddie.
It’s the easiest design club to get into.
How many clubs do you know that you can get into just by deciding to be in them?
Here’s the catch.
This starts out as a one person club.
You’re the Baddie.
You’re a force of nature! You got started being a Baddie on the day that you realized that you wanted to be a designer and that you weren’t going to let anyone get in the way of your dream.
After your initial commitment, so long as you’re headed in the right direction and with a plan of action, you’ve practically got this!
The Call to Design
Can you remember when you first learned about the world of design? Did it feel, then, like a whole new life was opening up to you?
Do you remember when you first got excited about the possibly being able to do something like design for a living?
Have you come a way since that time, but you still feel the same way about design as you did when it was all new?
We all feel ‘called’ to different paths, and if design is your path, you will know what I mean.
What is a ‘Design Baddie’?
A Designer with Focus
What then is a “design baddie“?
A design baddie is any designer (or soon-to-be-designer!) who is serious about becoming the best designer they can be.
This type of person is usually also clear on the reasons that being a designer is important to them.
Design is Badass
“Design baddies” could be any type of designer, all the way from UX and UI design to fashion and graphic design or architecture. They might also kick ass in some other arena, unrelated to design.
On this blog we are partial to interior design, but we have a healthy respect for and celebrate all designers, and indeed to all motivated people who work toward their dreams!
You could say that we believe that designers are a ‘unique breed’.
Qualities of Design Baddies
A design baddie might not have reached a level of ultimate success yet, but they know what they want and they are on their way to getting it.
Design baddies can be found across design disciplines and in different spheres, but they share some characteristics with other design baddies.
When applied, these qualities of a design “baddie” produce high quality designers who are poised to, or indeed, already do excellent design work.
They might even have a hand in shaping the future world of design!
How to Be a Design Baddie
What follows is my list of the traits or habits that all design baddies should have if they want to be successful and totally ‘kill it‘ in the world of design.
You’ll notice that it’s not about what school you go to or what part of the industry you happen to choose or even who you work for.
9 Points to Help You Become the Best Designer You Can Be
Being a great designer requires the requisite design skills.
However, outside of that, being a design baddie is understanding which overarching factors are most important to becoming the best version of a designer that you can.
It also has nothing to do with specific programs, systems or software skills, and has everything to do with your larger focus.
Think of the list which follows as offering clues to creating a personal design manifesto.
1. Always Be Learning
Guard Your Creative Spark
If “always be closing” is the best strategy on Wall Street, it’s not really the same in the world of design.
Yes, selling yourself and your work is something every designer should be doing, but it absolutely shouldn’t be your sole focus.
I don’t think focusing primarily on sales is good for any creative endeavor and here’s why:
You have limited energy and that energy should be spent on doing the best work you can do.
By all means, hire a marketer and do your client prospecting, but way more important than that is your focus on becoming a better designer every day.
The Future is Now
Designers should always be learning. Why?
The most important reason to keep learning is because the world and the industry are both changing really fast.
This is due to recent world events, as well as continued progress in technology.
Designers need to keep learning to stay relevant, true.
But the biggest unseen reason may be that we need to effect some serious change in our industry.
We need to start designing for a healthier environment for ourselves and for the planet.
-To do something which has never been done before requires new skills to do it.
-We will need to design with new tools and know how to use them to best avail.
-We must stay ahead of the curve, because as designers we are out on the leading edge of it.
The Times, They Are A-Changing
The need for good design will always be with us.
But how designers practice design and the tools we use to design might change.
-Do you love design enough to stick with it even when it goes into uncharted territory?
-Do you still want to be a designer even if the way you work changes over time?
Design for the Future
Hate to break it to you, but if your answer was no, you should probably find a new profession.
The industry is changing because it needs to change.
It will evolve the way everything eventually does.
With or without you.
A design baddie rolls with the punches.
I’ll say it again.
ALWAYS BE LEARNING.
Don’t settle, don’t stagnate.
Don’t keep doing the same things because they are safe and they work for now.
The rewards waiting for the designers of the future will only come to those who are willing to take on some measured risk.
2. Diversify Your Skill Set
Up-Skill Your Design Skills
A great designer can create a great design with nothing but a napkin and a ball point pen.
In order to be competitive, however, a great designer is going to need some avant-garde knowledge, skills and also resources under their command.
To be great designers we don’t need to chase after each new ‘shiny object‘. That is, each and every new app or piece of tech we come across.
What we do need to do is make sure that we cover all of our bases and have a smooth workflow when it comes to our design work.
Learn the Job Before You Outsource the Job
You can specialize in the aspects of design you’re best at and outsource certain tasks by hiring specialists to do them, but as a design baddie, you should be able to pick up where your specialists leave off from time to time!
At the very least, you should understand the basics of what it is you’re asking somebody else to do, even if it is only the broad strokes.
Ideas for Staying in the Design Loop
-Do your research about new apps, tools and strategies in your design field.
-Get a business coach or mentor.
-Join a mastermind group.
-Read industry magazines, including those of the building industry and the trades which support your services.
-Interact with the design community in your preferred social hangouts.
Acquire some new knowledge or skill in an area only slightly related to design such as furniture restoration, antiques, handcrafts, the fine arts or architectural design.
It doesn’t have to be strictly related either.
Think data analysis, NFT creation, or 3D printing.
You never know know when something you learn will combine with your existing skill set to give you new ideas and insight to possibilities.
‘Cross-pollination’ is how greatness happens.
Keep an open mind.
3. Practice Drawing (and Basically, Don’t Ever Stop!)
Make Friends with Paper and Graphite
Physical drawing allows for another layer of communication that can’t be substituted with verbal communication, or even other types of graphics or writing.
Drawing is such an immediate brain-to-hand activity that it has a rawness and freshness to it that the best render could not compete with.
I’m talking about the ability that a few lines marked out with a pencil or sharpie can have to evoke emotion, movement and form.
The Immediacy of Drawing Supports Creativity
All good design begins with some sketching.
You don’t have to be an artist.
You don’t have to be able to convey entire picture-perfect schemes by hand.
You just need to be able to communicate your ideas on paper quickly.
The Architectural Imagination
Architects are traditionally taught the foundations of drawing perspectives as well as technical drawings. This is important to the design side of their job.
I swear, my love for design was born from looking through a book of architectural sketches
Those first lines sketching out a brand new idea may one day be realized as an entire system, a development, a building or the interior of one.
It all starts in the seed of that sketch.
It starts as an idea.
So, what you are waiting for, you design baddie?
Get drawing and practice drawing every chance you get.
Drawing is a fundamental part of the design process and helps every designer think better, whatever their later process.
4. Be Fluid with 2D and 3D
A designer by definition makes plans, or blueprints.
Plans convey layers of information about a building’s material composition, its structure, layout and systems.
Plans are created and used in two dimensional format, because this is the clearest way to ascertain measurements and determine right angles.
Plans can take time to learn to read and be comfortable with.
Many designers find them trying, or at the very least, tedious at times. However, when you start to become more fluent in reading plans, you will actually start to enjoy them.
Personally, I found it cool when I could tell the difference between a good plan and a bad one when I came across them ‘in the wild’.
I was able to do this because I’d been observing plans well before this.
Study the Master Plan
When I was studying construction as part of my interior design diploma course I took the time to collect a lot of examples of different types of plans.
The idea came from my tutor for the construction unit. He felt there was tremendous value in looking at the work of skilled drafts persons.
My tutor tasked me with studying the plans of as many different trades (engineering, construction, architecture and interior design) as I could find.
I followed his advice and I’m glad that I did.
Truth in Drafting
Comparing the different ways of creating plans as well as paying attention to what needed to be included, where and how was a lot to take in!
As I looked at examples across individuals, professions and trades, I was able to make out what was the basic, essential “truth” of drafting that needed always be present.
It also gave me a good appreciation for the beauty of a well-drafted plan.
Before computer modeling, architects and interior designers would make physical models to scale out of cardboard, balsa wood, styrofoam and sandwich board.
This helped them to visualize the space as it will actually appear in the real, three dimensional world we inhabit on the daily.
In the product world a physical model would be called a prototype.
While we don’t really use these physical models as much as we once did, it is still a great idea to create a physical model as a project at least once.
You’ll learn a lot from it.
3D is Better for Concepts
While designers and drafts people know their 2D plan game like the back of their hand, a lot of ordinary people are confused by plans and don’t always understand what they’re looking at or what it means.
It would be asking a bit much to expect the average person to guess what the plan would materialize into later, simply by staring at a flat, two dimensional drawing.
This is where conversion to a more useful type of visual aid becomes necessary.
We need the more life-like three dimensional version.
Two and Three-Dimensional Integration
Today we have digital, three-dimensional drafting programs which are able to convert a model’s view to show photo-realistic finishes or to output construction drawings.
Make sure that you are able to do each of these tasks separately and do an entire project all the way through at least once or twice for the experience.
Don’t worry, it’s like learning to ride a bike 😉
Digital tools make a designer’s job incredibly easy if we know how to harness the technology.
A ‘design baddie’ should be fluent in both two and three dimensions and be able to move between them easily.
This ‘moving between’ requires imagination.
This type of imagination is a trained and very powerful imagination.
A “design imagination“.
And you guessed it: Developing yours makes you a total badass.
5. Don’t Wait to Start Designing
Learn by Doing
This might seem counter-intuitive at first.
If design is a life-long pursuit and includes a lot of special skills and processes, shouldn’t we wait until we “know everything” and are sure we fully grasp the theory before we start designing anything?
Not at all.
I believe that creative work (and most skill-based work!) is best learned by doing.
I made myself miserable a few times by going through an hour long introduction to a new program and learning where each tool was located and what they were for.
Halfway through I was starting not to want to learn this new program.
As an ADD type, I am much better off just grabbing the reins and starting to try to create something, mistakes, stupid errors, do-overs and all.
Believe me, you will never be so motivated to learn something as when it becomes 100 percent necessary.
You will learn it when you’re ‘forced‘ to!
The same applies to interior design projects.
Take on some small projects early on, even if it’s just doing a bedroom for a family member. Apply everything you know about the design process, whatever your current level.
You will build knowledge, skills and confidence through doing, and you will learn a lot about the process of working with a ‘client‘.
Study and deconstruct interiors you admire and pay equal attention to those you hate.
-If you were asked to redo that interior, how would you go about fixing it?
-What would you recommend?
-What would you change and how?
-Can you explain why with sound reasoning?
Shut Up and Design
These are great mental exercises and will get you thinking like the force of nature that you as a designer actually are (or should be!).
Your job is literally to make the world a better place.
Get out there and start doing it!
6. Pay Homage to the ‘Sisters’ of Interior Design
Just when you thought that your specialization of design was all you had to learn, you will eventually come to understand this:
Other design disciplines, culture, technology, sociology and even psychology are more interconnected with our own design practices than we first realize.
The ‘Holy Trinity’ of Interior Design
For me, the “Holy Trinity” are, a) the visual and fine arts, b) architecture and c) interior design. For other people, their holy trinity might be engineering, math or pr
Learning about the ‘sisters of interior design‘ will help you to be a better interior designer, so pay attention to them (especially their history and current technological advances)!
(Next on my list of expanding interests is urban planning and landscape architecture, and maybe some real estate development.
Hey, always be learning!
The history of the interior of buildings is tied firmly to developments in culture and art.
It began with early civilizations like that of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and gathered momentum through classical Greek and Roman times, leading up to the Renaissance.
The patrons as well as the Greats of these eras were involved in everything from frescoes (murals) and sculpture (hello, Michelangelo and Raphael!) to the design of villas, palaces and places of worship.
More than a few stone cutters, sculptors and painters of the Renaissance also went on to become designers who rocked the world.
Art Movements Tie into Design
With the Renaissance out of the way (because we can never have an art history crash course discussion without it), we come to the later Baroque and Neoclassical periods.
These late classical periods which predated the modern era are each famous for their art movements, and things only get more exciting when you reach the Age of Enlightenment.
This period had a profound effect on bringing on the industrial revolution (manufactured goods for the home!) and with it modernism and the backlash against modernism.
Something that we still see in design trends today!
I could keep yakking on about why you should understand the major art movements and social movements which surrounded them in order to understand interior design better today.
Suffice it to say that we still see a lot of the influence of history in the world of interiors today!
These days to be a design baddie you need to understand at least the basics of fine art and craftsmanship.
You also need to understand how these fields are changing as we see continued integration with digital assets.
Interior design’s big brother.
Interior design is really part decorating, part environmental engineering, and part interior architecture.
Where I live, interior design is taught by the department of architecture and is considered a specialization of architecture.
There is much less focus on furniture and decor and styles, and more on the built-in elements.
To be a real baddie, interior designers should expand their scope to the architectural elements so far as they are trained to do.
Architects, too, should work on refining their understanding of the interior design needs of their buildings.
Both disciplines can learn a lot from one another.
7. Commit to Sustainability
See the Need for Change
Saying that we are a “baddie” implies that we have some back bone and that we stand for something.
There is little that is more important for a designer to stand up for than for the health of the planet and the sustainability of materials and resources.
The fact that we learn so much about this in design school and we understand the problems with the industry and with consumption in general means that we are liable for how we choose to act with regard to sustainability.
Get on the right side of history. Enough said.
If you’d like to know more about this topic, you can read, “The Interior Designer’s Ecological Responsibilities“.
8. Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone
Learn from Elon Musk
Elon Musk once said that we should approach problems to which we think we have the answers with the assumption that we are wrong.
This is how first principles thinking works.
The onus is then on us to prove that we are right.
As designers we should have a special appreciation for this “proving” part.
At times, though, our design methods might require an overhaul. Whenever we’ve been doing something the same way for too long we invariably settle into a rut in our work or our approach to design.
When this happens we start to stagnate.
Never a good thing for anyone, but especially not for a designer.
Every project is unique and should be approached with an open mind. What worked last time can’t automatically be applied to this time.
The magic of discovery through the design process is what makes design both creative pursuit and also science.
But the person with the best logic is never as free to be brilliant as the person who is also open to discovery.
Get out of your comfort zone and try new things, even if you think you will hate them.
Take a Leaf From Tadao Ando’s Book
Experience and being open to life both work in harmony to make us better designers.
Just ask the brilliant Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who got his start learning self discipline as an exhibition boxer and then took interior design classes before traveling the world in preparation for starting his architecture practice.
Despite the fact that he never officially went to school for architecture, Ando’s story is the perfect example of a determined designer who knew what he wanted and understood his path to getting there.
It’s different for all of us.
Find what moves you and get comfortable with being uncomfortable from time to time.
That’s how you’ll know you’re learning.
Your dreams should scare you.
If they don’t, you need bigger dreams.
9. Build the Future
It Starts with You
There’s really only one point to any of this and I hope that if you stuck with me this far that you are starting to see it.
To be a designer is a calling.
To be a design baddie is to answer that call and rise to the challenge.
You are tasked with becoming the best designer you can be.
However it is that you want to practice design and whatever it is that excites you about design, I invite you to think a little bigger.
Find your why and start a movement right where you live.
Food for Thought
Design gives you the tools to build a better world.
-What will you do with your power?
-What will you build ?
-What will you change?
-In what way will the world be a better place because you practiced design?
Find Your Design Heroes
We can’t all be Raphael, William Morris, Clodagh, Philippe Starck, Tadao Ando or Elon Musk.
That’s not the point.
Find the designers and world changers that you admire and start to connect the dots.
It starts and it ends with you.
Wake up every day knowing that you are a Design Baddie and keep moving that needle forward.
One day people like us will change the world.
If you haven’t read “So, You Want to Be an Interior Designer?” you can find it here: