Communication Skills

Hello everyone,

A quick intro - I am a second year ID student. I’ve known about this board for a while and have been reading a few threads that interest me for the past couple days…

Now, the reason why I’m posting is because I have a question. This might be an unusual question so I’m not sure what kind of answers to expect but here it goes…

This is something I’ve been suspecting for a while but recently it’s become more and more clear that a strong communication skill is essential for ID… it’s not all about making pretty renders and coming up with smart solutions to problems. And after going through a few assignments and projects this year, it’s pretty clear to me that my verbal communication skills… well, frankly suck. i admit it. This is kind of dorky and I feel embarrassed to say but I guess I’m just one of those shy people who aren’t very good with communicating and socializing with others.

My technical design skills, on the other hand, are coming along nicely and I feel comfortable with where I’m at (relative to my peers), although that’s not to say I’m satisfied because I know I still have a long way to go in this area too. But really I see my communication skills to be seriously lacking and I’m not so sure what I can do to turn this around.

I know that leaving positive impressions in interviews are critical for landing a job in this field (and getting along with the design team afterwards) and my lack of communication skill leaves me pretty worried to say the least.

So I have two separate questions about this:

  1. How do you (you can be honest) feel about people who have poor verbal communication & socializing skills in the ID field? Would you be willing to hire/work with them if they have solid technical skill sets? Do you think that ID is for them in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong… I love ID and am committed to doing whatever I can in order to work as an ID professional in the future regardless of the answers.

  1. What can I do to change things up? I’m considering maybe taking a communications 101 class or something, although that idea is a little frightening :blush: . What else will help? Did someone else here go through a similar experience by any chance?

I hope someone can give me some feedback.

Thanks for reading.

Communication is important, so it’s good that you’re thinking about it now, and it’s early so you have plenty of time to work those things out. If you’re uncomfortable talking in front of people, that is something you just have to work on despite the awkward feeling. You should take a public speaking/communications class, they force you to get up and give presentations.

Do you have a job outside of school? It sounds funny but I worked retail while I was in college to help pay the bills and it helped me be more confident when I spoke to people I didn’t know, and when I was a retail manager I got to interview people and that helped me eventually when I was on professional interviews after school. Good luck, and just keep at it.

I can definitely relate to this, I’m think I have a similar personality. I often was torn apart during class critiques and found that the product/process was only as good as my verbal and presentation skills. I would spend all of my time designing up until the last minute and then build a presentation the last night; since communication wasn’t my strength everything generally came out as a jumbled mess. For me the only solution was to spend a lot more time figuring out the presentation, story, and flow and to practice running through it. I suppose its just like sketching or modeling, gotta keep practicing until you’re comfortable (which I’m still not yet) :smiley:

Good questions. It is not easy to be critical of yourself, and asking these things is difficult to do. To answer your questions:

  1. honestly, no. I need my team to be efficient and effective communicators and story tellers to help convince internal and external clients to take risks on more disruptive design. I need them to play nice together to build better ideas.

  2. there is a lot you can do. No one is asking you to be comfortable, when I get up in front of a few hundred people to speak, I get still get nervous. But I’ve learned to cope. The biggest thing that helped was I took an acting class. Take an acting class, a public speaking class, and a comedy improv class and I you will for sure improve.

You don’t have to be perfect, but you need to be good enough to get by, and the higher you climb in the industry, the more you will need it.

Have a beer before your presentation :wink:

And all of the above will help to.

Also I’ve noticed students who where active in a youth movement as a kid have better communicating skills than the ones who weren’t. A little late for that but just a remark.



Solid communication skills are critical, and as you’ve found in your critiques it may be the difference in swaying your audience toward your design, rather than letting them tear it apart.

I’d honestly suggest taking a speech class, or some other communication class. Once you learn how to organize your thoughts prior to presenting, you’ll go in with a bit more confidence. Combine that with easing your fears of public speaking, and you’ll be on your way. I took several communications classes in school, and each time there were 1 or 2 people who were very shy and nervous, but by the end of the class they had no problem speaking up.

It will be a good move for you to take the class, and because you’re asking about it means you’ve got the initiative already.

Communication skills are critical. In fact, as a designer, they form the basis of the majority of our tools (sketching, rendering, etc. are all communication skills that translate an idea from your head to someone else).

Verbal communication skills are also key as more often than not they are the one medium that everyone can understand (ie. not all people can read a sketch or understand a concept rendering).

It’s great that you’ve noticed areas in which you need to improve. This is the first step in improving. I’d second all the advice given so far. Working retail is a great way. Essentially in communicating a concept, you are selling it. If you can sell someone else’s concept (a product), you will understand how to better sell your own. The big part of selling your idea is not only translating what is in your head or sketch and telling someone about it, but also in understanding what the other person wants to hear or what is important to them. This is key. It can be as simple as using phrases that your client has given to you (ie. if they say they want a design that is “minimal”, not only should your design be minimal, but you should describe it that way), or how you tell the story. A good presentation/communication is storytelling. It’s not just describing the design/features, etc., but making a compelling case for WHY it is the way it is.

I always make sure the people I hire on my team are good communicators. This usually means they can speak well, but also that they can listen. Communication is a two way process.

Communicating and socializing however I think are different. I know many designers that are great at socializing, the life of a party, but can’t make a coherent presentation to save their life. Likewise good communicators who are shy why not in front of a group making a presentation. FWIW, I’d say the communication/presentation skills are important, but the socializing not as much so. Not that you should be a recluse, but you don’t need to be an Alpha personality to be a good communicator.


I’ve seen a lot of ID & product development people with marginal communication skills drift into a “CAD monkey” role instead of growing into a bigger presence in the company. Having said that, some people just don’t want to climb the ladder and are happy “on the board” (as we use to say back in the day…).

Communication skills are extremely important in ID because you’re always selling concepts to someone (internal or external). We’re all just idea peddlers - some better than others.

Everyone has had some great advice and encouragement here, but I will say that the retail sales idea is great, especially if you can get in somewhere that offers sales training. Our organization has a large sales force and a few years back they had the design group attend the sales presentation course, it was hugely beneficial. It was a little weird because they would tape our presentation and then play it back for critique, but that technique really works.

We also learned in the training that more people fear public speaking than death, but honestly i’ve grown to really enjoy it, being able to share your thoughts and ideas with a whole group of people in person can be a really rewarding experience. Good on you for recognizing it is something you need to work on, it is definitely not something to fear.

I used that one last week… and had to explain what it meant. We don’t have any drawing boards…

I can relate to what you are feeling. I was in a similar situation my sophomore year. I was confident but not at all outspoken. I was easily overwhelmed speaking in front of people (especially in a critical setting!)

I joined our college “theater group” It was small, social, filled with people from other majors I had never really interacted with before. We met once a week for a half hour of improv and an hour of practice. We put on two shows that year and I had NEVER acted, been in or considered being in a play or stage performance before. It gave me a great excuse to switch gears and force myself to get out of the studio / model shop once per week and also helped tremendously in the communication dept. I made a few friends too. I would highly recommend it. If you don’t have a “just for fun” group to join, start an improv group yourself. Its a lot of fun.

I’m going to take a slightly different tack than the rest.

Maybe its because I have a soft spot for the “geeks” of the world…I am one…I just happen to be a confident and demonstrative one.

Really, you have to figure out what your goals are. There is a place for someone with killer creative skills but no communication skills. But, the truth of the matter is…i will be sticking you in the back room, cranking out your brilliant ideas and letting someone on the team be the face of those brilliant ideas.

The company you work for, or even worse, the individual above you (Creative Director, company president…whoever) will be taking credit for all your work. Some people can be comfortable with that. They know they did the work, so that is enough.

Now, when it comes right down to it, you’re asking this question because you want to make sure you get your work out there. That tells me that deep down you’re wanting credit for those long hours of being a sketch God cranking out brilliant ideas. ANYONE can be a better speaker, you just need to envision it, believe it, then do it.

This is a good point, just getting a job is only the first part, communication skills will help you move forward in your career. Employers want their designers to be able to be engaging, and not a afraid to speak up. After my first year I thought I was doing pretty well, but the biggest thing my boss wanted me to improve on was communicating new ideas.

By the way, does talking trash playing Call of Duty on XBOX360 count as practicing communication? That may actually be regression.

Only if your job consists of screaming “NOOB” at everyone who isn’t on your team.

funny…I always scream “NURB”!

Only if your job consists of screaming “NOOB” at everyone who isn’t on your team.

You are on to something here. Approach it like a design problem in need of a solution.

Thank you all for taking your time to write a response.

It’s great to hear opinions from different perspectives and there were some interesting points made (working retail, good communicator vs. good socializer, etc) and definitely encouraging to hear that some of you struggled at the same thing and moved forward from it.

Right now my plan of attack is to apply for ID internships in the area and if I get any interviews, try to learn as much from those interviews. If I’m lucky then maybe I will get some offers… who knows? otherwise, I will look into working at a retail store for the summer. I worked at a fast food joint once and even through the small amount of interaction with customers there, I definitely saw a change in my attitude after a while so I know that working retail is a great idea.

After summer I will enroll in a communications class or two… Might as well make the electives count if I have to take them anyways, right?

And then i will see how I’m feeling by the time next summer comes around…

Once again thanks to all of you for the feedback. I know I only have room to improve so I am hopeful.

funny you mention Fast Food. Believe it or not, I was an extremely shy kid. My first glimpse of how I could be came when I got a job as a cashier at McDonalds at 16. I worked different retail and catering side jobs until I graduated college, and I think it definitely helped me learn how to speak with people and understand them a bit more.

Well here I am, four years later.

There hasn’t been a day where I’ve forgotten about this thread (really!). It really was meaningful to me. I’m still the same quiet person, but a more confident one. I’m now happily employed at one of my dream jobs I’ve had at the time I made this thread and the first day at work felt surreal.

Since I made this thread, I took a public speaking class which helped immensely. I’ve also realized during the following school years that my opinions weren’t “stupid”. I was able to naturally build up enough courage to speak up and present my opinion when I wanted to. I guess lack of confidence was another major thing that was holding me back. After graduating, I’ve had several job interviews and I feel I was able to present myself and my work fairly well.

So anyway, I just thought I’d provide an update and thank everyone again. Your advice really meant something to the young and unconfident designer I once was :wink: To tell you the truth, though, I’m still not very good at giving presentations unless I prepare well in advance. I’m going to continue to work on improving in this area. Maybe there will be another update in another 4-5 years… :smiley:

Hey May07, thanks for checking back in! Great to read the above.

On presentations, it takes a long time for each person to refine their own style. It has taken me years. While in general I seem very calm, confident, and slightly jokingly cavalier, on the inside I’m just as terrified and nervous as I was 15-20 years ago. The difference is I have prepared and practiced and given so many presentations that I have the confidence to plow through and know I am doing OK even though I have those pangs of doubt all through the presentation. Having done it so many times I have also lost the memorized speech part and am able to ad-lib, shorten where needed, expand where needed depending on the read of the audience. All that comes with time.

I has a speech instructor who recommended to convince yourself that the butterfly feeling of anxiety is actually excitement. It works to a degree, at least enough. Another tip I got from another presentation class I took while at Nike is to video record yourself and then force yourself to watch the playback. It is painful, but you will notice stuff you do that you never realized and if you do it a few times you will see yourself get a lot better.

Anyway, congratulations on getting to be who you want to be. It is a process, focus on progress not perfection.