Professional Foundation
Professional Foundation
Professional Foundation

Introducing the New Creative: 9 skills you need to make it in design

Created Team

If you’re thinking of joining the creative industries, or your creative career is already in full swing, this article is for you. We explore the 9 career skills that you can’t afford to avoid if you’re serious about thriving in an industry that’s always in flux, where the future of many roles is uncertain. Get on board with these 9 core skills now, and you’ll be in the camp of those who make it.

After hours of interviews here are the foundations of the 21st century commercial creative in the words of Framestore, Mainframe, The Mill, BBC Creative, Motion Hatch, and ETC, we present you with the skills that every commercial creative needs….

Image of our industry ready skill set
Laurence Honderick
Above: Laurence Honderick, Head of Design at BBC Creative

1. Self – Leadership

So often, designing is about teamwork, but taking responsibility for your own journey is just as important. That’s why knowing what you need to achieve your goals, embracing opportunities to learn and recognising when to ask for support is a top priority for anyone looking to get to the top.


My role is to find great human beings. I’m not just looking for a good designer, I’m looking for a well-rounded individual. Someone who is aware of their strengths and weaknesses, they’re realistic about their abilities and know when and where to ask for support and when to give it.

Laurence Honderick
Head of Design at BBC Creative
Above: Adam Jenns, Founder and Creator of Mainframe & Cavalry

2. Adaptability

This is all about attitude. Natural talent won’t get you those dream projects: you’ve got to understand the changing nature of the creative industry, switch your approach to match new situations and environments and tailor your skills to new briefs and audiences in a positive way.

One of the key skills we’re looking for is adaptability. No two projects that come through the door are the same, so we need our artists to be able to shift between styles and techniques as the projects dictate.

Adam Jenns
Founder and Executive Producer at Mainframe
Above: Paul Dixon, Motion Designer & Director

3. Emotional Intelligence

We’ve all met some divas, sorry, ‘artistic temperaments’ in our time. Don’t be one of them. Without being a robot, you need to manage your emotions and recognise the feelings of others. Handling relationships thoughtfully, with empathy for others is a huge part of teamwork and leadership.

Awareness and control of your own emotions are so important as a creative and too often overlooked. We’re so connected to our creative output that it takes real skill to check in with yourself and control how you express your feelings when you’re under pressure and in different professional environments. From how you motivate yourself, to how you read a client’s reaction, this kind of skill is something you just can’t do without.

Paul Dixon
Motion Designer & Director

4. Communication

We’re really getting into the crucial skills now. If you can’t clearly express your ideas with colleagues and clients, manage people’s expectations of project deadlines and deliverables effectively or think about the way you communicate, so you can improve: you might want to start now. Design is a team effort, so communication is key.


animation of communicating

Communication is fundamental for projects to progress, evolve and deliver. An artist will need to confidently converse with producers, clients and teammates throughout the whole creative process. Artists are required to successfully communicate their ideas and vision for a brief and also accurately communicate how long they need to carry out tasks. A great artist who communicates well will be a very valuable member of the team

Harry Jones
General Manager at ETC
Above: Jason Peacock, Technical Director at V3

5. Collaboration

Remember what we said about teamwork? Yup. Working with other people to achieve goals and tasks is an inescapable part of being a successful designer. If you see working with others as an opportunity to improve your creativity and learn new skills, you’re well on your way to success. 

Collaboration is fundamental to everything we do at venturethree. Whether we’re in the studio or with clients around the globe, we blend strategy, design and experience to create world-class brands. Collaboration to us therefore sparks ideas, challenges limitations and pushes creativity.

Jason Peacock
Technical Director at venturethree
Above: Hayley Akins, Founder at Motion Hatch

6. Commercial awareness

Probably the most overlooked skill in the creative world. This is how you get a real edge over other job candidates and go the extra mile in your career. Understanding how the creative industry works and how your work fits into it. Understanding business and brand objectives and applying them to all your work. Running your personal brand and working life like a business. Get there, and you’ve got it made!

If you’re freelancing, it’s important to be aware that you are running your own business. You are responsible for your income, where the next project is coming from and all the “boring” but necessary stuff like taxes. That shouldn’t scare you, it should give you a sense that you can build your business in any way you want.

Hayley Akins
Founder at Motion Hatch
Above: Henry Foreman, Head of Design at The Mill

7. Portfolio building

Most designers have their creative process down, but when it comes to explaining it to other people…it can get a little trickier. To stand out today, your portfolio needs to be an impactful expression of you, your work and your creative skills. You need to add to and curate the work in it regularly and deliberately look for briefs and clients that’ll add variety. In other words, you should always be looking for ways to grow your portfolio.

animation of storytelling and ideas

We’re looking for people who have an understanding of the level of professionalism that it takes for us to create the work that we do. We’ll be looking for the same from them.

Henry Foreman
Head Designer at The Mill
Niamh O'Donohoe
Above: Niamh O'Donohoe, Senior Design Producer at Framestore

8. Process

This kind-of goes without saying. You need to master your personal creative process to work well with others, especially if their processes are different to your own. To be successful, you need to adapt your process according to context, client and brief. Pretty standard stuff. 

The creatives who standout are those with a strong process and diverse practice. Constantly learning, they have a variety of ideas and multiple ways to execute them.

Niamh O’Donohoe
Senior Design Producer at Framestore
Above: Bee-Grandinetti, Freelance and Co-founder at Punanimation

9. Storytelling

As creatives, sometimes we shy away from storytelling: too many words! But if you can tell powerful stories in all your work, use narrative structure to improve it, and present in a captivating, persuasive and memorable way? You’ll be unstoppable.

In a world where we're constantly struggling to navigate the excess of information around us, our work can easily become forgotten. But we do remember pieces that made us feel something. Good stories mess with our emotions, they linger in our heads and get us thinking for hours (if not days). Telling a good story should be priority number one. Beautifully made pieces, but completely depleted of feeling are bound to be forgotten the following day.

Bee Grandinetti
Freelance and Co-founder at Punanimation

So there you have it.

What makes these skills so effective? The combination of practical, personal and professional know-how, blending together to make you the best you can be. One skill is great, but the secret to success is in the mix!


But how do you know these are the right skills?

By checking out what industry employers look for, and why

Want to hear the story behind the skills? Find out how we came up with this list in an interview with Created CEO, Dom Davenport.

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