The questioned posed by the above title is one we wrestle with constantly. Why? Because we know that our clients are going to be requesting those skills today!
We do a lot of different things in order to figure out and anticipate such demands, but it all starts with paying close attention to the types of skills that clients are asking for right now. This can be a leading indicator for the simple reason that clients (especially new clients) often initially come to us when they can't find certain talent on their own. Our ability to fill these skills gaps can serve as the basis for a long-term relationship where customers begin to see us more as a partner than a point solution. They can also provide us with an opportunity to educate people.
The UX Conundrum
For example, over the last year we've seen an increasing call for UX designers and, as you may expect, experienced UX designers are hard to find. You might think that designers would be wise to begin adding UX capabilities to their portfolios and, to a degree, you would be correct.
However, there is a problem. "UX" can mean different things to different people. Today, UX encompasses user research, information architecture, interaction design, interface design, visual design and a range of deliverables including personas and wireframes to site maps, comps, HTML prototypes and more. Which means that, when a client asks for an "experienced UX person," that only begs a number of other questions starting with, "What will this person actually be doing?"
Of course, we wouldn't understand the nuances of UX or any other creative specialty, nor would we be able to educate our clients on them, if we based our knowledge solely on inbound requests. So, we do research.
When it comes to digging deeper into which skills are currently in-demand, we have two advantages. First, since we work with 90 of the Fortune 100, our clients are often on the leading edge of what companies are doing with digital marketing and design. Simply by speaking with them about what they are working on, what they are seeing, and what they are expecting in the future, provides endless and invaluable insight.
Second, because we are constantly interviewing and recruiting high-level design professionals, we are also privy to the perspective of the people actually doing creative work. Our talent can speak to what they are being asked to do, what skills are being employed to tackle the work at hand, and, because they work for multiple clients, how that work varies across diverse environments.
Finally, in addition to this ongoing research, we also regularly engage third party experts to help us conduct more focused enquiries. As a result we uncover needs of which even our clients and talent may not yet be aware.
So, What Will Designers Need Tomorrow?
Which brings us to the question posed up top: What will designers need?
At the moment we're hearing two things.
Second of all, thanks to the rise of mobile (and Google's edicts), companies are also looking for designers and developers who understand "responsive design," that is, design that will/can alter itself based on the device on which it is viewed. The beauty of responsive design is that it frees you from the necessity to maintain both a mobile and a desktop version of your site. The challenge is that you need to be able to design and develop with responsive templates in mind. Since this is still a relatively new world, people who can do that are and will be in-demand.
What does the future hold? That's hard to say. With Google Glass, augmented reality, smartwatches and who knows what else on the horizon, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what kind of skills will be in-demand a year or even six months from now.
What is certain is this: Designers need to figure out the best way to keep their skills relevant and learn new skills as needed. As far as the latter is concerned, we're a big fan of MOOCs.
What are you a fan of when it comes to professional development and learning new stuff?