I was a writer when I began college, studying journalism so that I could turn writing into a career. The requirements for a major included classes one would expect - news writing and reporting, media law and ethics, etc, but one requirement seemed out of place to me until I actually took the course - Design. I obviously knew everything written for a publication has to have photos and graphics added and has to be designed onto a page, but I had assumed that was something unrelated to the role of the content creator. However, studying a specific profession should mean you learn at least a little about all the parts associated with it, and design is as much a part of writing as the words on the page themselves.

Design became a side passion for me and I ended up taking two semesters instead of just the required one. After the very first assignment, where we redesigned the masthead of a newspaper, I was hooked. Projects got increasingly interesting - recreate a work of art with letters, design the back of a CD case to illustrate how the music makes you feel, lay out a feature you write yourself - every project taught me something new about design and was more fun than the last.

The benefits of broadening my skill set

I didn’t realize what I was doing as I finished all these projects. I thought I was just having fun and learning a little something. Actually, I was building my value for future employers by establishing complementary skills in my repertoire. A writer who can not only generate their own content but can then format their own photos and design their own page is a valuable asset.

It has come up numerous times in my marketing career: what a time saver it is that I have basic layout and design skills. Being able to select appropriate images, crop, size, and format them for the content I’m working on rather than have to submit a request to a designer not only gave me more autonomy, but it increased my value as an employee and improved the efficiency for my own projects.

This additional skill set has also allowed me to play a bigger role in development throughout my career. I’ve managed website redesigns and the creation of new online assets because I understand things like pixels and serif vs sans serif. I’ve been able to take my contributions on certain projects that one extra step because of my broad background. It gets me noticed and appreciated by my team.

Being able to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that as a designer has kept my career interesting and challenging as well. I haven’t been forced into one specific lane during my marketing career. I am never just a content creator since I have additional skills to offer.

My advice would be, for those starting out, to thoroughly explore the profession you’re looking to go into after graduation. Find out what complementary skills best go with your ideal job and develop those at least a little before it’s time to start looking for that first job. Differentiating yourself by increasing your skill set helps keep you visible and valued.