The most important skill for a designer working abroad


I was born in São Paulo, Brazil and spent most of my life speaking mainly Portuguese. A few years ago, I moved to Vancouver, Canada to take a business class. My English was relatively ok when I first settled in since I had already spent a few years studying the language back in Brazil.

I wanted to keep working as a designer in Canada since that had been my profession for more than 7 years in my home country. My skills were pretty much transferable: I would use the same software suite, I had experience, and I knew how to handle design revisions and deadlines.

I was confident I could make it in Vancouver as a designer.

However, one of the biggest challenges ahead of me was adapting my workplace communication skills.

In my native language, I knew the communication rules in a workplace — how to be assertive without being rude, how to be soft when I needed to, how to be polite without being a pushover, and so on. Unfortunately, these skills that seemed like a second nature to me didn’t come as naturally once I continued my career in an environment dominated by my second language. To tell you the truth, I am still mastering them.

Mike Monteiro, co-founder and design director of Mule Design, says “No matter how good the work is, if you can’t sell it you haven’t finished the job.” I can’t agree more with that. The first few times I had to rationalize my design decisions or sell an idea in Canada, I failed… And I’ve failed many times since then. I tried to explain my design choices without the rich vocabulary I needed to make a good case for them. I went over my argument again and again, using different words and approaches, but the other person in the conversation either wouldn’t understand exactly what I meant or simply wasn’t convinced. This resulted in frustration, sadness, and a feeling that lingered inside my mind suggesting that I wasn’t capable of doing my job as well as I could in Brazil. Instead of allowing myself to continue being discouraged by the difficulties I was having, I decided to take action and improve my ability to effectively sell my design ideas.

I am still working at this, but here is a list of action items that have helped me immensely.

Author: Taís Lessa

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