Being a valuable designer

Ashley Ann
4 min readMar 15, 2023

This was originally a talk given to Upright Bootcamp students in March 2023.

Designers like to opine about what it means to be a designer — the mindset of a designer or the methods used. Often the definition revolves around outputs, like a wireframe, a mock-up, a journey map, etc. This makes it tempting for designers to spend their time working away on perfecting deliverables. This might be my hottest take ever.

🔥 The awkward fact is that the things we make are both real and not real. 🔥

They are real because obviously they exist — I’m not going to tell you that the wireframe in your Figma file is not real. Yet, it’s also not real in the sense that, unless it continues the process and gets coded into an actual website or app, it is only potential value, not actual value.

In a world of layoffs and trimming down, why are the designers valuable? 😅

The real value in all of these deliverables is the thinking process and the sparking of conversations that ultimately lead to decisions.

These outputs are tools, much like the famous quote:

They don’t want quarter-inch bits. THey want quarter-inch holes, said by Leo McGinneva.

An illustration

Thinking Value

When you begin creating a wireframe, you naturally begin to ask yourself questions. What does a user need? What should be first? Will they understand this?

A wireframe with a designer’s internal thought conversation as they work.

Conversation & Decision Value

Then, your wireframe needs to generate discussion and answers for others — a developer, a product owner, other designers, etc. Ultimately, you should keep moving the process along towards making a decision.

A wireframe with a thought bubble conversation between two individuals about a map UI.

To sum up–your employer did not hire you to make wireframes, even though that’s what the job description says you’ll do. Your employer hired you to make wireframes so that they could think and have conversations that end in decisions in cheaper ways than having a developer build it.

If you are not answering questions and driving decisions, then your designs are not of value.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the decision we need to make here?
  • What do I need to make to make that decision?

Because this and this yield very different conversations and types of decisions.

A side-by-side of a wireframe and high-fidelity mockup of a contact page.

At the end of the time, I asked participants what they thought with one of my favorite exercise of “I came in thinking…Now I think…”

Sticky notes of learnings bootcamp attendees took away: They thought design was all about technique and deliverable, and now they think of is a conversation, explanations, and discussion that moves towards a decision and to be careful about spending time on irrelevant work.


I highly recommend designers learn what the different design deliverables help you think about what conversations they create. My favorite book for this is Undercover User Experience Design.

Then, once the typical deliverables are mastered, I highly recommend expanding your toolbox with methods from’s Design Kit.

Did this help you?

You can contribute to my book fund to help me keep writing!

Ashley Crutcher is the Director of Experience Strategy at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.