How Designers Can Thrive (Not Just Survive) in Uncertain Times

How are you feeling? Let me guess… uncertain, a bit scared… even cheated maybe? The unique thing about this problem is that it’s affecting everyone globally… and while everyone’s facing the impact of this pandemic, the way we react to it is what sets us apart. What if I told you that your outlook towards this problem could help you thrive as a designer?

If the core of what we do as designers is to solve problems, there’s no better time than uncertain times to do what we do best. If you ditch your fearful mindset, be perceptive towards opportunity, and put in the work to adapt, you could not only survive, but thrive in these uncertain times.

Let’s dive into exactly what you’ll need to do to pull this off:

Reframe Your Aim

When times are good, companies focus on making money. When things take a turn for the worse, companies shift their focus towards not running out of money. To stay valuable, you too need to shift in order to help them do just that. It’s important that you reapply your skills in a way that aligns with your client’s current goals.

How can you reshape your once revenue-focused expertise to now support your client or company with their cost-saving efforts? Now more than ever, your contributions need to be directly tied to business results that create an immediate return on investment.

Pivot To A Pressing Problem

Does your design role now seem irrelevant? That is because your job solves a problem that is no longer a priority. During uncertain times, external forces come along that drastically change the landscape we had gotten used to. With the new reality, comes new problems. These problems probably look drastically different than they did before the change.

To thrive in a downturn (or really any market), you need to solve a relevant and important problem. This is what makes your role valuable. If the problem you solve is no longer relevant, then you’re no longer valuable.

Let go of what has now become irrelevant, keep your finger on the pulse of what your clients or company is struggling with and then figure out how you can use your expertise to help them in the best way that you can.

Within uncertain times lies great opportunity. Those who are the quickest to adapt will thrive.

Create Certainty Through Strategy

Just as you’ll need to pivot, your client/company may have to do the same. If they find that their product has now become irrelevant due to the new landscape, they’ll need to adapt their product to solve a new problem.

As designers, our superpower is to see the future. Not by guessing, but by empathizing with users, understanding the big picture, utilizing our creative thinking to connect the dots, and visualizing solutions before they ever exist. This ability of ours, offers foresight and confidence to place the right bets- just what your client needs in order to act in the face of uncertainty.

To help your client navigate these uncertain times, offer your strategic expertise. Help them to understand their current predicament, their customer’s needs, the new landscape, and how they could pivot to solve a more valuable problem for their customers. Designers thrive when their clients thrive.

Support Not Sell

These unforeseen events have created uncertainty, for both you and your client. Your client feels the pressure to keep their people and business in good health. You feel the pressure to land a project or two before your savings dry up. Rather than desperately pitching your service to an unwilling client, now is the time to stop selling and start supporting.

Instead of trying to convince your already nervous prospects, to hire you, let them come to you when they are ready. (p.s. if your service doesn’t address a problem that is important to them, they’ll never be ready.) Tap into your runway of savings while you thoughtfully pivot your offer and find ways to help both your current and future clients.

Do not go silent, but instead keep showing up. Take advantage of extra free time to invest sweat equity into building and strengthening your relationships. Focus on being genuinely helpful and supportive. Share informative content through blogging and social media. Find ways to relieve the new found pains that your connections are experiencing.

What this does is builds trust and loyalty as clients see that you are there for them- providing value in both good times and bad. Play the long game and you’ll build a long-lasting business.

Serve A New Space

While there are a lot of people and businesses hurting right now, there are quite a few that are busier than ever. Take some time to do your research on which industries are booming because of this new landscape. Businesses in these industries (such as healthcare, sanitization, and virtual tools) may need design and your expertise now more than ever.

You don’t have to stick with what you’ve always done and who you’ve always done it for. Pay attention to where the demand is and then redirect your efforts to serve in that space. Be flexible. Get creative. Remember, those who are the quickest to adapt will thrive.


Kelly Custer is the Founder + Design Director of Knack

Pairing her transportation design education from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan with over 8 years of design consulting experience in consumer products, Kelly has built a strong passion for mobility. She founded Knack in 2014 and leads the studio to deliver irresistible simple mobility products.

When she’s not in the studio, she can be found on a mountain bike trail, trying to keep up with her husband on her dirt bike, or exploring the Tennessee river on their vintage stand-up jet skis.

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Amid leaks and rumors, Samsung’s new ‘Galaxy Fold 2’ begins taking shape

Same design. Better cameras.

Well, I certainly have a few reservations on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 based on pretty credible leaks, but I’ll get to that later on. These leaks come from Ross Young, the founder of the Display Supply Chain Consultants, who says that the new Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 (Samsung has two folding ranges – the Fold and the Bloom) may be the first folding phone to have a 120Hz refresh rate, a feature that makes the screen appear smoother and the phone faster. The handset, according to Young, is rumored to be slightly bigger than its predecessor, and to have a hole-punch camera on both the front display as well as the main display, eliminating the massive bezels we saw in the earlier edition. If these tip-offs are true, the phone will sport a significantly bigger camera bump on the back too, much like the S20 series, and will be compatible with Samsung’s S-Pen. Now that we’ve got the specifications out of the way… let’s get to those reservations.

First off, the very presence of leaks indicates that Samsung is working on an edition #2 of the Fold… something that seems natural, but I wonder if Samsung even sold enough of its previous models to justify giving this upgrade. Another aspect of the Fold 2 worth addressing is the fact that Samsung isn’t treating this as a concept. The Fold is pretty much a Samsung flagship, so here’s my question. With a camera bump that probably packs 4 lenses and a time-of-flight sensor, and with large screens that boast of 120Hz refresh rates and hole-punch cameras, what will this rumored phone cost? And more importantly, given the current economic freefall we’re in, will the price even be worth it? It’s difficult to rationalize the need for a fancy folding phone that may cost upward of $2K, and more importantly, may not last beyond a year given how fragile these phones tend to be. That being said, as a tech nerd, I have to give props to Samsung for working on the tech even through a pandemic. The concept, which I visualized based on these rumors, and a few reference images from Ben Geskin, looks pretty cool, and still packs a fingerprint reader which definitely feels like a good direction given the times we live in… and since we’re probably going to be working with a mobile setup more often now, that folding phone turning into a miniature laptop does seem like a pretty neat USP! And if people seem put off by the tone-deaf price-tag and nobody eventually ends up buying the Fold 2, at least Roberto Escobar will have a new model to add to his catalog…

Designer/Visualizer: Sarang Sheth

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How to make an old, ancient, rusty metal in Keyshot using the Material Graph

Keyshot’s Material Graph offers the ability to go beyond simply tweaking a material’s color, roughness, or refractive index. If Keyshot’s material library is a restaurant menu-card, the material graph is literally the most versatile salad bar you’ve ever seen. You can pick and choose various aspects of different materials, creating a visually gorgeous mishmash of nodes and blocks to ‘build’ a material that looks stunningly real. I’m probably making it sound complicated, but here’s the truth – it really isn’t. All you need is a little patience and the ability to spot how your material reacts when you make changes to it in the material graph. Combine them and in no time, you’ll have a material that behaves exactly the way you want it to… because it was designed to!

Read further to see how to build this aged, oxidized, grungy material in Keyshot’s Material Graph. You can use this technique to make all sorts of material variants, like rusted iron, oxidized silver, or even aged bronze that’s turning green around the crevasses.


Imperfections form a major part of what makes a render photorealistic. Scratches, dust, fingerprints, dirt accumulated in tiny corners, signs of aging, all this plays a heavy role in making the eyes believe what they see. You seldom see a phone without some smudges on its screen, or a table without a bit of dust or scratches, or a leather bag without patina. Imperfections are what make life real and embracing them is a great way to make your 3D renders feel “life-like”.

The best way to look at this complex material is by splitting it into its subsequent parts. If you look at the image above, or the material graph below, you see two broad materials. Material 1 is an old, aged, dirty brownish metal, Material 2 is a shiny, golden/bronze metal. Once you create these two materials, it’s just a question of adding them together in a way that allows the right metal to show up in the right place. I’ll explain how we do that, but first, let’s create the two materials.

Before we begin, I’ve set up my scene using a model of the Bearded Man, downloaded for free from Three D Scans. Fun fact, the model is a scanned historic artifact titled ‘Portrait of a Bearded Man’ made in Marble back in the Hellenistic Period in 150 B.C. Greece. It’s perfect for our aged material because it has a stony texture with a stunning amount of detail that causes the material to look incredibly realistic. Remember that your material will only be as good as your model. A model with real-world imperfections will result in a material that’s believable and realistic.

Once you’ve set the scene up with the model, start by opening the material graph and making the old metal first. The key is always factoring imperfections into the model, so rather than just using the same color and roughness throughout, we’ll use texture maps to make sure the color and roughness of the old metal are inconsistent. Similarly, drop a texture into the Bump section too (with a low bump height) to create that undulating imperfect surface. The material interprets these texture images as data to control its properties. Depending on the whites and blacks and greys in the texture maps, the material has high or low roughness, or a higher or lower bump. Play around with the values to get a dark, rough-ish metal with barely any reflectivity… and then make Material 2, which is just the opposite.

Since Material 1 is the base material, Material 2 will sit on top of it as a layer… or in Keyshot parlance, a Label. Right-click in the empty space and create a new metal material, with image maps controlling its color, roughness, and bump. Apart from the bump, which essentially stays the same in both materials, the color and roughness are fundamentally the opposite. Where Material 1 is rough and dark, Material 2 is shiny and golden. Once you’ve made Material 2, link it to the Final Material Node using the Label option. What you now have is a shiny metal ‘coating’ sitting on top of a dirty, rusty metal. Now we control which parts of the model appear dark and rusty, and which parts appear shiny and metallic!


If you’ve ever taken a walk in the mud with sneakers on, you’ll notice something interesting. The mud gets right into the gaps of your sneaker’s tread pattern. The surface of the sole may stay clean, because it’s constantly rubbing against the ground, but the mud that gets into the negative spaces of your sneaker sole stays there until you clean it out properly. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what we’re doing with this old, aged material too. We’re sort of keeping the ‘outer surface’ clean and shiny, while allowing the dents, cracks, gaps, and holes to be dirty… and we’re doing this using the Curvature Node.

Simply put, the Curvature Node splits your model into three types of surfaces – Convex surfaces, Concave surfaces, and Flat surfaces. When you connect this node to Material 2’s opacity, what you’re basically doing is making Material 2 visible in certain parts of the model, and invisible in other parts. The Curvature Node comes with three primary controls. One for Negative Curvature or concaves, one for Zero Curvature or flats, and one for Positive Curvature or convexes. What we want is for the shiny material to be visible on all convex surfaces, and the dirt to sort of be lodged into the tough-to-clean concave surfaces. By assigning the color white to the Positive control and the color black to the Negative (and even the Flat) control, you effectively control Material 2’s opacity, making it visible only in convex parts like the tip of the nose, the eyeball, etc. Everything else immediately appears dark and dirty, thanks to the underlying Material 1. You can periodically click on the Curvature Node and press the C key to toggle the preview of the black and white colors instead of the old and new materials.

The Curvature Node also has other controls that let you tweak the output. The Cutoff control basically determines how Keyshot treats the flat surfaces. If there’s a surface that’s almost flat, a high Cutoff value tells Keyshot to treat it as flat. Similarly, if your cutoff is at 0, Keyshot looks at every polygon accurately with no tolerance. Similarly, Radius controls clusters of polygons. A larger Radius value blurs the gap between the blacks and whites, while a smaller radius allows the difference to be sharper. Meanwhile, make sure you un-check the Radius In Pixels box. (That allows the radius to change depending on how much you zoom in or out, and we don’t want that)

Add some dramatic lights and Voila, you’ve got yourself an aged, old metal! If you followed along and built your own version yourself, that’s amazing! If not, just tinker around with the file we made by downloading it here. You could also watch this video by Esben Oxholm who uses this technique to make rusted iron. Similarly, you can use this process to make aged variations of materials yourself, like oxidized silver, greenish oxidized bronze, or your very own rusted metal. Scroll down to check out some results below, and hit us up on Instagram if you’ve got any suggestions for other materials you want us to make tutorials for!

Click Here to Download the Material!

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