I think the idea of “design professionalism” can be tricky for a lot of designers. It depends very much on where they are in their careers (student, big agency, little agency, freelancer, etc.). Some are excited about technique and technology. Some are excited by happy clients. Some look for awards/accolades from peers. But I think the overarching way to measure design professionalism comes down to two questions:
- Have we served the client well?
- Have we pursued best practices in our client solutions?
They can both be fairly broad questions, but that’s intentional. They’re orienting questions. They’re meant to create a frame of mind. If I’m the owner of the company, it’s easy to know if my company has served the client well – I get to talk to them. But if I’m an entry-level designer in a big firm, I may not have exposure to the client directly – but I can ask myself, with each task I take on, how will this serve the end goals of my client?
The second question can be a little more difficult because it is often where designers lose their way. I assume designers are continuously educating themselves on their medium(s) and putting the best solutions in practice for each client. But many designers try to push their view of best practices onto a client with such vigor that the client leaves the relationship feeling unsatisfied and bullied. Conversely, some designers give in to clients too easily and the end result, while satisfying the client, may not really be what’s best for the client, in the long-run.
It’s a balancing act. Each client, each project, each deliverable is different. But the consistent way to really pursue professionalism is to ask those two questions of yourself and garner as much feedback as you can from both your clients and your peers.