Be a Design Commando: Can You Make the Cut?


We have heard of the code ninja or samurai designer but today’s article will introduce you to becoming a designer with a different perspective; the ways of the design commando. We can learn plenty from the spirit and code commandos live by. Learning to apply the best of these qualities to the lifestyle and attitudes a designer should have, you can become a design commando as well.

The Commando: A History

The term commando refers to a specific kind of individual solider or military unit. Originally, “a commando” is a type of combat unit, rather than an individual in that unit. It is an elite light infantry and/or Special Forces unit that conduct specialized attacks by means of parachuting, rappelling, or other similar techniques.

The commandos of most countries are distinctive in that they specialize in assault on conventional military targets. This is in contrast to other Special Forces units which specialize in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, and sabotage.


Image credit: Simon Varwell

The Mission: Hone Your Talent

Not everyone is born talented. And those individuals who are still need to hone their natural talent to achieve greater heights. Designers, talented or not, have to work hard to upgrade themselves, develop their innate potential and exploit their untapped creativity. Similar to how an engineer uses raw steel in its basic form and through his ideas and concepts creates imposing and amazing mega-structures. A design commando uses his passion and drive to excel and be the best in his field by taking each design job seriously like he would on any other military mission.

Image credit: BigChief711

No one was more dedicated to their call that the commando: they would fight to their death to defend their country. “Never say die” attitude and the “Can do” spirit are just many of pointers. A commando designers applied these pointers and go out for his client.

The Ways of the Commando

Commando designers stand out from a crowd. They are leaders who are ready to head and accomplish each project that is taken on with pride and honor. They are competent individuals. However, they are equally effective and capable when working as a team. Experts at meeting tough deadlines, commando designers will do whatever it takes to get the job done and satisfy their clients’ needs, often at the expense of their own social or family time.

Image credit: Official U.S. Navy Gallery

Working long hours is the norm for all designers. Being able to keep the creativity going despite frequent long hours takes lots of stamina, focus and discipline. The ability to think on one’s feet is also a crucial trait a designer has to have. However, with experience and through learning from past mistakes or the mistakes of others, this is a trait each designer eventually develops. A design commando’s best trait is being able to solve issues with whatever they have available to them at that moment.

Often we find a kindred spirit in like-minded designers who are willing to share their experiences and learn from each other. Design commandos have to develop skills that will sharpen their minds and be more than just competent. Only then will they be able to infiltrate deep behind competitors’ lines and hit them hard.

Think On Your Feet, Go With Your Gut

A jack of all trades but master of none”, this is a phrase often heard to describe those who know a little of everything but does not specialize in any. A well-trained design commando defies that statement and will ensure that he or she can master various skills to accomplish any mission assigned, quickly and with deadly precision. With determination and a good sense of urgency, a design commando will be able to achieve a breakthrough no matter the difficulty of the mission or task ahead.

Image credit: nmrton

Many people tend to be fickle minded and can’t seem to make decisions even in crucial scenarios. This problem stems from the fact that they consider too many options and alternatives and worry about each of the different outcomes and responses possible. In the meantime, valuable time has passed and before one realizes, the opportunity would have slipped by. Instead of going through all this and wasting precious time, spend more time analyzing the problem carefully and if possible in advance, and then make an informed choice and sticking to it.

Sometimes over thinking may not be a good thing. Especially if you’re experienced and have been in many similar situations before, working on adrenaline and going by your gut feeling may work to your benefit. Going by one’s gut feeling might be seen as hasty and illogical. However, one’s gut feeling doesn’t involve reason, but goes by one’s instincts and through learning from one’s previous experiences. Our brain has stored all the pertinent information we need to survive in the environment we place ourselves in. When pushed to make a quick decision, our brain immediately pulls out all the information necessary and quickly assesses the best possible reaction for the situation. If we let our brain do the work and we go with our first instinct that the brain tells us to do, we are allowing our brain to do its job to ensure that we make the right choices. However, the brain only can serve us well if we input the right information for it to make a good assessment.

Every skill takes time to perfect, when you first learn how to fire a weapon, you are hardly a marksman. Our body has a good memory and initially during the learning process, we have to constantly check if we are in the correct position for the optimum shot to take place. Over time, with much practice, our mind connects all the practice we’ve had to determine which position gives us the best result and our body does the rest, ensuring that it is in the correct position to hit the bull’s eye. If you think too much and refuse to let your body and brain work together to give you the correct position, you will miss aim and under perform. This is the same when dealing with design problems. The knowledge and wealth of experience you’ve accumulated is akin to the practice a marksman needs to undergo to obtain that title and your brain will instinctively provide the best solutions for your design problems.

In times of peace, soldiers train hard to ensure that they minimize the mistakes they make so that in times of war, their mind and body is one and will react instantaneously based on their past training experience and make the best decision in whatever situation they’re in.

Indomitable Spirit of the Design Commando

The values instilled in all commandos are honor, courage, discipline, daring initiative and esprit de corps and these values are a commando’s best asset. Design commandos have all these values while at work trying to ensure that the deadlines and the design brief is met. It is in their nature to push the boundaries in design or any other activities they are involved in. Whatever it is design commandos set their hearts out to do, they will achieve. The sky is the limit.

Image credit: nmrton

When design commandos set their heart on doing something, they put their best foot forward and strive for excellence. The result is phenomenal. Regardless of the type or magnitude of the project, design commandos enjoy the challenge and will push themselves physically and mentally in order to achieve the best results. The spirit of the design commando cannot be dampened by anything or anyone from the moment they step up to the plate and accept the challenge of each new project.

Endurance is a key trait a design commando has to have in abundance. Always ready to serve, putting the needs of others before themselves, a design commando goes where no one else can and does what others fail to do. Regardless of how difficult it gets or how indirect the path may be, a design commando will get the job done as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

The Design Commando: A Master Juggler

Although it is good enough to be a jack of all trades and be sufficiently skilled at everything, to be a design commando, you will have to up your game and become an expert at what you do rather than just being mediocre. Having this kind of attitude is especially advantageous to freelance designers who have to juggle so many things and wear so many hats all at once. They have to put on the designer’s hat, be the businessman, accountant, and developer etcetera. If they focus all their energies only on design and neglect their other roles, their business side of things will suffer terribly. Lack of effective communication with clients can negatively affect the project on hand and sour relations. Poor financial management will also drag you to the cleaners in the long run if you don’t start being smart about it. Juggling all these roles is a tough act, but it must be done. If not, the list of things that could go wrong can go on forever.

Image credit: nmrton

Although work is very important. All work and no play can’t possibly be healthy for any sane individual. Creativity is a well that will run dry eventually if you only restrict yourself to one avenue of resource. Even if you can survive working on designs and enjoy it tremendously, merely surviving is not the way to life your life. Go out and socialize, exercise, travel, and devote your time to building and nurturing family relationships. Every human being needs to work hard but to play hard as well. Having various ways to recharge your energy and your creativity helps to make you a better person and a better design commando as well.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Be prepared and do not get caught with your pants down. The military prepares their men by giving them ample training outside of the war zone so that when they have to face the enemy on the front lines, they will be mentally and physically prepared to face whatever comes their way.

Image credit: mnrton

Most designers pick up a skill only when the need arises. This is not wise as that would mean that you do not have the extra time to practice and be good at the skill you have picked up only at the last minute. In order to be a good design commando, you have to be prepared ahead of time and when called upon to battle, you can step up to the challenge and do a good job because you’ve had ample training and practice beforehand.

Design commandos look out for opportunities to exercise the skills they’ve put so much effort into learning and training for. As such, they will assess the situation and analyze the current trends and hot topics so that they can get the chance to put their training to good use. This will ensure that they are one step ahead of others and can face the project without any fear.

For Honor and Glory: Are You Ready?

The points mentioned here in this article are no different to the basic teachings a soldier is taught when they first enter the military; be skillful, be determined, and be passionate. Try becoming a design commando and when it leads you to success, take some time to consider the ancient Zen saying: “The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target.”

In summary, here are some words of wisdom. Have a think about it and be enlightened.

  • Blending in with society is an essential basic skill of the designer.
  • Effective use of creativity outweighs any statistical disadvantages.
  • The toughest part is not about solving the problem itself but the approach you take.
  • Nothing is impossible. When you are going uphill, you can slow down your pace but keep on going.

Do you consider yourself a design commando? What aspects and correlations can you make between a designer and a commando? Please share your opinions and give us your feedback.



  1. Ejaz

    Great, very insightful and thoughtful article.

    I have not thought about designer in this perspective. But thats true you can be great only when you have training and determination to be great.

    By the way, there is a small typo above “Prepare Ahead of Time” paragraph i.e. “life your life” should be “live your life”. Nevertheless great written article.

  2. AJ

    haha at first I was like what the heck is this…but then you had me with think on your feet, go with your gut…

    I think good designers go with their gut but great designers can tell you why their gut wanted to go there. I’m still not quite at that greatness yet – sometimes I just feel something looks right but I can’t quite decide why. It’s similar to how sometimes a sentence or phrase just sounds right but I’m not a grammar ninja and couldn’t tell you exactly why. I just know it does…

    Hopefully I get to that point where I can explain all my design decisions to other people. Then I’ll start blogging and writing about it :P

  3. Interesting angle. As a career creative, I’m not quite sure I’m in total agreement with your thesis. Blend in with the crowd? As designers, aren’t we supposed to be trend setters? To push the envelope of creativity. Be idea spotters.

    If you know or have known anyone we has served in the military, you would understand that individual (needs/wants) are secondary; primarily strengthening and skill building of the group (division).

    My husband, a Vietnam Veteran, was lucky to be re-assigned to the rear as a Photo Correspondent capturing with his lens numerous military and non-military personnel. Did he use is individual creativity – yes with strict boundaries as defined the US Army. (c/o his book:

    I think the “commando” analogy you’re trying to make, in my opinion, is to take COMMAND of your creativity and BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE.

  4. Drew

    So, let me see if I’ve got this right. To be a design commando, I need to work without any underwear on?