We often speak about the technical skills that are needed to excel in any field. But what about UX? Technical and practical skills are a critical component of becoming a good UX Designer. As a UX Designer you’ll want to be equipped with the best knowledge about the subject. But UX is not just about technical knowledge!
Even though you are creating a complex product/service using different technologies, don’t forget the core component that guides every design: THE HUMAN!
You’re designing for a human user! And developing personal skills are equally important to develop a good product/service that provides an optimum user experience. As designers, you might face challenges that go beyond visual design – problems that require an understanding of the environment in which they arise. This is where ‘soft skills’ come into play. Soft skills are aptitudes such as adaptability and self-awareness that make for a better UX professional. Here is a list of soft skills that you must have in your kitty:
No matter what line someone works in, the ability to listen actively is a desirable trait. Put in simple terms: It involves putting a zipper on your mouth and opening your ears. It’s about paying close attention to what the other person’s thought process is and what they are saying rather than thinking about the ideas that pop into your mind. Active listening is particularly helpful when conducting user research and usability testing – gaining insights about where the root of a problem lies. They don’t just benefit the design process, but also help build more intimate connections with users.
Studies indicate that the deeper the connection between users and designers, the more likely they are to reveal true pain points. Put simply, it’s about taking active interest in what they have to say rather than anticipating what they are going to say.
Empathy is not something that you can just learn. It needs to be developed over a longer period. UX Designers need to be able to put themselves into the users’ shoes and see the world from their eyes. Active listening is a key tool to work on building empathy. If we actively listen to what they are saying, we can understand their true pain points. This would allow designers to put themselves in their position to provide a better overall solution. This does not mean that you always spend time with users. Empathy can also be built using research methods like ethnography, observations, surveys etc to get a sense of their frustrations. By creating empathy with users, designers can address their problems through design solutions.
We like it when someone appreciates us. But when they criticize us, we take it on our ego! It’s human nature. A key skill of becoming a good UX Designer is to get rid of the ego and accept criticisms. UX as an iterative process is not about getting compliments from users and stakeholders. The idea is for you to gain feedback, which can then be incorporated to provide a better design. When users do not make sense of a product or element, don’t get defensive. Be Humble! Ask why? Ask what they imagined is the ideal way? A critical yet overlooked step to become a good a designer is to not take criticism personally.
PRO TIP: Change is always welcome.
No matter how complex an idea or design might be, a key skill that all UX Designers must master is the ability to articulate ideas clearly and present them either to users or more important, to stakeholders or investors. It might be safe to say that presentations scare a greater number of people than spiders! Good presentation skills come with practice. Prepare well before the presentation: write up key points that need to be discussed, rather than the whole script, make it entertaining with anecdotes and jokes rather than plain and boring sentences. The presenter also needs to be able to justify the design if asked questions. It is advisable to have mock presentations before the final one for you to get into the hang of it.
PRO TIP: Watch Steve Jobs’ presentations during Apple launches.
Let’s spare you the pain of googling what autodidacticism means. It means to be self-taught. Unlike other fields where degrees and professional certificates are key to your success, in UX success is based on work ethics and consistency. A key skill towards this is to teach yourself the art of self-learning. Having the knowledge and skills to figure our solutions to problems will allow you to expand your thinking and grow professionally. This is not to suggest that degrees don’t matter. We at Eightfold, offer an intensive and end-to-end program (hyperlink course) that will get your started in the industry. But from there on, you’re own your own.
With the availability of the internet, you can practically teach yourself everything from scratch. Here are a few tips to becoming autodidactic:
• You might fail at first. But keep going. You’ll get there eventually
• Read, read more, read just a little more. Nothing replaces knowledge from books and texts
• Be inspired. Follow through on the work of other UX designers, taking inspiration on how they tackle problems.
• Work experience counts. Once you’ve gathered sufficient knowledge look for opportunities where you can freelance or work as an intern with agencies/organisations
BALANCE BUSINESS & USERS
As a UX Designer, your core responsibility is to design for the users. This is not to suggest that you forget the business values of your organisation. Understanding your organisation’s business model will allow you to think about what is feasible and what is not, what you need to do to drive growth etc. A great designer needs to be able to find the right balance between satisfying user needs and that of the business. One cannot get the best of both worlds. Find the sweet spot and address how your design speaks to business needs as well as that of users.
Mastering these 6 skills are the key between a GOOD UX DESIGNER and a GREAT UX DESIGNER!