As designers, whether it be UI, UX, or Product Design, we tend to direct our focus and energy on developing and mastering tangible skills.
When our self-review asks, “How have you improved in the past 6 months?” we point to our increased understanding of user testing, or how consistent we’ve been with the daily UI challenge.
Rarely though, do we spend the time to hone our soft skills.
This list was adapted in part from a lesson on learnux.io, I hope you enjoy it.
Giving constructive feedback, and responding to less-than-constructive feedback is a critical skill that can be uncomfortable for many new designers.
Lack of awareness of basic feedback skills leads to clients providing vague and worthless feedback like “can you make it pop?”
To provide effective feedback, we need to be clear and specific. “The imagery used on our careers page doesn’t represent our culture well. Let’s show a playful and relaxed vibe to connect better with the candidates we hope to attract” is more useful feedback than “make it pop.”
When it comes to receiving feedback, it’s important to define exactly what we want feedback on. We should also be open-minded to the feedback we receive and continually ask to clarify or elaborate on vague input.
02. Active Listening
Active listening is focusing on the other person and not thinking about the thoughts, opinions, or ideas that pop into our head.
This skill is effective when interviewing customers, speaking with colleagues, or gathering insights about a business problem from our client.
Active listening won’t just benefit our design career — it will help us in friendships, interviews, intimate relationships, or anything that involves communicating with people.
UI & UX design is all about creativity, and finding new and innovative solutions to existing problems.
By keeping an open mind, we can be receptive to potential solutions and alternative methods of addressing problems.
At first glance, not all ideas seem viable or worth investing in, but as designers, our job is to explore all potential solutions to solving user problems.
If Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick didn’t have an open mind when they saw the frustrations with the taxi industry, then they never would’ve founded Uber. To many, the idea of people hailing rides in a stranger’s cars seemed to be an improbable success — but having an open mind allowed them to see their solution through.
Empathy is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in the digital design space, but in simple terms, it means putting ourselves in the user’s shoes.
As mentioned previously, active listening is a great tool for developing empathy. If we can fully understand someone’s struggle, then we can put ourselves in the place of that person and feel what they are feeling.
We can also develop empathy by being a good observer. If we observe people making the same mistakes or encountering the same problems, then we can develop solutions to solve them in our products.
It’s important to note that we don’t physically need to be in person with someone to do this. By using heatmaps, analytics, surveys, user testing, and so on, we can observe patterns and gather insights about our users.
If customers are continually calling our help desk asking how to add a new user, then we can understand their frustration and address it through design.
By being humble, asking questions, and observing those interacting with our products, we can develop empathy for our users and create solutions for their obstacles.
05. Every Communication is a UX project
When we send an email, message, text, or snail mail to a colleague, client, or customer, it’s a good skill to communicate in a way that requires less work from the person on the other end of that message.
Making every piece of communication a seamless experience for the people that we work with will make working with us more enjoyable and improve our credibility as a UX designer.
Instead of sending messages that require the other person to do the work like “I’m sure there’s a product out there that we can use” we should make it easier for them and say something like, “I did some research and found product x, y, and z that could solve our hiring issue.”
Investing an extra few minutes into our message can make a dramatic difference in the experience others have when working with us.
06. Lose the ego
We love it when people give us praise, that’s human nature. But it’s a good skill to be able to detach ourselves (and our egos) from our design work.
When conducting feedback, it’s more useful to focus on the areas of improvement rather than seeking compliments on what the user liked. Ask people what they would change rather than seeking acknowledgment for things done well.
When given feedback that we don’t agree with, don’t get defensive, but instead ask what they would change or how they envisioned it.
The ability to not feel personally insulted by negative comments about our design is not an easy trait to have, but it’s a crucial skill.
Presenting our designs and solutions is a key part of the job, so it’s useful to be able to do this effectively.
Preparing key talking points and presenting in a manner that is understandable to our audience will make them more receptive to our ideas.
A great tool for presenting complex or confusing concepts is to use analogies.
For example, saying, “It’s been bouncing around the web like a beach ball at a Nickelback concert” is more playful than saying, “our post is very popular.”
We also need to be prepared while presenting to justify our work. When we’ve made drastic changes to a design or have a new idea to share, it’s always useful to have a few bullet points prepared to defend our decisions and explain why we went in the direction we did.
An autodidact is a self-taught person, someone with the will power to be the driver of their success. UI & UX aren’t industries that are dependent on fancy degrees or credentials — success is based on work ethic and consistency.
Being an autodidact is an essential skill because everyone in the design space, at some point, encounters problems, jargon, programs, and so on, that they do not understand.
When this unavoidable challenge arises, we can’t go back to school to learn how it’s done, and we can’t bother our coworkers all the time. By having the skills and willpower to figure things out on our own, we will grow remarkably by our own volition.
With the internet, there is no excuse for not being able to teach ourselves everything we want to know about UI & UX. Everything we need is right in front of us, but only those with self-discipline will take advantage of it. But I don’t need to tell you that, you’re doing it right now ;).
09. Understanding Business Value
A constant struggle we designers face is finding the middle ground between satisfying business needs and user needs.
A designer that understands how to continually bring value to the business while also advocating for the user is a golden egg for organizations.
It’s a crucial skill to understand our company’s business model and take the time to evaluate how we can do our part to encourage business growth.
Being able to speak to business needs and how we’ve addressed them in our designs is a component that many designers miss. We speak so passionately about the user and our pixel-perfect designs, but we must not neglect to mention our impact on the business.
It’s no secret that the digital and physical world is constantly evolving.
It’s vital that designers familiarize themselves with emerging technologies, products, trends, and so on.
Not only do we risk being displaced, but we also risk missing out on opportunities to improve our product’s experience.
Being adaptable and having the initiative to educate ourselves about disruptive technologies will put us ahead of the curve and ensure that we still have a job through the inevitable changes our industry will encounter.