The role of UX designer has evolved considerably over the past decade. The typical UX design job description today is quite different from how it looked in 2009, when, believe it or not, the first iPhone had only just been released.
On top of that, different companies have very different specific responsibilities and requirements for people they hire under the title of “UX designer”. So what are the core skills that someone is likely to need in any UX design job?
In this piece we’ll run through skills you should build if you want to transition to a career in UX design. They’re a mixture of soft skills, which you’re very likely to bring from previous work, and more formal design skills, which you might need to learn through a course.
UX designers need an interest in the unknown.
Along with the next item in this list, you might ask, “is curiosity really a skill?” We tend to think of certain soft skills—including curiosity, empathy, and critical thinking—more as personal traits rather than acquired competencies.
If you’re naturally curious, wonderful! But curiosity can also be cultivated through deliberate practices. If it doesn’t come to you so easily, you could try adopting everyday routines that help you explore the unknown. These could include:
- Taking a different route home each day;
- Actively noticing your environment, perhaps by taking daily photographs of something unusual;
- Practising active listening; and
- Asking more open questions in your day-to-day interactions.
UX designers need to identify with the needs and feelings of other people.
Humans are social animals, and empathy and emotional intelligence are important skills in everyday life. However, empathy has a special importance in the UX design process, because it is a user-centered discipline by definition. “Empathize” is also the first step in the design thinking methodology.
Our ability to define solutions relies on not only gathering objective research data about people’s product experiences, but also putting ourselves in their shoes on a human level. That means imagining the situations in which people will use something, and anticipating the issues they’re likely to face.
3. Critical Thinking
UX designers need to question assumptions, and analyze problems deeply.
Like curiosity, critical thinking can come to people more or less naturally, and it’s a skill we can boost through deliberate practice. Here are some things you can try:
- Search for hidden assumptions or presuppositions in an argument or proposal;
- Ask why something is happening, or why a change is proposed;
- Identify errors in reasoning;
- Sense-check ideas against known constraints;
- Spot weaknesses in a system;
- Analyze things that seem to be very simple or very complex;
- Push for logical clarity in complex conversations; and
- Make connections between ideas or positions that are far apart.
4. Collaboration and Communication
UX designers need to work with many stakeholders—including users, product managers, and developers.
There is hardly any aspect of UX designers’ work which isn’t collaborative. When doing user research and testing, we need to work closely with participants and gain their trust if we’re to create high-quality information about their needs.
Equally, when working on design solutions, we need to be able to identify relevant business needs, and understand how our work fits into an existing product. This means having effective conversations with product managers and other senior staff.
And when it comes to getting a project launched, we need to be able to efficiently communicate the details of how a design should work, empowering development teams with the information they need.
5. Continuous Learning
UX designers need to learn every day.
Design is a discipline where there is something new to learn every day, from every person, on every project. On top of this, the industry is constantly shifting and developing, with new standards, conventions, tools, platforms, and devices to keep on top of.
In just the past decade, the entire digital design industry has needed to pivot from interface designs for conventional keyboard-and-mouse computers, to user-centered designs for touch-based smartphones and smartwatches. On top of those shifts in technical constraints, user expectations have also increased dramatically.
An important part of learning design is learning how to learn. That means treating every project and interaction as an opportunity to discover new approaches and grow your professional practice. Go back to square one for every brief, and don’t be afraid to ask the basic questions. In the words of the great architect, designer, and theorist Bucky Fuller: “dare to be naive”.