The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Dan Brown—Information Architect and Principal at EightShapes
- Leo Frishberg—Principal Architect, User Experience at Tektronix Inc.
- Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Paul Sherman—Director of User Experience Research & Design at CloudPassage; Past President of Usability Professionals’ Association; UXmatters columnist
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
- Russell Wilson—Vice President of Product Design at NetQoS
- Josephine Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Q: What soft skills do you need to be an effective UX designer?—from a UXmatters reader
“As you continue to learn, mature, and refine your skills as a UX designer, it’s important to have the right balance of UX tools and techniques, or hard skills, and soft skills,” reply Daniel and Jo. “You need to sharpen both types of skills over time. We see soft skills as the abilities that help you to navigate projects more effectively—such as learning better how to communicate your approach to planning and running user research and reporting back your results. Of course, there are many more soft skills than those we’ve discussed here. Soft skills can help people who are outside a UX design team and looking in to better understand how UX professionals can help organizations. Help them not only to deliver better products, but perhaps also to get them working more effectively together along the way.”
“I don’t think there are any soft skills that you don’t need to be an effective UX designer!” answers Adrian. “That said, the one soft skill that is key is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of others is a vital skill that is characteristic of every good designer I know. You cannot build great products without understanding people. You cannot understand people without empathy.”
“I think every UX Designer needs to have a deep sense of empathy,” says Jordan. “I’d hire a UX designer with no experience and a deep sense of empathy over one with years of experience and no sense of empathy.”
“Active listening and empathy—these are crucial to any role on a product team, but are especially important for design in general and UX design in particular,” replies Leo.
Daniel and Jo also recommend that we develop empathy “for the people for whom we design and also the stakeholders who need to work with the results of our user research.”
“The ability to practice active listening is key,” suggests Paul. “This means not just hearing and comprehending what stakeholders and users are saying, but also conveying back to them what you’re hearing. This is a great way to confirm your understanding, by the way.”
Russ recommends your developing strong communication skills. “You don’t have to be a world-class speaker, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, both in writing and verbally, you will find it very difficult to be effective. I find user experience to be a very communication-intensive craft. We are always working with developers, product managers, users, and various other stakeholders. We have to demonstrate our designs, collect feedback, and collaborate each and every day.”
Daniel and Jo also emphasize the importance of clear communication “for everything we do—from writing a research plan to running research and presenting results, so people who were not involved in the research can understand not only what to do with the findings, but even get a sense of ownership in solving the problems that we discover.”
“One of the biggest parts of any UX designer’s job is presenting his or her recommendations,” replies Jordan. “Designers make these presentations to clients, internal stakeholders, and, sometimes, directly to users. You can always improve your presentation skills and style. I’ve found the best way of doing that is to get more experience presenting. The more often you present, the more comfortable you’ll be when presenting, and the easier it becomes to understand what needs to go into an effective presentation.”
Russ reminds us that designers also need to have good persuasion skills: “UX designers have to sell. Most of our work is somewhat subjective, in that there is never one and only one right answer. Why should we use this blue instead of that one? Why should we implement this behavior or interaction instead of another? I’m not saying that any arbitrary solution is acceptable, and it’s just a matter of choosing one. There are many situations where a choice is obvious, so is not subjective. But for the many cases where there are choices, the UX designer must be capable of persuading and selling their solution to various stakeholders.”