The hard skills that it is important for UX professionals to possess
- include the ability to perform various tasks—for example, conduct a content audit, wireframe in OmniGraffle, or prepare a Keynote presentation
- relate to our IQ
- are left brain
- are necessary to accomplish specific work
- require you to accumulate technical knowledge through training, books, observation, and practice, and you can learn them from scratch
The soft skills that every great UX professional must possess
- include the ability to work with others and manage ourselves—for example, to give constructive design feedback, solve problems creatively, and delegate tasks
- relate to our EQ (emotional intelligence)
- are right brain
- are necessary for everyday life
- become established when we are children and our brain gets wired for certain behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs based on our experiences and relationships
What makes soft skills challenging is that you acquire them as soon as you start learning and interacting with others as a child. For example, how your parents negotiated and managed the way your family members did household chores directly informs your communication style and your ability to delegate, persuade others, and get yourself organized, among other things.
These pathways become physically imprinted in your brain. It takes a persistent, consistent change in behavior as well as adopting new attitudes and beliefs to remap those pathways. Only then can you manage yourself and your relations with others differently. To improve your soft skills, you have to unlearn your default behavior and mindset, which requires great self-awareness and self-control.
There are many soft skills that you must master to be successful in work and life. However a survey that I ran in 2012 identified a subset of soft skills that UX professionals should consider as the areas of greatest importance. I conducted the online survey with several UX industry groups and forums and attracted just over 100 respondents working in the digital space.
Overall, UX designers considered the following soft skills to be the top-10 most important skills that they needed to master:
- creative thinking
- problem solving
- analytical thinking
- active listening
- interviewing and observation
- persuasion and influence
- planning and organization
Who Values What?
People in different roles within the digital-design space give slightly different rankings to particular skills in the UX skillset:
- UX designers themselves emphasize the importance of facilitation skills—bringing multiple people and parts together and getting them to go in the same direction, similar to conducting an orchestra.
- Managers and senior staff value critiquing and consensus building—in seeking the best-quality ideas and nurturing the relationships and dynamics between stakeholders.
- Visual designers and user researchers value planning, organization, and presenting skills—acknowledging the interdependence among roles and working methodically, completing tasks in a timely manner. They also appreciate UX designers’ representing their ideas faithfully—often on their behalf—and presenting them persuasively.
- Developers value change management—appreciating that individuals and teams need an illuminated path to smoothly transition from a current state to a desired future state.
- Product managers emphasize building trust, client management, and dealing with difficult people—pursuing their need to feel heard, valued, understood, and respected—as well as distinguishing when it’s time for a UX designer to be the expert rather than a trusted advisor.
The trend that emerges from these stakeholder expectations is that UX professionals need to put more effort into the skills that support design acceptance rather than those that support idea generation and refinement.