You’ve probably never heard someone say, “You know, [insert person’s name] should really start being more introverted if she wants to grow in her career.” But people who naturally show introverted behaviors constantly get pushed to exhibit more extroverted behaviors. Why is this so? What makes society and our professional environments prize extroverted behaviors to the degree that we often overlook the role that introversion can play in helping people to advance their professional career?
As someone who skews toward introversion, I’ve often felt tacit pressures to become more extroverted—especially as I’ve progressed further into my leadership career. I’ve also noticed that many UX professionals are naturally introverted, which likely contributes to their not achieving the same career growth as other more extroverted professionals within an extrovert-biased corporate environment. In this column, which is Part 1 of a two-part series, I’ll delve into the following:
understanding introversion versus extroversion
breaking down common perceptions
leveraging your inherent strengths as an introverted UX designer
Understanding Introversion Versus Extroversion
First, it’s important to understand what makes someone an introvert versus an extrovert. There is a misperception that most introverts behave like socially awkward recluses who avoid having frank conversations with colleagues or presenting to groups of stakeholders. On the flip side, people often portray extroverts as overly gregarious, life-of-the-party types who relish constantly being in the spotlight and effortlessly and energetically flow from one social engagement to another.
While there’s some truth in both of these extreme stereotypes, the reality is that the introversion-extroversion continuum is as wide as it is complex, with many people falling somewhere in the middle, between these two poles. Let’s take a moment to clarify each of these types.
According to the article “Introvert Vs Extrovert: Facts & Differences [Comparison Guide],” on High 5 Test, introverts are people who “feel more comfortable alone with their own thoughts and emotions, as opposed to sharing their ideas and feelings with others.” The article continues by stating that introverts “get their energy from within themselves, not from outside sources. Their circle of friends tends to be smaller, but more tight-knit; many fear or dislike speaking to large groups.” Plus, introverts tend to prefer independence and predictability. They often take their time making decisions and avoid impulsivity and ambiguity whenever possible.
According to that same article, extroverts are often “talkative, action-oriented, people persons, friendly, enthusiastic, and outgoing.” Unlike introverts, extroverts derive energy from their interactions with others rather than generating abundant energy from within themselves. Also, extroverts tend to “actively seek out social events and have a wide social circle.” Collaboration comes naturally to them, and they’re often more open than introverts when it comes to sharing details about their personal life.
Breaking Down Common Perceptions
Let’s circle back to the introvert and extrovert stereotypes that I mentioned earlier. Some might dismiss them as harmless observations that neither bear significant weight nor have consequences for our personal or our professional lives. Sadly, this is not true. These perceptions can get in the way and negatively impact our careers. The same article asserts that extroverts perform better on teams and are more effective orators than introverts are. While I’ll get to some unappreciated strengths of introverts soon, I do not agree with the perception that introverts aren’t just as good—and sometimes even better—in team settings or aren’t such effective presenters as their extroverted peers. There are countless examples of highly successful introverts who had to be effective communicators and work well with others at some point in their career to achieve incredible success.
I’d like to reinforce how much a foundation of energy underpins the introversion-extroversion continuum. On the extroversion side of the continuum, energy increases in group settings and decreases in solitude. On the introversion side, energy increases in solitude and group settings sap a person’s energy. At the absolute middle are ambiverts, who fairly seamlessly blend extroversion and introversion together, and omniverts, who can modulate their energy, being more of an introvert or an extrovert depending on their situation. These people have the ability to tap into both introversion and extroversion, whether those behaviors or traits manifest themselves situationally or are organically ever-present.
Even if one is squarely in the introverted camp, most introverts can still harness the energy they need to give a great stakeholder presentation or be a social butterfly, as long as they have the opportunity to recharge their energy afterward. This recharge would ideally happen in solitude or perhaps with just a close friend or in a small, tightly knit group. While extroverts often become energized by being around others, it’s not true that the energy they gain from being with others is boundless. An extrovert’s threshold for being able to recharge alone as opposed to from being with other people is simply lower than that of an introvert. Many of the extroverts I know—even the incredibly gregarious ones—acknowledge that they occasionally need time for head-down work or to gather their thoughts.
Introversion and extroversion aren’t incontrovertibly binary traits. Humans sometimes want to perceive things rigidly or categorically because doing so helps them navigate ambiguity, making the world easier to understandable and less unwieldy. However, in reality, each person occupies a different resting spot along the introversion-extroversion continuum, and people can often harness the energy to move from that resting spot to other places on the continuum, even if only temporarily. I’ll dig into this more in Part 2.
Leveraging Your Inherent Strengths as an Introverted UX Designer
Now that you understand more about the introvert-extrovert continuum and some prevailing perceptions, let’s look at how these traits impact UX work and consider how introverts can leverage their inherent strengths and advocate for themselves in the process. In Part 2, I’ll get into the introvert’s challenges, which involve typically extroverted activities such as leading and participating in workshops and presenting to stakeholders. For now, let’s focus on the strengths you already possess and how you can advocate for yourself.
Strengths You Already Possess
Designing user interfaces and having the opportunity to think creatively are some reasons why UX design and its adjacent roles draw a fair number of introverts. There is a linkage between solitude and highly creative work, and the ability to get into a precious flow state doesn’t usually happen in groups, workshops, or brainstorming sessions. Flow typically happens when one is alone, giving a home-field advantage to naturally introverted UX designers, who are likely to do their best creative and even tactical work when they have a predictable period of time they can dedicate to losing themselves in a task or project.
Plus, introverts possess many strengths, but we probably don’t appreciate them as much as we should because our workplaces haven’t taught us to value them as much as we should. Introverts tend to be:
attuned to how they come across to others—Whether the people offering feedback are fellow UX designers, stakeholders, engineering peers, or even users of the products they’re designing, introverts accept their feedback gracefully—even if it irks them inwardly!
good teammates—Letting fellow designers or peers bask in the limelight when celebrating their successes is an often underappreciated benefit that introverts bring to a team.
measured in their communication—Introverts likely prefer to write and revise a message many times versus having ephemeral, off-the-cuff conversations. They probably give measured, thoughtful feedback during critique and design-review sessions, which harkens back to how well they remain attuned to others’ feelings and perceptions.
highly in touch with their own emotions—This trait often leads to exceptional emotional management, which is critical amidst the pressures and fire drills we all face occasionally in our jobs. Moreover, a steady temperament bodes well for leadership and responsible decision-making.
creative and innovative—Introverts’ ability to generate energy when they’re alone and block out distractions can lead to strategic breakthroughs when working on design deliverables. Plus, designers are likely to go through multiple rounds of discovery, which supports innovative outcomes.
detail oriented and visually observant—Introverts have an innate ability to focus intently on a design problem and often observe what others might fail to perceive. An additional strength of introverts is the ability to dwell in the problem space long enough to create solutions that solve real problems for users.
punctual and well prepared—Introverts gain approval through their punctuality and solid time management, which stems from their self-awareness and conscientiousness about how others feel, as well as their preference for predictability and structure.
good listeners—Because of their thoughtful communication skills and deferential style, introverts engender trust in others who feel heard and may come to them for advice or simply someone to listen.
focused on the quality of relationships over quantity—Because introverts are likely highly selective about who they spend their time with, they reap the benefits of deeper, more loyal relationships, which can also help them to forge lasting working partnerships.
easily motivated—Because introverts are able to generate the energy they need for their design work independently, they can be highly productive without being dependent on others to stimulate their productivity. We can trust introverts who go dark to dive deeply into their work and believe that they’ll be highly productive and produce good outcomes.
good leaders—All of these traits can make introverts exceptional leaders! They listen well, communicate thoughtfully, are empathetic, and can maintain their focus, which is often necessary to drive meaningful outcomes and lead teams.
Advocating for Yourself
As you might’ve noticed, many of the strengths that introverted UX designers possess correlate directly to spending meaningful alone time, which can be challenging in fast-paced work environments. While it’s important that all UX designers ruthlessly guard those moments on their weekly calendar that they’ve reserved for deep work, this is especially true for introverted UX designers.
Take heart. There’s no need to be standoffish when protecting your deep-work time slots. But you shouldn’t acquiesce without question when someone plops a conflicting meeting on your calendar—unless it has a clear goal, purpose, or desired outcome that’s relevant to your work or your role on a project. If such a conflict is a recurring meeting, that is even more reason for concern. You must politely challenge the organizer and inquire about the meeting’s goals, objectives, and outcomes. All this takes is a polite Teams or Slack message or an email message in direct response to the invitation you’ve received. You always need to advocate for yourself because perhaps no one else will.
As someone who’s been in leadership for several years, I admit that I’ve sometimes been guilty of scheduling meetings that could derail creative outcomes for my more introverted UX design–team members who need predictable, structured, deep-work routines. Sometimes things happen and scheduling a meeting is unavoidable. However, I’ve also found that things are seldom as urgent as they seem. Plus, you can accomplish a lot through asynchronous communications. Always take the time to consider more measured approaches. As a leader, I always appreciate and respect my team members’ pushing back and asking me about the reason for a meeting or activity that could cut into their established creative time—especially if I didn’t do enough to qualify its purpose or defend its importance or urgency.
Urgency is another factor that saps introverts’ ability to do the deep work they’re so good at. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, there are mountains and there are molehills, but it can sometimes be easy for even the most diligent leaders to confuse the two. So, if someone is advising you to give a molehill more attention than it deserves, call that out in whatever way works for your communication style. Often, other people will be able to appreciate your perspective and give an issue more thought next time. After all, design time is precious capital. For UX designers who are unsure whether they should challenge something that impacts their ability to do their work, which I know can be difficult for those who prefer to avoid conflict, they should know that challenging the necessity of a meeting probably won’t do the damage they fear it might.
Introversion comes with many strengths that often go underappreciated in our society, which tends to favor extroverted behaviors and traits. If you are an introverted UX designer, take heart: your inherent strengths and traits are more important than you might realize. You should lean into those strengths rather than give them short shrift. After all, your extroverted peers are probably not receiving coaching to be more introverted. Why should you stifle your best qualities for the sake of being someone you’re not? Companies are now increasingly instituting practices and programs whose aim is diversifying their workforce. I contend that the introversion-extroversion continuum is yet another talent variable that companies must take into account to achieve the best outcomes.
Of course, you might at times need to leave the familiar confines of your habitual resting spot on the introversion-extroversion continuum and temporarily move to spots that are less comfortable for you. A stark reality for all UX designers is that we must articulate our design decisions effectively and promote UX maturity—even without the support of our organizations. This means recruiting the efforts of others, which arguably requires engaging in more extroverted behaviors. In Part 2, I’ll discuss some things that I’ve learned in my career, sharing how I’ve managed to move along the introversion-extroversion continuum and showing you how you can do that, too.
Director of User Experience at Rockwell Automation
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Jon has a degree in Visual Communication Design from the University of Dayton, as well as experience in Web development, interaction design, user interface design, user research, and copywriting. He spent eight years at Progressive Insurance, where his design and development skills helped shape the #1 insurance Web site in the country, progressive.com. Jon’s passion for user experience fueled his desire to make it his full-time profession. Jon joined Rockwell Automation in 2013, where he designs software products for some of the most challenging environments in the world. Jon became User Experience Team Lead at Rockwell in 2020, balancing design work with managing a cross-functional team of UX professionals, then became a full-time User Experience Manager in 2021. In 2022, Jon was promoted to Director of User Experience at Rockwell. Read More