What Skills Do You Need to Become a Successful UX Designer?
Look up ‘history of UX design,’ and you’ll come across countless articles outlining how this term came into fruition and evolved into a job that’s become high in demand. Despite being coined in 1995 by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman, UX predates its name by quite some decades. Why is this important? Understanding the history of UX provides context for the skills required in the role today.
In LinkedIn’s 2019 ‘top skills’ list, soft skills such as creativity, collaboration, and adaptability are highly coveted, along with hard skills in areas like UX design because it’s “the key to making a digital world work for humans.” All that being said, the role is still growing and continuing to evolve - of course - along with technology.
What Does a UX Designer Do?
The role of a UX designer varies, depending on the company, the size of your team, and scope of the project. In general, a UX designer helps create products that provide a meaningful and relevant experience to users. Tasks involved can be researching, testing, project management, wireframing, and more. You’ll either be involved at all stages of a project or only a couple.
Manuel Ortega, Z1
“There may be several roles within a UX team. Some are focused on the onboarding of the project, like researchers who are responsible for understanding clients and users' needs. Following different methodologies, like interviews with main stakeholders, they collect a series of valuable insights that will drive the next stage of the design process.
Other profiles are more visual and interaction design related, like the ones who work directly with these insights provided by researchers and work on the information architecture (AI) or the definition of the types of content. These designers usually scheme the first wireframes, which help create a first navigable prototype that will be validated with sessions with users. According to the conclusions of the testing, designers can make this prototype iterate.”
A large aspect of the role is seeing the product beyond its face value and enforcing the intangible and subtle psychology layers that make the product an enjoyable experience for the users.
“UX design shouldn’t be limited to just web/SaaS/software,” says Noah Stokes, Director of Design at Dribbble. “It’s a discipline that can be practiced in any business that serves customers. A waiter at a high-end restaurant probably understands what good UX is, right? UX designers on the web play a similar role: we want to ensure that our customers have the best experience possible.”
Skills That Make a UX Designer Successful
“Critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.
Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments, and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.” (skillsyouneed.com)
Critical thinking is arguably required for just about any job (or in life for that matter), but specifically for the UX designer role, you’ll be compiling large volumes of research and comparing its data. Identifying and analyzing which data is applicable, and the ability to reason why it's relevant for the clients is required.
You’ll be creating audience personas and getting to know the people who will use or buy the product you’re helping create, and a large part of your role will be advocating for them. What features and factors ultimately invoke an emotional response? The ability to empathize with the users will help you make strong design decisions and ultimately a stronger product.
As a UX designer, you likely won’t be doing much (web) design or coding, however, having at least a baseline understanding of the disciplines and design systems will help you stand out from the crowd.
“A good UX designer must master the basic principles of design, understand the technology behind the product, and deeply know the final user”, says Manuel. “At Z1, we are rigorous and meticulous in compiling and updating documentation. A strong base of design composition, the hierarchy of contents, and the ability to define meaningful interactions translates well into UX design.”
Typically, UX designers draft prototypes and wireframes in both draft and digital form. Learning programs like Sketch, Figma, or Adobe Photoshop before applying for a job will help you get ahead of the game.
Collaborating with your team members and clients is embedded in UX design, so knowing how to manage a project will make your contributions stronger. Understanding the nuances of project stages, documentation, communication, and deadline management will help you succeed in this role.
Type A-level Organization & Communication
These days, many design agencies have distributed team members, allowing their employees to work remotely. So, with UX designers working with a great level of documents and design deliverables in their role, it takes a Type A-level of organization and to keep everything up to date for everyone involved. Having your finger on the pulse on the latest software also is key.
Dribbble team members at their ur bi-annual Hang Time design conference
“Dribbble is 100% remote - our design team is spread across Canada and the United States, says Noah. “Tools like Slack, Zoom, and Figma enable us to work together closely regardless of our locations.”
Whether you’re working on a distributed team or not, being cognizant of how the work is organized is king.
“As lead designer, keeping organized means defining the different milestones of the project, assigning those milestones to the design team and defining delivery dates,” advises Manuel. “It is also essential to be in constant contact with clients and inform them of each step of the project so we can validate each phase and reach the next with little or very few uncertainties.”
Knowing when and how to communicate with your clients and team members is extremely valuable. It won’t hurt to brush up your communications skills by putting your researching skills to the test (hint: there are countless articles and books out there). Taking pointers from remote work practices and applying them to projects can also be helpful–over-communication is what makes the virtual world go round.
“Communication is the key to remote work—and therefore a successful project. We use Zoom liberally at Dribbble,” says Noah. “We strive to over-communicate about the work between our teams as well as with our leadership. Figma is a wonderful tool for this. Leadership can have eyes into any project at any time to see how progress is going, PM’s and Engineers can leave questions and comments directly in the tool for our team to address.”
Think You Have What It Takes?
If creating solid experiences is something you’re passionate about, you’ll do well as a UX designer.
“In my opinion, anyone who has worked in the customer service business and understands the value a customer brings to a business translates well into UX design,” advises Noah. “I mentioned waiters earlier, but it could be anyone from a massage therapist to a butler to an engineer. If someone is passionate about the process of any particular flow and how a customer experiences that, then they might find UX design a satisfying career. Pretty pixels are meaningless if they aren’t connected to a well thought out UX,” he continues. “I think the future is UX.”
Curious to know what remote UX Designer roles are out there? See what’s available on We Work Remotely!