By Tracey Wolstenholme, UX Designer at Freethinking
“It takes no skills to make something crappy. Skills are only required to make something great.” – Jared Spool, Founder at User Interface Engineering
Visualiser, analyser, knowledge, teacher, techie, listener, aggregator, big thinker. These are but a few of the many skills a great UX designer possesses and learns over years of experience. Too often I run into people who think that all we do is listen to people and make products look pretty. However, it takes time to integrate and realise many of these skills. Some can be learnt; others are natural.
During my years as a UX designer, I have found the following three skills of great benefit, however these are skills that can only be mastered over time.
1. Perspective of your customer
“Want your users to fall in love with your designs? Fall in love with your users.” – Dana Chisnell, co-author of Handbook of Usability testing
As UX designers, we need to start with “knowing thy user”. We must deeply care for them. I’m not just talking about knowing your users on a surface level, but truly being able to see someone else’s perspectives. We need to put on our users’ shoes and understand their underlying issues and needs. Without doing this, it will be difficult to design a product that engages them.
“Supposing is good, but finding out is better.” – Mark Twain
Have evidence to back up your perspectives. Sometimes because we are UX designers we think we know best, and thus we tend towards relying on our own intuition. We also think that since we use the product, we have an idea as to what our users are experiencing. No – we need to put aside your own intuition and product interaction, and start observing.
Henry Ford once said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’.” Get close to the user. Observe your users to find out what they really need. Don’t just ask your users what they want; sometimes they don’t really know. Get them talking about their pain points and places of happiness. Ask why, why and why again.
Over my years of testing users, I have often had to assist UX testers and probe the user further as I was not happy with their first answer. It’s amazing how the user’s second or even third answer can be so different to the first. In other words, in-depth probing can help you to find the truth. This process of “digging to find the truth” with your UX testers is imperative as their answers will ultimately lead to the outcome of your product! Don’t miss the real problem that needs to be solved. Probe further.
“Want your users to fall in love with your designs? Fall in love with your users.”
“Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It’s about the ideas that never existed until after everyone entered the room.” – unknown
Learn to collaborate. UX designers need to be able to collaborate with the whole team. This does not mean just your team of visual designers and UX designers, but also your developers, product managers, your stakeholders, an entire plethora of people.
As UX designers, we need to look at the bigger picture and draw information from a variety of areas. We collaborate so that we can understand everything that will affect the design; from business goals and technical implications to visual design principles and environmental issues. We must not only focus on the detail, but on the whole system. Without this knowledge gained from collaboration, the goal of the design may not be met.
Don’t wait till the last minute to collaborate. Get your team involved early on. The more involved your team is from the beginning, the less surprises will pop up at a later stage.
Lastly, everyone always wants to provide their personal touch to the design. From my experience, if your team has been heard from early days, they will be more acceptable to design changes that need to be made later on in the design process.
With collaboration comes communication. You not only need to be able to communicate with your team, but also during user testing, and with your stakeholders. Learn to communicate clearly and efficiently. You need to be able to bring your knowledge of what you have learnt about the user to the whole team. You are the voice of the user. And you don’t need to only communicate verbally; communication comes in many forms such as visualising ideas clearly through sketches, wireframes, diagrams, or showcasing prototypes.
Use the tools that you have and communicate in a way that is appreciated by your audience. As UX designers, we are constantly having to deal with different communication situations and styles and need to practice these to make a positive impact.
If you are a new UX designer, or have even been around for a while, I hope the above pointers will assist you in your career and as you practice them, will help you to provide an even better UX design capability to your team.