People who succeed in a UX design role have two things in common.
Firstly, they enjoy what they do.
Secondly, their personality fits the work they do daily.
Too many articles on how to get started in UX design, dive straight into the courses that must be taken and the skills that must be acquired. This is without exploring if UX design is even a right fit personality wise. Its a great place to start before investing too much time in pursuing a whole career in UX.
You are probably wondering:
“What personality traits DO I need to do well at UX design?”.
Glad you asked.
In the first of a three part series, we look at personality as a gauge for pursuing a UX Design career. The second part will look at soft skills and the third part looks at the daily activities.
I will break down 8 of the most common personality traits that you must have to naturally do well in a UX design role whether you are looking to get into UX, are still a student or already hold a UX position.
These are taken from a study of over 1000 UX professionals conducted by the Nielsen Norman group. I have also shared expert advice from top designers from LinkedIn, ebay, HUGE, Adobe and more around each trait for how they help in the real world.
Let’s get straight in.
1. UX designers are problem solvers
UX designers, by their very nature solve problems and seek solutions that creatively align user needs and business goals. A sound solution to a design problem identifies the nature and context of use, whilst taking into account the limitations and constraints in which the resulting product/application will be used. Fortunately everyone is a problem solver whether they know it or not. We solve big and small problems everyday as we go about our lives. The goal for a UX designer is to turn problem solving into a habit so that they feel more prepared and assured when they encounter similar design problems in the future.
Chad Thornton, an Interaction Designer at Airbnb in San Francisco.
“There’s a moment at which you just need to start designing as a way of informing how you think about the problem. Sketching out early possible ideas. There’s a tight feedback loop between what we think the problem is and what that might mean for some possible solutions, and then going back and thinking about how these possible solutions inform how we think about the problem.
People’s understanding of the problem often changes, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing if it evolves over time. In fact, if your approach to a problem never changes, you become too beholden to what you think is right.”
“All of the designers sit together—there aren’t many engineers sitting with us even though we’re all on the same floor. I think it’s important to collaborate with engineers because they might look at a problem in a different way—and offer great solutions we might not have thought of.
One of the ways we collaborate is by going to the engineering stand-ups. You get an opportunity to ask questions and get different perspectives from people you don’t see every day.”
Andy Law, Manager of Nextflix Mobile Product Design
How to develop a problem solving personality:
- Use of frameworks, patterns and best practices for design projects.
- Simplifying big problems to smaller problems.
- Rephrasing or reframing the problem.
- Brainstorming ideas, concepts and identifying ways of measuring progress and success.
- Working in a team of people who think differently from you.
- Playing brain games like puzzles and strategy games.
2. UX Designers have an aptitude for learning
This aptitude speaks to the natural desire for learning and need for proficiency in the design discipline. In a field as broad and cross-disciplinary as User Experience, continual learning and upskilling is very necessary. UX designers wear a lot of hats in the workplace and have to master a range of skills. The aptitude for learning is probably the most important over the course of a UX career than any specific skill set or technical tool.
Akshay is an Innovator at eBay
When I was doing stuff on my own, I didn’t have anyone to show my designs to. I experienced a learning curve when I first came to eBay because I was put in a position where I had to collaborate and couldn’t do it in a silo anymore. I had to start showing people my designs, and over time I started seeing the value in getting feedback from other people.
You learn who the true collaborators are because they get your design, and without discounting it, can give opinions that will actually improve your design and UX thinking. One head cannot think of all things.
Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there’s a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else’s stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people’s work has a huge impact on who you are as a designer. Always make sure you’re looking at good stuff, because if you are looking at crap work, it’s going to influence you and you are going to start doing crap work. We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.
Joshua Taylor Evernote
Allison Chefec, web designer at BuzzFeed
Design school helps you talk about your work, helps you learn how to give & receive feedback. You learn not to take things personally. As a young designer, you may think that a criticism of your work is a criticism of you. It’s not. Your work may have come from you, and it’s inherently connected to you, but it’s not you. No one’s saying, “Hey, you suck!” They’re saying, “Hey, maybe this could be a little better.” If you keep an open mind, you might find that others have valuable points to make.
How to keep learning:
- Take training course at least once every year
- Attend conferences and seminars
- Regular reading time
- Spend time around other learners
3. UX designers are good communicators
Being a good communicator is absolutely critical to success in a UX design role. In user testing, one needs to able to make participants feel comfortable so they are more willing to share their feedback. In a team, one needs the ability to work with people, convince them and deal with internal politics. With client, one needs to be able to communicate a coherent argument and rationale for the design approach or strategy to several different stakeholders.
Ryan Cobourn, Experience Design Manager at Adobe, in Salt Lake City, Utah
“Collaboration is everything that we do here. Everything we do is complex enough and it touches so many different people that without talking to others, you can go down a path that might never arrive at the best solution. So we always communicate amongst departments. We work closely with the guys who work on products like Creative Cloud, as well as working with people who are working in a more consulting role. These designers work on one-off solutions for customers as well and they often have a really, really good idea of what the customer is trying to do. Getting those people’s opinions is extremely valuable for us.”
What makes a designer great is the ability to communicate effectively. As designers, our superpowers enable us to turn abstract ideas into tangible bits that help move the conversation or product forward. You have to be a good storyteller in order to get someone to believe in your vision.
Moses Ting, UX Design Lead at LinkedIn
How to develop your communication skills
- Find common ground and develop a connection.
- Actively listen.
- Follow up on deadlines and work allocation.
- Assign responsibility and accountability.
- Ask more questions.
- Be genuine.
- Become a better storyteller.
4. UX designers are great listeners
This skill is not only important for advancing your career but building meaningful relationships. Good listening means being able to read and be aware of both the verbal and no-verbal messages. A UX role demands sound understanding of the problem being solved and effective communication between the team and with key stakeholders. Good listening means less mistakes and better projects results. It is not surprising therefore that it is one of the most important communication skills to master.
Don’t be afraid to put your work in front of people and get honest feedback—even if it’s painful. It can sting at first, but ultimately it’s humbling and enlightening, and it’ll transform your work from decorative to purposeful.
Michael McWatters, UX Architect at TED
The most powerful part of our process is that we get to become our own users, so we understand pain points. We deal with the same things our users deal with, and then we get to help solve those problems. We get company-wide input as well.
Hilary Nemer UX designer at GoPro
How to develop good listening
- Respect the other person.
- Remove distractions.
- Don’t interrupt the person speaking.
- Ask for clarification and elaboration, practice mirroring the person you are speaking to, maintain good eye contact and communicating with the best intentions.
5. UX designers are analytical
A UX designer who is naturally analytically inclined will be able to justify every design decision based on best practices and data. This not only means an affinity for data driven design and metrics but the ability to also draw conclusions and themes from qualitative user feedback. Quantitative and qualitative data is increasingly becoming a key ingredient in usability and user-experience work. Anyone who has the ability to reflect and draw useful insights from information will do well in a UX role.
Ryan Cobourn, Experience Design Manager at Adobe, in Salt Lake City, Utah
Usually, if I’m working by myself I crank up the tunes. I start by restating the problem. Keeping that in mind, I then identify the user and then I restate their goals. Once I have that in mind, I start sketching out ideas and erasing them and start sketching out new ones and then erasing those and then keep repeating that cycle until I have something that I like.
When I’ m working with the team we start the exact same way but we’re usually working together in the workspace with some additional tools, drawing out our ideas or using a game to come up with something.
We get a lot of feedback from forums, the app stores, Twitter, employees, in-person interviews, and even our families. So we take all of that and then try to synthesize it into what we’d say is the actual problem. Then we’d go back and reiterate it back to some of those people and say, “Is this the right problem?” We do that in lots of ways. Sometimes we just ship them the product and see how they respond. People are very vocal about our product which is a lot of fun.
We definitely get both positive and negative feedback and address things accordingly. But I don’t know that you can always rely on what other people say…sometimes it just takes intuition. But remember to always keep asking “Why?”
Joshua Taylor Evernote
How to develop an analytical mind
- Set aside time to think through how data affects design.
- Practice providing design rationale.
- Use patterns and user data to design products.
6. UX designers pay close attention to detail
They say design is in the details but detailed work is not easy. It takes reverts, reviews and concentration. Detail-oriented strengths give you the ability to work better, to be more effective and to minimize the risk of making major mistakes. Employers tend to look for this from their employees because this will give accurate and good results for the tasks given to them. Some people natural have a higher attention to detail but through practice one can also develop a very good eye for good design.
There’s a difference between creating a good simple design and a well-crafted visual experience. The challenge of a well-crafted visual experience is in the detail, not just aesthetic detail but also functional detail. This means considering the end user, as their needs influence the design. Through my experience, I realised that the end user is actually a person – not a faceless “idea” of a person – and that person has various needs. That is where web accessibility came to light for me.
Web accessibility, I feel, has partly influenced the reason why I use flat design. And the reason flat design works is because, if done correctly, it follows foundational design principles, derived from traditional Swiss design, such as using grid systems, high contrast colors, clean typography, space, and hierarchy. Ultimately, great design is about being aware of the audience you’re designing for. The user always comes first.
Dan Leon Krause, Art Director at Razorfish.
Our design solutions should solve real user needs. It’s great to understand what users suggest and what features they’d like, but we make sure we understand the root problem users are experiencing.
Nikki Will, Head of Design at Pocket
How to develop attention to detail
- Using checklists often.
- Iterating ideas, reviewing work with the rest of the team more than once.
- Practice breaking tasks into smaller ones.
- Get into the habit of shutting off distractions.
7. UX designers have empathy for users
This is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. A UX designer must be able to place themselves in the users’ shoes and feel what they are feeling when using a product or service. This is important for the project as the UX designer will act as an advocate for the user’s needs when they are overlooked by the rest of the team.
Akshay is an Innovator at eBay
I go straight to the end user; not his manager. There is often a stark difference between the problem statement and what the end user is feeling, so I go in there without a lot of bias so they can be open and honest talking to me. I try to make them feel very comfortable and write down all their pain points in a really informal way. I ask them to show me the application, how they use it, what is causing them pain, what they don’t like about it, and so on. In corporate settings, people hesitate to speak because they’re worried about what someone else in the room is going to think or say. One-on-one meetings allow me to really hear what they think and allow them to talk their heart out.
Whether it’s a small project that will take a couple of weeks or a large-scale one that will go on for months, our process always starts with user research, which unveils the real problem that we need to solve. We aim to get a sense of users’ needs and wants very early on in order to build the best possible experience. Analytics can tell you what the user is doing, but you need user research to tell you why.
Karelia Jo Moore, Experience Lead at Huge
Our audiences and users are at the heart of everything we do here. We’re always aiming to improve the quality and the general presentation of our content and the overall experience.
Ed Fairman, Interaction Designer at BBC.com
How to develop empathy
- Practice listening more.
- Be more vulnerable allowing your conversations to be as deep and revealing as possible.
- Empathize with people whose beliefs you don’t share.
- Validate their viewpoint/perspective.
8. UX Designers have big picture thinking
A core trait that every UX designer should have is big picture thinking. One needs to be able to holistically understand strategy, business requirements, users needs and manage their impact on project delivery. Most big picture thinkers will not get bogged down in the details of executing the plans but still pay attention to the detail. A UX designer hence usually works with different team members during the course a project timeline and does not work solely within one departmental silo.
“Our job as UX experts is a balancing act. We’re always trying to figure out the right combination for all our ingredients: UI, UX, graphics, marketing and other business goals. I sometimes get frustrated when, in order to achieve optimal UX results on complex products, I need to sacrifice some of the cooler design elements.”
Nir Yuz, UX Studio Manager at Wix, in Tel Aviv, Israel
Dan Leon Krause, Art Director at Razorfish
Great design comes from balance. There are a lot of things to keep in mind: different audiences, different devices, different abilities. You have to make sure there’s a balance between all of those. You also have to keep design principles in mind: space, colour, typography, hierarchy, the grid, etc. The fundamentals of design were around long before we were born and will stay around long after.
If you can understand the basics – make them a part of you and be holistic with your approach – you will be a great designer
How to develop big picture thinking
- Allocate more time to thinking when the mind is most clear.
- Find lessons in every experience.
- Gain insight from different people.
- Open up to new experiences.
- Learn something new.
What to do now
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