9 min read
Soft Skills UX Professionals Need To Stand Out
11 min read
11 min read
In the world of UX, we have a problem. On one hand, it’s awesome that many companies have an increased awareness of the value of UX, and they’re opening up a lot of UX roles but many of them don’t quite understand what UX really is. When companies don’t understand what UX is, it can impact you in many ways such as you:
- End up in roles where you don’t do much UX
- Become the hand that just moves the mouse
- Don’t get to develop new UX skills
- Get bored and stuck in your role
If you want to stand out as a professional, grow your career, and be able to influence and impact your team and company, then you must develop UX soft skills that go beyond the basics. As a UX professional, it’s not enough to know the tools of the trade. Your certificate, boot camp, or portfolio will only (maybe) take you so far.
Due to the demand for UX folks right now, there’s an emphasis on soft skills right now. Of course, these skills matter. But the skills that will help you go further in your career and get your next will are the hard skills. And these are the skills that we don’t give enough attention to.
It’s time to stop making hard skills an afterthought. What does it mean to go beyond the basic skills of UX? It means that you go:
- beyond knowing how to use UX software
- beyond memorizing the steps in a process
- beyond knowing how to “talk the UX talk”
- beyond being able to produce deliverables
So what specific skills should you focus on? What skills will help you stand out? Today, the things that we classify as soft skills should really be elevated in priority that’s equal to, if not higher than, the things we classify as soft skills.
Recently, I did some quick research on LinkedIn to ask:
“If you enrolled in a UX boot camp, in hindsight what were you not prepared for when it came to your UX job?” (here’s a link to the post)
I wanted to understand the gaps between what people learned, or skills they believed they needed, versus what was needed in the real world.
5 basic UX skills you must know but should stop obsessing over
Early in your UX career, you must learn how to do the work. Whether you’re enrolled in a UX boot camp, post-secondary program, or teaching yourself UX, there will be a heavy focus on the basics.
These basic UX skills matter. However, they don’t guarantee that you’ll get hired. Also, it’s crucial that you realize the process you followed and memorized in your coursework may not be what you actually do in a project once you’re hired.
The reality of UX is that the process always changes depending on the project. Do not expect to walk into a project and follow the IDEO human-centered design process step by step, exactly as you learned in your boot camp.
Let’s look at the 5 UX skills that matter, but that you also must not rely on and obsess over:
- Software: Yes, you need to know how to use software such as InVision, Figma, Sketch, etc. Don’t stress out about trying to learn all the software. Don’t stress out about trying to learn every feature within the software.I once had a boss say: “Know your tool, know your tool as fast as you can, know your tool as well as you can.” I’d also add, that you should know the parts of the tool that matter to your role. But please know that software will change. You could wake up tomorrow and the software you use could be acquired by a new company and then shut down. Learn how to think like a designer instead of memorizing every shortcut and feature of your software.
- Processes & methods. Of course processes and methods matter. If you’re embarking on a research project, there’s a set of steps to follow before you ever sit down at a computer with someone and run a usability test. However, today in UX we suffer from method madness and process-itis. Every day, it seems like people are coming up with new processes and methods, or actually, just renaming existing things to make themselves sound cool! Focus on the steps. Don’t get distracted by semantics.
- Terminology: Very similar to processes and methods, but don’t waste your time getting caught up in terminology. Do we really need to debate whether or not we call people “customers” or “users” or something else? Once you’re working with clients and stakeholders, it will actually be to your benefit to talk in “laymen’s terms”. This will help you have a more productive discussion with them.
- Making deliverables: Yes, deliverables will be a part of your role. But UX professionals who stand out are the ones who can not just make the deliverable but also talk about it, and justify their design decisions or process. Once I was in a meeting with a new team member and he was presenting a 50-page research findings PDF to a client. He literally started reading word for word the text on the page. Quickly, I had to jump in because simply reciting the words on the PDF was making our entire team look bad! Instead, I lead the client in a discussion around the findings. I explained not just what we did for the research, but also what we learned and how the client could take action on the research. That’s the difference between a deliverable maker and someone who can go deeper, explaining the “why” not just the “what”.
- Chasing trends: Trends change. Eventually, people forget about trends and they get replaced with new trends. When I was first starting out in my UX career, everyone was obsessed with Flash. I lost many job opportunities because I didn’t know Flash. Guess how many sites use Flash now … not many. I’m so glad that I didn’t decide or feel pressured to go learn Flash. Instead, I decided to hone other skills and work on paid freelance projects so that I could get experience doing UX for clients. The decision to chase trends paid off. Consider it a question of return on investment. If you use your time to chase a certain trend, what skills are you not developing?
Get the UX Case Study Template (Google Doc) so you can write your case studies faster and make sure they answer 7 key questions.
5 UX soft skills you need to go beyond basic and stand out as a professional
Basic UX skills will only take you so far. If you want to advance in your career and get beyond being on a deliverables assembly line, then you must commit to going beyond the basics.
Often, these skills are deemed to be “soft skills” … but there’s nothing soft about these skills.
These UX soft skills should actually be categorized as “hard skills”. These skills are what help you:
- Have more influence
- Be seen as a more mature and thoughtful designer
- Stand out to recruiters and hiring managers
- Position yourself as a leader
- Increase your confidence
- Shut down Imposter Syndrome
Another benefit to developing these soft skills is that unlike the “basics”, these skills are long-lasting and can help you future-proof your UX career. The software may change, trends will fade, methods will morph, but these lasting skills will always be there to serve you now and in the future … even if your career leads you away from UX.
1. Presenting your work.
You must master the art of articulating your design decisions. It’s not enough to move the mouse and make deliverables. You must confidently be able to explain why you did what you did. That’s what you’ll be doing in the real world.
Your ability to present your UX work both in oral and written format will drastically increase the influence you’ll have. Not to mention, presenting your work is a part of creating your portfolio and key to successful UX job interviews.
2. Justifying your design decisions
So much of UX is about explaining and justifying your decisions. Stakeholders and clients will engage in push back and they will try to design over your shoulder. By learning how to present your work, you’ll be able to help them understand the “why” behind “what” you did.
If you can’t justify your work, you’ll leave the door open for people to swoop in and change, re-design, or steamroll what you create! Here’s a Google Doc template to help you write more effective UX case studies.
3. Understanding business
Your ability to create a great solution is not related to how well you can use a piece of software. Creating a great solution comes from a deep understanding of a problem. If talking about business intimidates you, then you need to quickly get comfortable with it. Do you know the difference between profit and revenue? Can you read quantitative data? Does unraveling the pieces of a multi-step business process across various departments and software sound like your worst nightmare? If a hiring manager has to choose between a UX professional who understands business and one who doesn’t, guess which person will make the cut?
The person with business skills will focus on not just the interface, but the implications of what you are making. This will allow you to collaborate more effectively with teams and stakeholders across the organization so that you can truly create a solution that meets the business needs and goals.
4. Collaboration and facilitation
Doing UX in the real world is not just about doing the work. It’s also about educating others about your work. Since everyone uses the Internet, they often think that qualifies then to be a designer.
As a UX professional, your ability to facilitate collaboration will be crucial to extracting ideas and information from people across teams and organizations, setting you up with what you need to create a stronger solution.
5. Visual design principles
There’s a difference between being a visual designer and understanding visual design principles. I’m not suggesting you need to go become an expert at Photoshop or Illustrator. Instead, I’m talking about the basics, principles such as alignment, hierarchy, contrast, repetition, whitespace. When you master visual design principles, you’ll be able to create documentation and deliverables that more effectively communicate your ideas. This applies to all UX professionals. For example, if you’re a User Researcher, you may create a Keynote presentation of your research findings or a Google Spreadsheet of some quantitative data analysis. By applying visual design principles, you can increase comprehension of your ideas, and that’s what you want, right? Here’s a great example of visual design in action, you can transform a resume’s readability and scanability by applying simple visual design principles:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s77zVMcTSks
To create a lasting UX career and stand out, you must go below surface level skills
More than likely, what you’re focusing on right now is only scratching the surface of what hiring managers and recruiters want to see. With so many paths to learn UX today, it’s not hard for people to say they can use the software, claim they know a method, and talk the talk. But the people who stand out are the ones who demonstrate the depth of their UX soft skills and that they have below the surface.
Going below the surface means to:
- Demonstrate you can go beyond the deliverable and explain the “why”
- Articulate your decision decisions through effective UX case studies
- Visually present your work in a clear and concise manner
- Knowledge of business and tie that back to your solutions
- Confidently collaborate and communicate with stakeholders, clients, and colleagues
In the video below, I share more about what skills recruiters and hiring managers look for:
The education of a UX professional is never over
The UX soft skills you need to have a long-term career, are skills that you must keep practicing over and over. You learn these skills by doing. These UX soft skills are key to creating a long-term UX career.
The UX process that I’ve used with my clients is never cookie-cutter. I always tailor my process to the project and client. Different clients have different timelines, budgets, learning styles, team sizes, objectives and more.
Being able to read people’s needs, understand them, communicate with and meet them where they’re at has been crucial to my career. If you can’t have empathy for your clients or stakeholders, how will you ever do so for the people who’ll use the product you’re working on?
Enrolling in any UX education program will only take you so far. Commit to a life-long education in people and process and make sure the UX soft skills are at the forefront of your continuing education as a UX professional.