ux design communication toolkit - communication style

Design Communication Toolkit – Part 1: Communication Styles

Communication is a word that gets tossed around freely. UX managers and recruiters are looking for individuals with not just the right design chops but also good communication skills.

I’m certain no one has ever gone in for an interview and said, “You know I have every technical skill you need, but to be honest my communication skills…frankly they suck.”

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It doesn’t happen. You won’t get the job.

How do you know if you are a good communicator? We’re here to help with a communication toolkit written specifically for UX Designers…

| Article by Brenda Buchanan, Oakland designer & writer, as part of the Design Writing Apprenticeship

Over a series of blog posts, we’ll cover the fundamentals of communication in the following order:

  • Communication styles
  • A Guide to Speaking
  • A Guide to Listening
  • Adapting: Observation and Understanding

The 2016 Job Look Survey found that these were the highest-rated skills employers were looking for:

  • Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.
  • Ability to work in a team structure.

An organization that focuses on staffing strategy, found that 80% of employers are having trouble finding graduates who possess strong soft skills as well as technical prowess.

Communication is imperative to succeeding as a UX Designer.

Communication is commonly defined as the exchange of information. More often than not we focus on only half that equation, the giving of information. For any member of a design team it’s even more important to focus on communication skills. Communication on its own simply confirms that you have indeed transmitted information. Communication skills refer to how effectively you pass that information on and how clearly it’s received.

How does one become a good communicator? Like most things: practice and awareness. Let’s start with awareness.

Communication Styles

Generally, communication can be described in 4 styles.

  1. Passive
  2. Aggressive
  3. Passive-aggressive
  4. Assertive

To start improving your communication game, it’s helpful to understand what style you use, because most likely your communication style will be different from your teammates.

1. Passive Communication Style

Passive communicators develop a pattern of suppressing their opinions. They’re likely to remain silent even if they disagree. Preventing conflict is their highest priority.


  •      Quiet in team discussions.
  •      Unable to express design ideas
  •      Always willing to go with the flow.
  •      Avoids any kind of conflict.
  •      Feels walked over.
  •      Doesn’t feel like they have a voice.

2. Aggressive Communication Style

An aggressive communicator has no problem expressing their opinions but does so by treading over other people on the team. Aggressive communicators will bulldoze their team members and are often labeled as ‘bossy’ or ‘pushy.”


  •      Dominates team discussions.
  •      Quick to criticize.
  •      Uses humiliation or shaming to  sway opinions.
  •      Doesn’t listen to team members or talks over them.
  •      Quickly gets frustrated.
  •      Raises voice quickly.

3. Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

Passive-aggressive communicators often think they’re handling things maturely, but really are stewing on the inside. It’s common for someone who is passive-aggressive to agree outwardly with someone but then complain about them later. Passive-aggressive communication can lead to major team roadblocks.


  •      Complains about people behind their backs.
  •      Pretends to agree but then is snide and derisive toward team members.
  •      Changes opinions quickly.
  •      Often sarcastic.
  •      Acting cooperatively but then doing things to disrupt everyone else.

4. Assertive Communication Style

Assertive communication is the target to shoot for. An assertive communicator expresses their opinions firmly, doesn’t hide behind sarcasm, holds firm to what they believe, and is careful to not trample on other people’s rights or feelings.


  •      Good listener.
  •      Willing to be flexible.
  •      Careful with how they express their opinions.
  •      Makes good eye contact and keeps voice level.
  •      Does not allow others to walk over them, and equally protects other people’s rights.

After review those communication styles do you start to see familiar faces from your team? Or maybe some of those identifiers sound a little too familiar?

Pat yourself on the back, because the first step in elevating ourselves is through self awareness.

UX can bring it all together

Ineffective communication styles are often focused inwardly to protect the ego. We want our designs to be liked, our ideas to be valued. But lets not forget that as UX Designers, our practice is user-centered design. We can leverage this by remembering the core UX principle that it’s not about us – it’s about the users. Let’s speak up for our users, and let that ethos guide the way we communicate in design.

Look for a follow-up article in the future about how to start changing those communication patterns with positive phrasing.

More resources on communication styles: