The most important soft skills for UX jobs

The most important soft skills for UX jobs (and an image of vanilla soft serve cone)

During my job search, I often ask recruiters what they’re looking for in potential hires. Beyond years of experience on paper, they’re looking for people who can clearly communicate to ensure goals align. As a designer you can have a great portfolio, but more than anything, your communication skills will make you stand out from the crowd. UX bootcamps and courses help designers develop skills such as empathy, design thinking, critical thinking, and how to do research. But few courses explain the importance of soft skills, and how to leverage them for success. 

Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that influences how well a person can work and interact with others. The term soft skills encompasses a wide range of skills such as teamwork, time management, empathy, and delegation. 

Let’s look at this example UX designer job posting. What are some soft skills they’re looking for? 

  • Collaborating with designers, researchers, product managers, and engineers 
  • Communication, presentation, and interpersonal skills is listed as a minimum qualification

In an increasingly “techy” world, the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report suggests that complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and emotional intelligence would be among the most important skills required in the workplace right now in 2020. 

In comparison to hard skills, soft skills are often undervalued, and there is far less training provided for them. Oftentimes, there is an expectation for people to come into a role already being able to take initiative, communicate effectively and listen. 

If you asked UX designers what hard skills you need to succeed, they’ll generally say things like wireframing, prototyping, and an eye for design. However, if you asked UX designers what soft skills you need to make it big in the industry, you might get a broad range of suggestions. I’ve looked at a lot of job descriptions when I curate the “Remote UX Jobs” found in our newsletter. The 5 skills I’m suggesting are the ones that I think are most frequently requested on job descriptions and critical to becoming a really good designer. 

I will also give you a resource to practice each of these soft skills I’m suggesting. 

UX Hard SkillsUX Soft Skills
Research
Information Architecture
Wireframing
Prototyping
Visual Communication
Curiosity
Empathy
Communication
Collaboration
Flexibility

Curiosity

“Young designers, you need battle wounds. You need to fail. You need scars. Be curious and don’t ask for permission.” Joel Beukelman

Curiosity is a huge driver in new concepts and ideas. Because the field of user experience is still young and ever-growing, keeping up with new changes and incorporating them into your design process will encourage you to keep learning. With curiosity, you can ask the right questions and further engage with the process and your stakeholders. 

Practicing curiosity: asking good great questions.

  • What is the main problem we’re trying to solve?
  • What do the stakeholders think about the idea/project ahead?
  • What is the MVP?
  • What are the risks and problems we have to overcome? 
  • How will we know when we achieve the main goal(s0?
  • What are the measurable KPI’s for our goal(s)?

Empathy

“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize, and glean insights that enable him or her to make the invisible visible.”Hillman Curtis

Empathy is at the core of soft skills for UX designers because if we don’t understand the users needs and desires, it’s hard to truly create a product that accomplishes the users’ goals. To develop empathy, start by being a good observer – watch people’s actions. How are they getting from task A to task B? What makes them happy? What causes the user frustration?

Practicing empathy: connecting – Trends in UI, Interaction, & Experience Design

Connecting is an 18-minute documentary that takes a look at how the future of interaction design is changing and how it will impact us as users. Some of the industry’s thought leaders share their perspectives on why we design experiences and how it influences our day-to-day behaviors. 

Communication

“Good designers can create normalcy out of chaos; they can clearly communicate ideas through the organizing and manipulating of words and pictures.”— Jeff Veen

Consistent communication is vital to the design process, especially now in this remote working environment. When talking about your designs, provide context and explain the ‘why’ in your thought process; you want to be able to articulate your ideas. And when sending a message, it’s good practice to explain your information so that it doesn’t require more work for the people at the end of your message. Example: “new updated version of design file attached” can be alternatively written as “I updated x, y, and z in the latest design file because…” In investing a few extra minutes to explain the message, you can effectively and efficiency communicate what you did. 

Practicing communication: Try Lean UX

Lean UX is an awesome read to learn how to communicate and collaborate closely with members of an agile product team. Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden expand on the valuable Lean UX principles, tactics, and techniques covered in their first edition so that you can bring these ideas to your team. 

Collaboration

“Critique is at the core of collaboration… Critique is not a design skill. Critique is a life skill.” – Adam Connor

While there are many designers who have done demanding freelance work and huge design challenges, realistically, product design is never a one-(wo)man show. Everything from multiple stakeholders, designers, developers, product owners, marketing team, and users require collaboration. To ensure that the final product is representative of the goals, the stakeholders play a vital role in various parts of the design process. 

Along with collaboration is the basic ability to accept criticism and feedback. For example, if a developer says that your design idea will compromise loading time on the product, it will have to be reconsidered if it means losing impatient users. Therefore, discussions with experts and other team members will help you get to that awesome final product together!

Practicing collaboration: 7 UX tools for remote collaboration

[Medium article]

Since most of us are working remote, these are 7 tools that are especially useful for team collaboration: 

  • Miro
  • Sketch
  • Abstract
  • InVision
  • UserZoom
  • Optimal Workshop
  • Microsoft Teams

Flexibility 

“If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good I am satisfied.” — Alfred Nobel

Being adaptive and flexible with design are attributes to a great UX leader. Because the industry continues to grow, trends continue to evolve and there are many new design tools to learn. This is why there are iterations and changes made to products based on user research. 

Each project you take on comes with new challenges. It can be frustrating and overwhelming when things don’t go as planned but it’s important to not lose sight of what the main goal is. What is the desired outcome and what are the MVPs that will guide you there? During the ideation phase, many ideas can solve the problem but figuring out which idea is the best given your constraints is the most critical. Keeping an open mindset and being flexible allows you to make changes as needed and accomplish your goals. 

Practicing flexibility: Quinton Larson: Being adaptable and working thoughtfully

Quinton Larson shares his background at IDEO and how he’s led his team at Indeed. This episode is from InVision’s Design Better podcast with Aarron Walter and Eli Woolery.

In Conclusion

While hard skills in UX are very important, to be able to climb the ranks and develop yourself in the industry, it’s important to also build soft skills. We recommend: 

  1. Curiosity
  2. Empathy
  3. Communication
  4. Collaboration
  5. Flexibility

You can also check out the Top skills every UX beginner should know for a review of our recommended hard skills.

About the Author

Kim

Designer, foodie, and lover of aesthetics. A learning technologist by day and aspiring UX'er the rest of the time. Bringing to you the latest design tidbits.

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