As a designer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and skills.
There’s a lot.
Thus, I wanted to write a two-part series about soft and hard skills for UX & UI designers.
This will serve as a reminder for me and hopefully help any aspiring designers out there.
So, in the first part of the series, I will share ten soft skills that are vital to a successful career in UX & UI Design. For each, I’ll also share tip(s) on how to develop the skill.
This post was inspired by this article by Danny Sapio, but with a twist.
It’s important to note that the most effective way to gain soft skills is through experience - internships, hackathons, or side projects.
But remember: It takes time to develop soft skills.
So I hope you don’t feel overwhelmed after reading this post. Instead, use this list as a reminder for yourself.
The ten soft skills I’ll talk about are as follows:
This is a long one, so let’s dive right in!
Self-awareness is one of the greatest skills any designer can master.
It’s the catalyst for intentional growth - you take certain actions as a result of self-awareness.
Also, it helps with outward confidence and charisma. When you know you’re good at something, you speak from a position of authority. You will also be more proactive to help others.
During a live stream, Brian Lin, the Director of Product Design at Lunchbox, breaks down the two definitions of self-awareness:
This is what most people understand about self-awareness.
We can see our values, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We understand what we’re good at and not good at. Then we take actions to improve ourselves.
Most people have a working understanding of the prior.
But not external self-awareness, even though it’s as important.
For this, we’re striving for other people to perceive us the same way we perceive ourselves.
Now, either of these takes time. But it’s crucial for designers to develop self-awareness to improve their skills.
Literally, block out a time to reflect. Ask yourself:
Be as specific as possible. The more specific you are, the more likely you understand yourself and will take action on your weaknesses.
6 months. 3 months. 1 month. You name a time frame.
Make this a regular thing. Trust me - it’s worth it.
Ask people whose advice you value. These can be your friends, colleagues, or managers.
This can help you develop external self-awareness and understand if people are perceiving you the way you want.
According to Natashia, Sr Manager of Product Design at Electronic Arts, having high agency comes down to two qualities:
Ownership means that a person cares about the outcome as much as the owner of the company would.
It also means being accountable for the results of your actions. And you will deliver the highest quality work on time.
In short, it means you’re fully responsible for an assigned task, whether that’s from others or yourself.
Here’s an example. Let’s say one day, your manager tells you:
You will now be in charge of increasing the sign-up rates by 20% for our food ordering app.
If you have a sense of ownership, you will know that this is important for the company’s future. Thus, you will plan out what to do, execute, and deliver the results in the given timeframe.
Proactivity means you don’t need someone to tell you what to do. Because you’ll do it first.
Being proactive can take in many shapes and forms such as:
Being proactive means you’re thinking about the future and taking initiatives.
If you start a project, it’s two birds in one stone.
The catch is: You actually need to make something and have tangible results. Or else it doesn’t mean anything.
As a designer, good collaboration can mean different things:
Now, before you do this, ask yourself:
What type of team members have I not worked with?
This can range from designers, developers, data analysts, business analysts, PMs. You name it.
The point is: You’re choosing projects that will help you learn cross-functional collaboration.
Notice how self-awareness is playing a part here?
Now, once you’ve decided, understand how to effectively work with your team members. Do what you can to make their life easier.
Effective communication means you can articulate ideas and decisions with confidence.
This is actually a crucial element to the previous soft skill - collaboration.
And for a designer, effective communication is important because one must be able to articulate design decisions to stakeholders and the team.
Understand what that person wants from the conversation or presentation.
Then deliver exactly that with confidence.
You may be surprised by the number.
Saying “uh” or filler words can make you sound uncertain.
Now, next time you’re talking to a colleague, try to reduce that number.
This can make a dramatic difference in the experience others have when working with us.
So, instead of saying:
I’m sure there’s a product out there we can use.
So, I did some research and found that products x, y, z could solve our issue right now.
At its core, critical thinking is the objective analysis of an issue to form a judgment.
And for designers, it is the ability to, informed by data, analyze the problem from two perspectives:
A designer with critical thinking can use the analyzed data to inform and support their design decisions.
To develop critical thinking, you need to understand how to gather and analyze data with your own metrics.
A designer who understands how to analyze data and use the analysis to inform their design decisions is a valuable asset to a team.
There are two parts to this:
To do this, we need to be clear and specific.
Also, if someone else’s design isn’t ideal, don’t completely bash it. Instead, suggest ways for improvement.
This is often the hardest part.
We as designers pour our heart and soul into a project. Thus, it’s hard to accept direct and harsh feedback.
It is uncomfortable, but we have to live with it. We should be open-minded to the feedback and continually ask for clarification.
Also, it’s important to know exactly what we want feedback on.
I know. Designers only like to show polished work.
But, sharing your work with other people can help you build up the mental strength of receiving feedback.
You may not like the feedback, but what’s more important is what you do with them.
This is a great way to practice giving constructive feedback.
Try to think from their perspective.
Considering how much time they’ve put in, what are some actionable and constructive feedbacks you can give them?
Active listening is focusing on the other person and not thinking about your own thoughts, opinions, or ideas.
It means being present in the moment and processing what the other person is saying.
This is effective when we’re interviewing users, speaking with colleagues, or discussing during a meeting with a client.
Concentrate fully on what’s being said and ignore all the distractions. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact to show that you’re engaged.
Also, give the speaker regular feedback (verbal or non-verbal). This can be a nod, smile, or positive expression.
It’s important to listen to understand, not to respond.
Don’t prepare a reply while the other person is still speaking.
We’re often told as designers to not jump to solutions.
Well, the same applies to conversations.
Also, don’t interrupt the other person speaking. It’s rude.
The great thing about active listening is that you can literally apply the best practices later with your friend or colleague.
So try it out!
This is a buzzword that is everywhere in the digital design space. But, it’s still an important soft skill.
In short, it means putting ourselves in the user’s shoes.
It also means trying to understand someone’s struggles and feel what they’re feeling.
In design language, empathy is the first step of design thinking.
Being observant means you’re extra attentive to the little details that people often overlook. This can help build empathy by understanding the subtle nuances.
It’s important to note that we don’t need to physically be in-person to build empathy. With methods such as the 5 whys, heatmaps, and interviews, we can gain insights about the users and develop solutions to solve their issues.
Now, it’s easy to think:
Oh I did these methods. Thus, I built empathy for the user.
Don’t think this way. It’s not a black-and-white situation here.
Being empathetic means you’re trying to “feel” what the other person is experiencing.
Not checking off from your “empathize methods” list.
Well, an autodidact is a self-taught person.
It’s someone with the willpower to be the driver of their success.
This is essential because every designer, at some point, will encounter things they don't understand.
With the internet, there’s no excuse for designers to not be able to teach ourselves everything.
Thus, follow reliable sources and try to learn as much as you can as a designer.
The digital and physical world is constantly evolving.
Thus, being adaptive and flexible means designers should familiarize themselves with emerging tech, products, and trends.
This prevents a designer from being close-minded and opens the door for more career and growth opportunities.
The prerequisite for flexibility is open-mindedness.
This means being open to new ideas and taking action to learn them instead of ignoring emerging trends.
Web3, crypto, metaverse, space, XR technology. There’s a ton of emerging trends to follow.
As a designer, it’s important to always stay up to date with what’s hot now.
Or else, you may be displaced after a few years...
Phew. That was a lot.
Now, I want to remind you again:
It takes time to develop these skills.
So be patient.
Put yourself out there. Do projects. Work with other people. Be in uncomfortable situations. Share your work often.
As I always like to say,
Learn by doing.
With soft skills, you really have to start doing projects to gain them. There’s no other way around this.
Now, you might be wondering:
Wait Guo... What about other skills such as product thinking, interaction design, and presentation?
Don’t worry. I categorized these as “hard skills.” And in my next article, I will be delving into these skills one by one. So stay tuned!
Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, by email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!