#40 Twelve traits of a great UX designer

Many people seem to struggle to find out whether UX is the right fit for them, especially when considering a career switch from a different field. Since UX is such a large umbrella field that includes so many different disciplines within, it’s hard to understand from the outside what it’s like to be a UX designer and what makes you a good fit to pursue a career in UX.

Aside from more obvious practical knowledge and skills that you need such as UX principles, methodology and research fundamentals, there’s another side of the coin which is more about traits and mindset.

Throughout my career as a UX designer, I observed great designers and learned from them. Over time, I noticed there are 12 traits that a great UX designer has, which I’d like to share with you.

So here’s a list of 12 traits.

A conceptual diagram of 12 traits of a great UX designer
12 traits of a great UX designer
  1. Continuous learner
  2. Humble
  3. Great at collaboration
  4. Problem solver
  5. Less ego
  6. Do-er mentality
  7. Eager to experiment
  8. Curious observer
  9. Empathetic
  10. Good listener
  11. Understand how UX impacts business
  12. Good storyteller

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Continuous learner

The field of UX is constantly expanding and evolving. The underlying technology is also continuously evolving. There are always so many things that you need to learn, whether a new methodology, process, technology, tools, or trends. To be a UX designer means you live through a constant stream of new information. If you love learning new things, UX gives you that exciting, never-ending opportunity to learn throughout your career.

2. Humble

User experience is something that varies from person to person. When you and I use the same product, the user experience that you have will be different from what I have.

What this means is that understanding how other people think is an essential part of UX design process. You need to be humble to be open for other people’s comments and critiques. Whether it’s positive or negative, you will learn a lot from going through this if you open up.

3. Great at collaboration

UX design is like a team sports. In today’s complex environment, most of the time a UX designer works as part of a UX team, which may consist of UX designers, UI designers and UX researchers.

A UX team is typically part of a larger product team, which consists of PM, engineering, a UX team, and potentially more.

In addition, UX designers often function as a facilitator of various different teams beyond just PM and engineering. UX designers also find themselves serve as an evangelist to educate people from other groups not familiar with UX. Especially when working as a facilitator or an evangelist, you need to be great at collaboration.

In some cases, this facilitation of multiple teams could potentially enable changes that have larger impacts to a customer’s overall journey of a product rather than the user experience of the product user interface itself. A product user interface might only be just one part of a larger end-to-end experience a customer goes through.

4. Problem solver

A UX designer solves a user’s problem. The focus should always be solving a user’s problem, rather than crafting a shinny, cool user interface, which is always very tempting. Being a problem solver also means you should be able to spot problems in the first place, and define that problem clearly in order to start solving it.

5. Less ego

The core of user-centered design practice is that a product or a service should be designed for a user, not for a UX designer. It’s so easy for UX designers to get personally attached to their own designs. It becomes your own baby. I’ve been there too. And it’s so tempting to have a personal attachment to your design, because that makes it a lot easier to put your hard work on it.

As human beings, probably it’s not possible for any of us to become completely free of our own ego. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep your ego in the background as much as possible. In order to work effectively, it becomes critical that your ego is not at the forefront.

6. Do-er mentality

As much as UX designers are thinkers, they are do-ers at its core. All the great thinking need to be distilled into a concrete, tangible output through actions. Do-er mentalitypowerfully drives this when you take all the stakeholders’ feedback and user research insights, to come up with design solutions.

7. Eager to experiment

Every single UX project is different with a countless number of variables. UX designers maneuver these and try what makes the most sense under given condition and data collected. Great UX designers are eager to experiment with new ideas, concepts, processes, methodologies to see what works and what doesn’t. To find out, you need to give it a try. Only through hands-on experiments, you’ll find the best solution for a given problem in front of you.

8. Curious observer

During usability test or user research, you need to shut your mouth, and be a curious observer carefully observing how users interact with your prototype, card sorting exercise, or whatever stimuli you may have. When you ask questions to users, people tend to answer what they think the right answer should be, rather than how they really feel. By observing how participants behave, take actions in particular ways with particular expressions and body languages, you uncover a lot of things not verbally mentioned.

When I or my colleague UX researcher conduct a user research and use a prototype created by myself as a stimulus, it’s always so tempting to interrupt a struggling user and let her know how to complete a task I gave her. But I need to control myself not to do so, so that I don’t ruin the research with my ego.

9. Empathetic

Especially when I listen to users describing their pain points when using a product or a service, I need to be empathetic so that I can put user’s shoes to really understand and feel their frustrations from their perspectives.

10. Good listener

A UX designer needs to talk to various people including users and stakeholders. I need to be a good listener when listening to PM, engineers and other people from a larger product team to understand product requirements, constraints and business context. When I listen to what users have to say during user research, it becomes even more important to focus on listening, rather than trying to show off how cool my prototype is. When I conduct a user research and ask a probing question to a participant, I often feel an urge to want to drive the conversation towards a conclusion towards my hypothesis. But I should remain patient, listen carefully, and minimize any chance of manipulation as much as possible, so that I get a quality result, not what I want to hear.

11. Understand how UX impacts business

UX designers advocate users as much as possible. What’s often been ignored is that UX is still part of business. A great UX concept that user test participants absolutely loved does not work in reality if it’s too expensive to build under a given constraints. This means UX designers need to have a good understanding of how UX impacts business, so that they don’t propose unrealistic concepts and solutions just because users loved those.

12. Good storyteller

When presenting UX concepts or user research findings to a larger product team, UX designers need to become a good storyteller without getting egoistic. At the end of the day, UX designers create user experience for users, not for themselves. This storytelling is not about promoting how great I am, or how great my UX team is, for example. Rather, it’s about how a proposed user experience solves user’s problems in a way that is realistic, effective, and delightful. The way I tell a story matters. It affects how my collaborators feel that they want to support me or not. When my storytelling is filled with so much ego, I won’t be able to get much support.

As you can see below, all these twelve traits are deeply inter-connected with each other.

A conceptual diagram of 12 traits of a great UX designer, now showing its inter-connectedness.
12 traits of a great UX designer are inter-connected with each other

Many of these can be learned and acquired, especially #11: understand how UX impacts business.

Some people might have some of these more naturally than others.

Going through these 12 traits and see if all or some of these feel natural to you or not might be helpful to picture yourself and think whether you have the right traits and mindset to become a great UX designer or not.

Having the right traits and mindset are more important than it may seem.

I used to think that traits and mindset are not so important, but I learned otherwise through my own experience. It matters a lot.

This article was also published on Medium in UX Collective.

The last half of this article and this video also touches upon this topic.

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