You will not find a college degree in web design. In fact, web designers come from all sorts of fields, some with related degrees in IT, graphic design, or art, and some with just specific coursework under their belts. Others are self-taught and have learned through their own initiative and dedication to the craft. And there is very little in the way of formal certifications and accreditations in design.
There is, therefore, no “typical” UX/UI designer – there are just creatives who have a passion and who have developed some specific skills, along with some personality traits, that make them good at what they do. And what makes them good are certain skills that can be identified, both hard and soft? These skills:
The T-Shaped Skill Set
I have developed a T-shaped graphic of the skills that UX and UI designers must have. These skills mean that a designer can create websites, desktop and mobile apps, and kiosks that give users great experiences and interfaces, as they access them and navigate around. This means that designers’ skills are varied and multiple. So, let’s take a look at those skills in detail.
The “Hard” Skills
1. Design Skills
A UX/UI designer must be, first of all, a designer – a designer who understands that sites, apps, etc. are built with users in mind, not what designers themselves or their clients necessarily want. They must have a clear understanding of what constitutes a user-centered design in both principle and technique and use that understanding to deliver a product that users love. Designing means bringing a multitude of approaches that include user personas, sketching, storyboards, and prototyping, and making decisions that make sense from all of those approaches.
2. Research Skills
Designers don’t sit in labs in white coats, but there is research to do as designs are considered and crafted. Just researching the demographic of potential users is a big undertaking; testing the usability of all elements, polling responses to prototypes, etc. and then analyzing the results are all critical pieces of UX and UI excellence.
3. Technical Skills
Designing is not really a technical skill, but designers must understand some of how a design might be built by developers. Coming up with an amazing design of best websites that may not be buildable (usually due to costs or time involved) means that modifications must be made, and designers may be frustrated and disappointed. On the other hand, if a designer has some technical skills, at least in HTML, and some basic programming languages, then s/he will have a better idea of what can work from a development standpoint.
Design is visual. When users land on a website or open a software package, they take in that site or package visually and make decisions about its appeal. And when they begin to navigate that site or use that software, everything must be seamless, but also appealing and engaging. Layout, typography, color, images, etc. While designers do not need degrees in graphic design, they do need to understand and utilize the basic design principles – such things as the “golden ratio,” for example. Finding the balance between design principles and exceptional creativity is the difference between an “okay” design and an amazing one. The importance of creativity cannot be understated.
5. Multiple Personalities
No one is suggesting that designers need to have a mental illness, of course. However, they must change gears to perform a variety of roles. Here are just a few of the roles they must play:
They may be alone with their designs, still in their PJ’s and inhaling coffee.
They may be meeting with a client in a business atmosphere and must dress and speak more formally.
They may be meeting with their teams in a more casual atmosphere (but not PJ’s, and unkempt hair) where the conversation is informal.
They may be playing a leadership role within a design/development team for an important client, reporting research and testing results, and showing how that transfers into design and development goals.
6. Written Communication Skills
A designer is an artist more than anything else. They often do not realize that written communication, especially in the form of proposals, explanations, even emails, are extremely important to their job. Designers who lack these skills often seek the services of professional writing companies for some of the business writing they must do. And that is usually a smart move.
The “Soft” Skills
These skills speak more to personality traits than to technical skills or creativity. And yet, exceptional designers either have or are working on developing these skills.
1. Being a Team Player
Operating as a member of a team requires skills in negotiation, compromise, and communication. Designers do have to work with groups of people, and sometimes those are different groups – teammates in the workplace, and a team with a client group. They have to be comfortable in those teams and working collaboratively with them.
Enthusiasm translates to a high level of motivation, and motivation translates to getting a job done on time and done well. Enthusiasm is also contagious. When speaking to clients or to a team at work, enthusiastic designers can move others to act.
While there will always be disagreements, designers need to know when they must give in and when they need to be assertive and press their points. Clients, for example, may have genuinely bad ideas. It is up to a designer to explain why those ideas are bad and yet do so with the next skill.
Diplomacy is not within many people’s DNA. It is, however, a skill that must be learned and practiced often. Designers often have to disagree in a way that does not anger or upset others. Much of diplomacy relates to communication skills, so designers would be well-advised to take some workshops or a course in business communication.
Sometimes a design is not well-received, and it just is not going to work. When that happens, a designer must accept the fact that he goofed, admit it, and move on to craft a better design.
It is important to understand that a good idea can come from other people. So can suggestions for improvement and feedback. Designers cannot dig into the point where they are not listening to others.
Designers, in their enthusiasm, are sometimes ready to surge ahead without the research and testing that must occur. Sometimes, these pre-design tasks take time.
The Most Important Trait of an UI/UX Designer
Dedication. It is a dedication to high expectations and quality; it is a dedication to lifelong learning, and it is a dedication to a work ethic that just will not quit. Dedication means that all of these other skills will fall into place.