Vital UX skills that few designers have, and how to develop them
Recently, I have been asked over and over again by budding young designers which skills I look for in UX candidates but that I have a hard time finding when interviewing. This is an important topic. Our industry is living far below its potential in preparing young designers to become future leaders, and our educational system is doing an even poorer job preparing students to land their first job in an ever more competitive industry.
I have tried to answer the questions I receive on this topic in forums such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Slack in an actionable way. Yet, the way those platforms are structured have made it difficult to do this topic justice. It is my goal in this article, therefore, to address this vital topic more completely and provide actionable insights on the surprisingly-rare skills I have found to be vital over my 20 year career as both a hands-on designer and design leader.
我尝试用一种可行的方式来回答我在诸如 LinkedIn、Facebook、和Slack 这些论坛上收到的关于这个话题的疑问。然而，这些平台本身的情况使得很难公正地讨论这个话题。
1. Creative Maturity
It always amazes me how many designers fall in love with their first idea. When I interview potential candidates for UX positions I run through a series of creative exercises & tests to evaluate the candidate’s ability to think outside the box. The vast majority of them either clam up and can’t complete the exercises or stop with their first (and usually most obvious) idea. I have found that this correlates to day to day design work as well. Many designers get so excited with their first idea that they fail to explore others. This causes a few problems:
- Design critiques and feedback sessions with stakeholders turn into “yes or no” conversations instead of taking bits and pieces of various different ideas.
- Products often fail to achieve their potential to improve customers’ lives.
- Executive interference increases. Executives feel the need to step in and deliver solutions to be implemented when they are concerned about the quality of the product. This is their way of trying to ensure success (which of course usually has the opposite effect).
- 行政干预增加。 高管们认为，当他们关注产品质量时，有必要介入并实行解决方案。，这是他们试图确保成功的方式（当然通常会产生相反的效果）。
- When executive interference increases, the creativity of the team actually decreases along with morale and pretty soon the entire design team is looking to jump ship.
There are two things designers and leaders can do to increase creativity and solve the problems listed above.
（1）Explore at least3 solutions to any problem.Creating a flow chart? Create 3 variations. WireFraming? 3 ideas. Context scenarios? 3 ideas. You get the point. What this does is forces you to open your mind and explore various possibilities. Early in my career I had a boss who would force me to create multiple variations and then completely delete those files and create 3 more. While this may be a bit excessive as an ongoing policy, he made his point. What I ended up with at the end was far better than the previous attempts.
（2）Fall in love with the problem, NOT any particular solution.Many designers get very attached to a particular design because they spend so much time with it. Involving everyone you can find in your process will help this (especially if you show everyone you get feedback from at least 3 ideas).
（3）Present in-progress work.There is nothing that can stifle a designer’s effectiveness and creativity as quickly as working in isolation. Showing in-progress work helps you to think outside the box and constantly see things with different perspectives. Showing in-progress work also allows you to get feedback when it’s early enough to actually iterate and make changes. If the first time a product manager or developer sees your work is during sprint kickoff, you have failed — and likely so will your product. This is also absolutely true with customers.
目前正在进行的工作，没有什么能像独立工作那样迅速扼杀设计师的效率和创造力。 展示正在进行的工作可以帮助你跳出固有的思维框架，不断地从不同的角度看待事物。 展示正在进行的工作还可以让您在足够早的时间实际迭代和进行更改时获得反馈。 如果产品经理或开发人员第一次看到你的作品是在 sprint 开始的时候，那么你已经失败了，你的产品很可能也是如此。 对于顾客来说，这也是绝对正确的。
（4）Practice creativity in a context outside your day-to-day work.Creativity is like any other skill — it must be practiced and trained if it is to be developed to its potential. Some examples of creative exercises you can do to practice:
a. Creative Pitch Exercise — create a deck of cards with 2 categories of pictures. One half should have famous brands everyone would know (Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook, etc) and the other half should have products that have nothing to do with the brands. Draw 1 card from each pile. Give yourself 1 minute to come up with a pitch and then 2 minutes to pitch to a teammate/manager why Google would make a hammer for example. This is best done as a team activity, but can also be practiced by yourself. (Credit goes to Stephen Gates for this fantastic idea).
a. 创造性的提案练习——制作一副有两类图片的卡片。一半应该拥有众所周知的知名品牌（谷歌、苹果、优步、 Facebook 等） ，另一半应该拥有与品牌无关的产品。 从每一堆抽一张牌。 比如：给自己1分钟时间想出一个提案，然后2分钟时间向队友 / 经理思考提案；例如：谷歌制作一个锤子会是什么样。这是最好的团队活动，但也可以自己练习。 (这个奇妙的想法要归功于斯蒂芬 · 盖茨)。
b. Whiteboard Design Exercise — give the team a problem to solve together that has nothing to do with your business (you will need 30-60 minutes). Choose someone to facilitate the discussion. It’s also important to frame the goal as a problem to solve not a solution to be implemented. For example, do NOT assign the problem “redesign the toothbrush”, but instead: “improve the teeth cleaning experience”. It’s good to be vague so that the team together can set the parameters and specific Jobs To Be Done they want to tackle. As you do this more often and rotate facilitators you will get to know and learn from each other’s approaches to solving problems and develop facilitation skills among young designers. This can also be achieved with a wide variety of brainstorming exercises.
b.白板设计练习——给团队一个需要共同解决的问题，这个问题与你的业务无关（你需要30-60分钟）。 选择一个人来促进讨论。 同样重要的是，将目标定义为一个问题，而不是一个要实现的解决方案。
c. Experience great design together.I have also found it beneficial to take the time to seek & experience great design together. Whether this is searching the app store for an app and then evaluating it together, or going on field trips to experience creativity in industries completely different from your own (i.e. offset printing, tatooing, culinary arts, screen printing, interior design, etc). Then afterward have a quick discussion of what you learned and how those principles could apply to your work. If you don’t have a team of designers, this can also be done perfectly well with a cross-functional team or by yourself.
2. Knowledge of Business
it never ceases to amaze me how many designers I interview who don’t understand business. It is ESSENTIAL for UXers to understand business to get their ideas out the door and evangelize UX best practices. If you don’t understand and speak business, your career will be hard.
There are a couple aspects of this that are important. First off, you need to understand what the business is trying to accomplish so you can help.Understand what strategic initiatives the business is trying to accomplish, then show what user Jobs To Be Done or pain points can be solved to help those strategic initiatives.
For example, if your company is looking to become more sticky in client organizations as a way to increase sales and improve retention, find and propose Jobs To Be Done that Marketing, Sales, or Operations employees at your clients have that currently aren’t being solved well. Use videos or audio clips from your research. Use quantitative data to reinforce the qualitative findings. If you have that understanding you are able to push back when someone assigns you a solution to implement and show them 4 other solutions that would solve the problem better.
Stephen Gates uses the example all the time of a T-shirt. If an executive asks you to design a t-shirt, find out why. Is it for a conference? Is it for employees? Why did that solution come to their mind? Is there a better way to accomplish that same goal? If you understand the problem, you can become a partner with them to solve their problem.This only happens if you understand and can communicate in the language of business.
斯蒂芬 · 盖茨一直用这个例子来说明 t 恤衫。如果一位高管让你设计一件 t 恤，找出原因。是为了开会吗？是给员工的吗？为什么他们会想到这个解决方案？有没有更好的方法来实现同样的目标？
If you understand business, and particularly your company’s business, your ability to get your innovative ideas out the door will be dramatically increased. Which means you will be able to better improve users’ lives. Sounds good, right?
Case in point：there was recently a shift in the organizational structure at my current company. That meant that the main Product leader who I had been working with and who understood UX very well had moved on and the new leader was less familiar with UX best practices. Because I had already taken the time to understand the strategic initiatives of the company, I was able to explain how delivering problems to solve instead of solutions to implement was so vital and ended up resulting in higher morale and a better product. I also was able to show how an Outcome-focused mentality actually helps us get to the desired results quicker than the output-driven mentality most companies have. As a result, the entire company is seriously considering moving to OKRs. Something that will help us deliver even better products for our customers in the future and will for sure result in a more fun, innovative culture.
Some advice to get started
Interview the CEO and other key leaders at your company. Ask them what the strategic initiatives of the company are. As them why they love their job. Ask them what keeps them up at night. Ask them what the greatest threat to the company’s success is.
- Read business books
- Take a business class.
- Ask to be involved in vision or strategy meetings as a fly on the wall.
- Prepare a presentation on a UX topic to an audience of business leaders. See how well it is received. Rinse, repeat.
- 为商业领袖的听众准备一个关于用户体验主题的演讲。 看看它的接受程度如何。然后优化，再来一次。
- Start trying to “talk” like a business leader.
- Try to quantify the user experience your users are having.
The more you do it, the easier it will get. If this topic resonates with you and you want more details on how to get started, check out my article:Business for Designers: how to eliminate executive interference & get your innovative ideas out the door where I go over a couple case studies and dive into this topic in more detail.
3. Facilitation Skills
Good designers can do stellar design work themselves. Excellent designers bring other people with them and facilitate great design among a group. Yet far too few designers (even a senior level) are skilled facilitators.
Facilitation is the art of helping to guide stakeholders and cross-functional team members through the design process. It is vital to be able to move fast and be most effective in your design work for everyone to have a shared-understanding of what it is that you’re building and why. You also will arrive at the “multiple idea exploration” requirement above much quicker. Diversity of not only culture but also functional background adds so much to the completeness and innovation of any design.
Facilitation doesn’t require a higher position or a condescending tone to be effective. Quite the opposite. The main key to being an effective facilitator is an overriding passion for bringing people with you in your design process. It’s basically user research for coworkers. In the same way you don’t want to “lead the witness” in a usability test or interview and want to explore ideas fully, when facilitating you want to set the stage and help guide the team through solving problems you have been assigned.
If you find yourself lacking in this area, just start by changing your mentality from doer to facilitator. Recognize that you aren’t responsible for every great idea. You are just responsible for the environment where great ideas can flourish. There is nothing that can prepare you for leadership opportunities in the future like facilitating.
Start small. Facilitate a brainstorming session with cross-functional participants. Use non-verbal decision making exercises like Affinity Mapping to normalize the loud and silent personality types. There are many ways to do it, just start. If you can get good at facilitation, though, you will be viewed as a strategic partner and influencer in your company and finding that dream UX job will get much easier.
4. Ability to Balance Innovation with Practicality
If there is any 1 thing that you can do today to start having better success in job searching, it is to realize — genuinely internalize — that UX in the real world is not the utopian dreamworld many designers live in where they have infinite time and resources to do research and build the ideal product that they reveal in some glorious marketing campaign that causes users to jump up and down with excitement because of how AMAZING you made their lives.
No company is perfect. No project has enough time. No user research initiative is going to feel like enough. No product you work on will ever have the ideal user experience. No product manager or developer will ever understand user experience fully…and that’s ok!
没有一个公司是完美的，没有一个项目有足够的时间，没有一个用户研究计划会让你感觉足够了。你从事的任何产品都不会有理想的用户体验。 没有一个产品经理或者开发人员能够完全理解用户体验的本质.. …但是这没关系。
There is a healthy tension that exists between UX, PM, and Dev that helps us all get better products out the door. I can’t tell you how often when I was a young designer that I usability tested a design that I thought needed TONS more improvement, and every single user easily completed all the tasks we gave them. Even more, they had a great time doing it. At those times, I was forced to swallow my pride and realize the product was good enough. We had accomplished our goal. The sooner you realize that “sometimes the most perfect anything needs to be is…done” (Joe Natoli) the easier your life as a designer will be.
更重要的是，他们玩得很开心。在那些时候，我被迫放下自尊，意识到这个产品已经足够好了，我们已经完成了我们的目标。你越早意识到”有时候最完美的事情需要被… 完成（乔 · 纳托利） ，你作为一个设计师的生活就会越轻松。
Not every project is trying to win a spot on the Apple Keynote stage. Sometimes we do things because it’s a checkbox the business needs us to check before we can move on to something more innovative. That too is ok. Where I’ve found the problem to be is when everyone on the team/company is not on the same page when those situations arise.
并不是每个项目都在战略地位上占有一席之地。有时我们做一些事情是因为商业上需要我们进行重复的功能组，然后我们才能转向更具创新性的东西。这也是没关系的， 我发现问题在于当这些情况出现时，团队 / 公司中的每个人都是从独立的角度来看问题的。
Something that has helped me is to clearly identify certain key characteristics of a project at the beginning and get everyone to sign off on them. (There’s that term “shared understanding” again). Some of those characteristics are:
- Vision statement.共同的愿景
- Priorities (where are we on the “check the checkbox” vs “pure innovation” continuum.优先级（我们在“复制”和“创新”上的偏向）
- Business objectives.业务目标
- User needs (Jobs To Be Done).用户需求（待完成的工作）
- Target users.目标用户
- Success criteria.成功标准
If you get clear on all of those with the entire team, projects tend to go far smoother. Yet I seem to constantly meet designers who can’t seem to balance priorities on projects. Who can’t accept the fact that we can’t do onsite user research visits or usability testing on this project when there is a perfectly viable business reason. In their mind, the full X step process has to ALWAYS be followed.
To use a cooking metaphor, the best chefs aren’t those who can follow a recipe to a T every single time. The best practitioners are those who can cook up something amazing with the ingredients, goals, and constraints they are given time after time no matter what they are.
5. Empathy for Stakeholders
Most UXers are passionate about developing empathy for users. Yet most complain about “politics”. Business and other stakeholders are our users too. Great designers view it as their job to understand what is important to their stakeholders and then help them achieve THEIR goals as well. At their base level, “politics” are nothing more than empathy. Yet precious few designers are good at them.
The first thing an excellent designer will do at a new job or on a new project is get to know the stakeholders and business leaders in the organization. Find allies. Understand constraints. Understand what each stakeholder is trying to accomplish.
Case in point. I once worked for a company where we were having major problems getting time and resources for any kind of user research. The PM wasn’t wanting to allow time in the sprint for it. Our client advisors (who controlled the relationship with customers) didn’t want to let us anywhere near their customers. It was a mess.
So I started having one on one conversations with some of them. I found out that many of them had bad experience with designers showing brand new designs and promising the new features by a specific date. This caused major problems for the Client Advisor team (understandably). Also, there were some major retention issues going on with some of the customers I wanted to speak with.
I explained what we were trying to accomplish with the user research and how it could also help them solve some of their retention problems. I asked if they would be willing to help us plan and conduct the research so we could be sure to not say anything that would hurt the relationship.
Not only did I get access to users, but I had an ally in helping to schedule more user research visits in the future and someone who knew these users well to help me plan what to learn and how to do it. As a completely unanticipated side bonus, pretty soon these same client advisors (and the sales people as well) were using the fact that we involved our customers in our design process as a mechanism/key differentiator in saving many customers and generating loyalty.
我不仅可以接触到用户，而且我还有一个盟友帮助我安排未来更多的用户研究访问，还有一个非常了解这些用户的人帮助我计划学习什么以及如何学习。作为一个出乎意料的奖励，很快这些同类型的客户顾问（以及销售人员）就利用我们让客户参与到设计过程中这一方法，作为一种机制 / 关键的差异化因素，以挽救许多客户并产生忠诚度。
None of that would have happened if I had not taken the time to get to know the stakeholders.如果我没有花时间去了解利益相关者，这些都不会发生。
- Get to know your stakeholders. Interview them. Imagine they were target users of the next product you were designing.
- Propose an idea of how something in your background could help them in their job.
- The next time you’re frustrated with someone in your company, make an effort to see them as a person with needs/desires instead of an object preventing you from getting what you want.
- 下次你对公司里的某个人感到沮丧的时候，试着把他们看成是一个有需求 / 欲望的人，而不是一个阻止你得到你想要的东西的东西。
6. Curiosity and Drive to Constantly Learn
An insatiable curiosity and drive to always be learning and never be comfortable is the main secret of any success I might have had so far in my career. I’m mostly self taught and I’ve never worked for any world renowned companies, but I have an intense drive to learn and grow and progress. Two of the principles in my creative ethos that I emphasize constantly with my team are related: “yearn to learn” and “comfort is the enemy of greatness”.
I’ve discovered that having an “insatiable curiosity” is rarer than many people might think. To anyone who is struggling with Imposter Syndrome at the moment: your reading this article shows that you are already on the right track. Keep it up! Develop an “insatiable curiosity” and you will progress much faster than you thought possible.
我发现，拥有“永不满足的好奇心”的人比想象的要少得多。对于那些正在假装与懒惰做斗争的人来说：你阅读这篇文章表明你已经走上了正确的道路。 继续努力！ 培养一种“永不满足的好奇心”，你的进步会比你想象的要快得多。
Research how other people have handled things. Listen to podcasts on your way to work. Organize book clubs on your team or design community. Experiment with new methodologies. See what works and what doesn’t. Never be satisfied with the way you are working today.
I once had a boss who when I presented a design to him for feedback would always ask me: “is this the best you can do?”. At first it was off-putting, but soon I learned the wisdom in what he was teaching me. He wasn’t criticizing me, he was challenging me to reach a little deeper to see if I could do better. That boss changed my whole outlook as a designer.
If you ARE that passionate about learning, let it come through in your resume, portfolio, and interviews. Let it come through in hallway conversations. Let it come through on LinkedIn. If hiring managers can sense it, they often will take a chance on you if any doubts about your ability to do the job arise.
如果你对学习充满热情，那就让它在你的简历、作品集和面试中体现出来，让它通过剪短的交流也能传达出来，让它在 LinkedIn 上体现出来。 如果招聘经理能感觉到这一点，可能他们对你的工作能力会有些疑虑，但通常也会给你一个机会。
I know I would.
- Challenge yourself to learn a new software tool
- Next time you need to brainstorm or conduct user research, use a method you’ve never used before.
- Read UX books
- 阅读 UX 书籍
- Listen to podcasts
- Participate in meetups
7. Mature User ResearchSkills
I am constantly amazed when interviewing Senior UX Designers at how few of them have more than elementary knowledge of and skills required in the area of User Research. They all have enough user research passion to fill every football stadium in America, but very few have experience with more than interviewing and usability testing, and even fewer can tell me what a usability test plan is or what it should contain.
In one sense, it is not their fault. Precious few schools actually teach user research. Even fewer teach more than a couple methods and typically it is only a single unit in an Interaction Design course.
There IS information out there, however, if you are willing to seek for it. How a designer can get to the 5–7 years professional experience and STILL not have more than basic experience in user research is sad to me. The good news for YOU though is that if you’re willing to seek and practice user research skills, it will DRASTICALLY set you apart from the pack.
There are two main types of user research: Generative and Evaluative. Generative research is all about discovery and ensuring we’re solving the right problem(both from a user and business perspective).Evaluative research is focused on validating if we’ve made progress towards the solution to the problem we agreed to solve.
Within each type of user research there are many different user research methods. If you can become familiar with and gain experience with the most used in each category, you will be in the top 5% of candidates for any UX job at virtually any company big or small. If you can get to the point where you understand when to use each one, that will put you even higher.
Here are some of the most common user research methods broken out by type.
- Clickstream analysis
- Confidence level calculations
- Contextual inquiry
- Customer feedback
- Data mining/analysis
- Diary/camera studies
- Email surveys
- Ethnographic studies
- Focus groups
- Intercept studies
- Open card sorting
- Participatory design
- Stakeholder interviews
- True intent studies
- User interviews
- Visual analytics
- 数据挖掘 / 分析
- 日记 / 相机研究
- 5-second tests
- A/B testing
- Closed card sorting
- Confidence level calculations
- Eye tracking studies
- Paper prototype tests
- Usability Benchmarking
- Usability testing (in lab)
- Usability testing (moderated remote)
- Usability testing (unmoderated remote)
- A / b 测试
One other area within user research that I often find lacking in many interviewees is experience actually planning user research initiatives ahead of time. This has a few benefits:
- It helps you clearly focus on the most important things you want to learn.
- It improves the effectiveness and actionability of insights you gain
- It puts the investment required on the company’s part into clear terms a business leader can understand (which helps both get budget approval and with tracking ROI after research completion)
- 它将公司的投资转化为商业领导人可以理解的清晰内容(这有助于获得预算批准，并在研究完成后跟踪 ROI)
- It allows all employees to be on the same page going in (which can drastically help with note taking and data aggregation afterwards)
If you’ve never set out to write a formal usability test plan before, it can seem daunting. It really is quite easy, though. You just have to think through what you want to accomplish, how you plan to accomplish it, and who will be a part of the research (pro tip: it is much easier and much more effective to take a cross-functional group). My process (D.E.C.I.S.I.O.N.) is outlined below。
- Decide on the main goal or objective of the research确定研究的主要目标或目的
- Explore questions & assumptions (what is it you want to find out)探索问题和进行假设(你想找出什么)
- Choose a method (see above)选择一个方法(见上文)
- Identify participants (employees and clients)确定参与者(员工和客户)
- Script or tasks设定脚本或任务
- Identify schedule & budget (time, recruiting, & equipment)确定进度和预算(时间、招聘哪些人员和需要的设备)
- Outline responsibilities概述责任
- Nail the schedule down把时间表定下来
If you would like a little help, you can download this editable pdf of my research plan template. It is meant to be a 1-page overview of a research plan that can then be sent to internal stakeholders, finance (for budget approval), and anyone else who needs to get an idea what you’re doing and why.
如果你想要一些帮助，你可以下载我的研究计划模板，这是个可直接填写的 图片。这将帮你做一个1页的研究计划概述，然后可以发送给内部利益相关者，财务（为了预算批准） ，以及任何其他人谁需要知道你在做什么和为什么这么做的原因。
The UX industry is becoming ever more competitive, yet there are still far too few designers that have creative maturity, knowledge of business, facilitation skills, can balance innovation with practicality, have an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and have mature user research skills. Hiring managers are constantly on the lookout for these skills. If you can develop and demonstrate these skills on your resume, portfolio, and in interviews you will be much more likely to land the UX job you’ve always dreamed of.
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