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Simon Sinek has an outstanding video on the importance of “soft” (or “human”) skills. I encourage you to invest 5 minutes and 14 seconds out of your busy day to grow your competence and ability as a designer or design leader by watching this video.
The basic premise of his video is that we should stop calling them ‘soft skills. They aren’t soft, they are necessary. They aren’t soft, they can be grown and improved over time. They are the necessary skills we need to efficiently and effectively work with others.
After seeing this video for the 3rd or 4th time, it finally hit me: Any designer must be good at UX-focused and human-focused skills.
Designers, there are two kinds of skills you need to be successful:
The first set of skills are focused on your craft. Traditionally, we think of these as “hard skills”, but they may be more appropriately classified as craft skills since they focus on the craftwork. For User Experience (UX) Design, we must be able to identify and understand problems, explore elegant and viable solutions, and implement them with skill. It takes an understanding of Nielsen’s 10 heuristics, the Laws of UX, UI design, interaction design, information architecture, visual design, and on and on. When we talk about UX design, this is often the kind of work that comes to mind. And, at some level, it should, because our craft requires an increasing capacity to understand and wield the skills in our specialty with expertise. The more we grow this, the more successful our design efforts will be. These craft skills help us execute our work successfully.
The second set of skills are focused on humans and relationships. They may feel soft and touchy, but they are critical to the success of a UX designer. These skills help us successfully connect and communicate with people. The ability to read a room, ask non-threatening questions, provide feedback and insight, and garner trust with people. For UX designers, we must continually improve our ability to understand others. We must take the time to refine our “what”- and “how”-based questions. Plus, we must find strategies like QBQ and 5 Whys to uncover the deeper insights that will lead to successful outcomes. These kinds of skills are critical to understanding the people and contexts we are serving.
The good news is that you can learn and improve. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting. You can move in a positive direction towards growth. All it takes is a bit of effort and a growth mindset on your part.
So, why is it essential that UX designers grow in these areas? There are a few critical aspects of design that put out the need.
Design is an act of leadership. Designers are moving people and organizations from problems to solutions. This kind of movement requires change, and change always requires steady leadership. Designers are the advocates and leaders of the change that’s necessary to solve these gnarly UX problems. This kind of leadership requires a deep understanding of people and the ability to clearly communicate what and why we’re moving where we are with the solution.
Whenever designers are working, we’re working with and for people. Design doesn’t produce the final end-user solution; instead, we discover, specify and champion the solution. Then, we partner closely with other skilled craftsfolk to build the real-world solution that humans will use each day. Additionally, we work closely with many other people and leaders. These individuals have their own goals that we must account for in our efforts. Finally, often uniting and corralling many different backgrounds and disciplines to achieve the end solution. With all of this people-heavy interaction, we must develop clear communication skills that work broadly with a wide variety of people. Without the ability to tailor our message and approach to specific audiences, we risk missing important aspects of the work that can derail the experience we generate.
Sinek’s video makes a great point about “soft skills” really being “human skills”. Ironically, we promote human-centered design as the standard. But how often do we forget the humans involved in the work? It’s all too easy to focus on the end-human and trample the other humans along the way. There’s no single-player mode in design. Design is naturally collaborative.
As designers, we work with and for humans every day. That means we need to constantly be evolving our “human” skills. Someone could be the most skilled in all the UX disciplines, but if they lack human skills, ultimately, the outcomes are at risk. This means we must learn to navigate the critique and opinion that comes with the territory of design.
At the end of the day, designers need a hybrid of human-focused and craft-focused skills to be successful. It’s the fusion of these two skillsets that are the foundation of a solid designer.
👍🏻 Thanks for reading! Would you share some of your strategies for growing both craft and human skills together? Hit me up on LinkedIn with your ideas!