Looking for a collection of industry expert advice on what makes a good UX designer? Then look no further.
We put together a list of 18 UX expert opinions, which are split into logical sections to cover various aspects to what makes a good UX Designer.
Likewise, for all tips listed you’ll find some of the best hand-picked UX resources on the web.
Let’s get started!
Asking UX experts, what makes a good UX Designer, sparked a few extra questions of my own:
- What is it that makes a UX designer competent?
- What makes a “competent” designer “good”?
- How can someone learn the necessary skills to become a “good” UX designer?
You may have noticed how we used the word competent in that question and not good, and there’s a “good” reason for that.
During our research, a reoccurring trend emerged – what made a UX designer competent in their role and what differentiated the good from the competent.
A competent UX designer didn’t have extensive knowledge across all technical skills, but had extensive knowledge in visual design and usability evaluation, broad knowledge across all other technical skills and also displayed a blend of soft skills – more on this later.
What Technical Skills Does A UX Designer Need?
UX technical skills can be classified into 8 categories:
- User Research
- Information Architecture
- Interaction Design
- Visual Design
- Usability Evaluation
- Interface Prototyping
- UX Leadership
- Technical Writing
However, due to team dynamics and specific requirements/demands by businesses, UX roles cannot be judged purely based on the accumulation of varied skills and how proficient the individual is.
Nonetheless, let’s explore each skill area to understand why these skills are important to UX and why a UX designer may need them.
Why is user research important?
At the heart of UX is empathy. User research gives designers an approach to gaining empathy for the users they’re designing for. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.
Likewise, user research minimises risk by validating or invalidating your designs/solutions to a problem.
Why do UX designers need user research skills?
Understanding research will help you make certain decisions about information architecture & solving usability issues which you may overlook.
How do I improve my user research skills?
- Conduct user research across all four user research stages. Get started and learn as much as you can as you go along. Some common practice is to do most your research in the beginning, but reserve some budget for later learnings.
- Learn a new user research such as card sorting, tree tests, journey mapping
- Work with a UX researcher on analysing test data. This could be from a survey or a remote user test.
- Ryan Riddle, Head of Marketing at UX Pin, put together this fantastic listicle of 14 Articles to Improve Your User Research.
Why is information architecture important?
When designed well, IA helps users to understand the information presented to them, where they are, what they can expect and how they can achieve their job/what they want to do.
Why do UX designers need information architecture skills?
IA assists a design by providing focus on the organisation, structure and labeling of content.
IA skills allow UX Designers to see how the pieces fit together and in turn create the larger picture – how items relate to each other within a system.
How do I improve my information architecture skills?
- Understand the nature and objective of your site – both from a company and user perspective. Achieve this through a thorough project brief and user research.
- Work with a user researcher on building user profiles. This will give you understanding to the types of people visiting your site and what their requirements and actions are likely to be. Surveys, reviews and customer calls are useful here.
- Test your assumptions/findings. Try heat mapping, card sorting and user testing to understand how users perceive the organisation, labeling of content and organisation.
Why is interaction design important?
Interaction design (IXD) focuses on the behaviour of a product or service. When done correctly, it gives human interaction with products/services context, meaning, makes the product/service usable and ultimately desirable.
Why do UX designers need interaction design skills?
To create a compelling user experience, UX designers must design how the system or service will look, feel and behave. Interaction design specifically focuses on designing the behavior of a product.
How do I improve my interaction design skills?
IXD is broken down into several other skill areas. Work on the following skills to develop IXD and ask the following questions:
- Usability Principles – Is my product/service easy to use? Easy to learn? Efficient to use?
- UCD and GDD – Do I know how my users accomplish their goals with the product/service?
- IA – How do my users view the website? Do they scan or do they read top to bottom? Is my website/service easy to navigate?
- Sketching & Wireframing – Can I quickly and efficiently communicate the structure and elements of user interfaces?
- UX Design Patterns – Do I know the best practices for designing forms, search interfaces etc? What are the common frameworks to solve specific design problems?
This course covers the above IXD skills.
Why is visual design important?
Differing from interaction design, visual design engages the user by drawing the eye to the correct functionality on the page. Likewise, visual design pritoritises tasks on a page – this is done with the correct use of size, color, whitespace and the use of visual cues.
Why do UX designers need visual design skills?
Visual design skills allow a UX designer to ensure a user-interface is de-cluttered by having appropriate contrast, alignment, repetition and proximity.
How do I improve my visual design skills?
Why is usability evaluation important?
Test quick and often. A common phrase used in UCD. Usability evaluation ensures the correct method of testing is used in order to receive the highest degree of insights.
Why do UX designers need usability evaluation skills?
Usability evaluation skills allow designers to:
- Understand how to design an experiment – control and measure variables
- Log the insights and data from the experiement
- Analyse the data, measure usability and prioritise usability problems
Ultimately, usability evaluation skills allow designers to reveal insight on their designs, fail fast and improve the overall usability.
How do I improve my usability evaluation skills?
- Read up on the best practices for each testing method. Usability.gov have a large array of resources on how to run and analyse different usability testing methods
- Try different testing methods you’ve been reluctant to try – practice makes perfect
Why is interface prototyping important?
A prototype allows our designer to create a concept – something that everyone who is involved in the project can give their feedback on and make necessary adjustments before a final version is published – it’s essentially a visual master plan.
Note: It’s important to test each element of a prototype to ensure it works.
Why do UX designers need interface prototyping skills?
It allows a UX designers ideas to be expressed freely and visually. It provides a higher level concept to your client or business to how something will look or how it will work.
Why use prototypes? Clients like to see them. Development teams like being able to use them and everyone involved in the project can add input and make decisions on what they see. Being able to prototype focuses discussion and is a platform for problem solving.
How do I improve my interface prototyping skills?
- Prototype quick and dirty – remember, that prototypes are made to be churned out, receive feedback, test, iterate and repeat. You learn to prototype quicker by learning the keyboard shortcuts of your prototyping tool.
- Test quickly, fail quickly and receive feedback – this leads to learning and innovation. Testing brings on failure. Failure ensures the next version is improved and illuminates learnings.
Why is UX leadership important?
Just like normal leadership, UX leadership helps initiate UX practices, motivation, provides UX guidance, confidence and most importantly, builds morale throughout your UX team.
Why do UX designers need UX leadership skills?
Whether you’re a Lead UX Designer or a newbie, you want great UX to happen. UX leadership skills give you the ability to manage client expectations, argue the cost-benefits of user experience activities and potentially evangelise UX throughout the company.
How do I improve my UX leadership skills?
Robert Hoekman JR summed up some great tips in his article: How to become a UX Leader
- Do what you ask – never ask people to do things you wouldn’t do yourself.
- Stay calm – no matter what happens, remember that the way you act and react affects the way everyone else will see you the next time they need to act or react.
- Never mind the bollocks – distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Relax. Panic and frustration will not make it happen any sooner.
- Speak up – refuse to play along with bad ideas.
- Take criticism well – you need people to see the problems in your work.
- Invite, include, consider – you may be a genius, but that doesn’t negate the fact that people produce better results in well-run groups than they can alone.
Why is technical writing important?
Technical writing comes into selling your designs. If you can sell the reason/communicate why you have done things a certain way and explain your process, then the client is more likely to be on board.
Likewise, technical writing incorporates expressing complex ideas concisely, with the right tone and in the correct medium (manuals, contextual help, tutorials etc).
Why do UX designers need technical writing skills?
Technical writing skills allow designers to express complex ideas concisely, assists users in completing tasks and also makes designs accessibly friendly.
How do I improve my technical writing skills?
David McMurrey has written a fantastic, free online textbook for technical writing, which you can find here.
What Separates The Good UX Designers From The Competent?
We asked several UX communities and individuals: What makes a good UX Designer? What attributes/traits do they exhibit? What do they do differently?
They willingly provided the following insights…
What makes a good UX designer?
"They have an understanding for how to find the right problem to solve and ability for framing the problem that makes the solution obvious."
Sr Experience Architect Consultant, Deloitte Digital
"If you hear yourself saying 'I don't know' way more often than 'I have the answer'."
Senior UX Product Architect, ProtectWise, Inc.
"The best UX designers I've know have a balance of both analytical and creative thinking. I think UX Designers have to be good educators as well."
UX Design Consultant. Previously, Director of UX, Universal Mind
"A good UX Designer has the ability to think about and choreograph the interactions people have with a product/service across channels, mediums and platforms in a way that benefts the product/service and the people that use it."
Design Director, Notion
"To make the product intuitive - easy to understand. A message should be clear and not complex."
Creative Director, weview GmbH
"If good UX Design is the result of very careful consideration, I’d suggest that a good UX Designer is one who has carefully gathered all of the information they need to fully understand the needs of both user and brand in relation to whatever issue they are trying to solve. With these thorough understandings, the most appropriate UX solution will pretty much present itself."
Senior UX Designer, Missguided Ltd
What do good UX designers do differently?
"Where I work, UX is the science behind the UI. A UX designer has a “Theory” then through research like user studies, A/B tests, design research, affinity diagrams, wireframes, prototypes, etc.. we tweak that theory. So for us a “Good” UX designer knows how to perform the research in an unbiased way and dig deep into the core of the goal. Once the Theory is proven (or close enough) then we do the UI work. Anything can be a theory. From colors, type and layout. To workflows, data set, strategy, domain mapping, etc."
Sr. Principal UX Designer, (Can't Say).
Previously, Sr. User Experience Designer, Amazon.
"Making the solution obvious is what separates a designer from a design leader. Getting the team/client to come on the journey and find the answer themselves (with our guidance, probably) is what gets buy-in and real change."
UX Analyst, Booz Allen Hamilton.
Previously, IA / UX Designer, Fidelity Investments
"For me, one thing that stands out is collaboration. A UX designer needs to share knowledge, ideas and designs to the wider team – working remotely is difficult (I have been in that position). Accepting feedback is crucial to UX design whether it is positive or negative – it cannot be taken personally. Look at the bigger picture, in the long run that feedback will help get the best end goal."
Multi Channel UX / Product Designer, JD Sports Fashion PLC
What attributes/traits do good UX designers exhibit?
"Empathy is a crucial skill for a UX designer, possibly the most important one you can possess. A good designer is hyper-aware of the limit of their own experience."
Senior Designer, Booking.com
"Empathy came to mind first!"
UX Designer, 1stGroup Ltd
"Humility, curiosity, a love of collaboration."
User Experience Designer, EMS Software
"Every user experience is unique and therefore I consider adaptivity as one of the golden traits. Being communicative with stakeholders, developers, graphic designers and whatever actors you encounter is also a key to being productive."
Junior Product Manager, Briteback. User-Centered Business Designer
"Curiosity, humility, doubt, open, asks questions, researching, reads new books, gets input outside of their sphere."
Lead UX and Optimisation Researcher, User Conversion
"Curiosity and courage."
User Experience Analyst, higi
"I think having empathy is an important skill to have. By that I mean, the ability to listen to others and actively trying to understand how someone different to you thinks or feels."
Previously UX Researcher at The UX Department.
UX Design Tool Skill Set
Having a UX tool skill-set not only assists you in your role and makes your life easier, but are becoming part of the skill-set required for UX designer employment.
Develop and learn the skills for a tool that would assist you in your role and make your life easier. The most popular and reoccurring tool skills in job posts are:
- Adobe Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, Xd)
How do I learn a UX tool (for free)?
Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice. Anton Chekhov
If the quote wasn’t subtle enough – practice. Practice is how you learn a new tool. Pick a problem and create a solution with your tool of choice. Pick a website you use regularly and know could be improved – choose a tool and design the solution.
Not only will you develop new skills using a particular tool, but you’ll be creating a UX portfolio as well.
Listed below are an array of free resources to help get you get started.
- Invision Tutorials & Training by Invision (Blog Posts)
- A guide to high-speed design with Sketch + Invision (Ebook)
How Do I Become A Good UX Designer?
While there is no one-size fits all path to transitioning from a “competent” UX designer to a “good” UX designer, there are certainly different methods to do so – we’ve put together 5 tips (with resources) as recommend by the UX community.
1. Become involved in the UX community and find a mentor
A great way to source knowledge from those who have been there and done that is to learn from a mentor.
This article and this Quora thread provides high quality steps and details on how to line up a mentor.
It’s pretty easy to get involved in the UX community, with over 2,000 UX Meetups around the world, countless Slack communities and LinkedIn Groups. Here’s just a few.
- All UX Meetups – https://www.meetup.com/topics/user-experience/
- All UX Design Meetups – https://www.meetup.com/topics/ux-design/
- All User Research Meetups – https://www.meetup.com/topics/user-research/
- All Information Architecture Meetups – https://www.meetup.com/topics/ia/
- DesignerHangout – Members: 10,000+
- UX Mastery – Memebers: 4,000+
- UX Design Community – Members: 4,000+
- Designership – Members: 2,500+
- UX Denver – Members: 700+
- UX Pros: Largest User Experience Group – Members: 100,000+
- UX Professionals – Members: 86,000+
- UX / CX / Product / Strategy – Members: 39,000+
- UI / UX Architects – Members: 23,000+
Facebook Groups / Pages:
- Useful Usability – Page
- UX Mastery – Page
- UXPA (User Experience Professionals Association) – Group
- UX Booth – Page
- Easy UX – Page
2. Expose yourself to UX resources
This includes events, conferences, books, articles, blogs, videos and training courses. Try to absorb as much as you can, when you can.
We recommend assessing your ability in the UX skill areas listed above and decide:
- What skill area am I weakest in?
- Will strengthening that skill area help me in my current role?
- What do I want to learn?
Here’s a brief list of resources to help you get started.
Events / Conferences
- What is UX Design? Defining User Experience & Explaining the Process by the Futur
- On demand video training by UXClub
- 3 ways good design makes you happy by Don Norman
- The complex relationship between data and design in UX by Rochelle King
- The UX Course That Gets You Hired by CareerFoundry ($6,000)
- A comprehensive list of short courses by UX Mastery
3. Gain knowledge from experiences
By experiences I mean hands-on experiences. The best way to gain hands-on experience is to start building things.
We can’t get jobs/clients without experience and we can’t get experience without a job…so the next best thing is practice
Make time to pick an app you frequently use and redesign it from the ground up. From your constant practice, you start building a wealth of knowledge, experience and a nifty UX portfolio.
4. Learn the latest web design tools
There are tons of design tools out there – it feels like there’s a new one everyday. The good thing is you don’t need to know all of them or use all of them.
Asses your current situation and ask yourself this: Knowing how to use ___ would improve what I do. From there, you can choose a tool to learn.
Some of the most popular design tools include:
- Invision – for prototyping and collaboration
- Axure – (Check course offers at Axure courses page)
- Sketch – for interace design
- Framer – for prototyping and interaction design
- Figma – for collaborative interface design + it’s free
5. Mentor someone else
You’ve gained a mastery of all things UX, been to some of the top conferences, have experience creating designs and know the best UX tools inside out – now what?
Start talking about design with people – mentor or educate someone about design. A couple of things will start to happen when you do.
- You’ll see UX from a different perspective
- Gain feedback and questions you’ve never considered
- Constant brainstorming due to the never ending talks
What are your top tips for making the transition? Leave them in the comment section below.
- UX designers are not all the same
- Competent UX designers don’t have extensive knowledge in all technical areas
- UX technical skills can be broken down into 8 key areas
- The 8 technical skills are: User Research, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Visual Design, Usability Evaluation, Interface Prototyping, UX Leadership and Technical Writing.
- Tool skill sets are becoming ever more present in UX roles
- Practice develops UX experiences and UX skills; either technical skills, tool skills or both
Know a skill we missed out? Have a top UX resource to share or simply have thoughts on the above? Please drop them in the comments below.