The Most Important Skill to Become a Successful User Experience Designer

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Many people, from different backgrounds, non-designers, non-technical folks, ask me sometimes – Can I become a user experience professional?

This made me think, what is the most important skill one would need to become a successful user experience professional?  Is it a Master’s degree in UX or IX from a reputed institute? Or deep knowledge about the principles of UX?  Excellent design skills? Communication? Technical expertise? All of the above?

I think none of them matter beyond a point. Of course, they would help, but none of them, in my opinion, qualifies to be the most important skill you would need to become a great UX designer.

The number one skill to be a successful user experience designer is what I call empathetic UX mindset.

Let me explain.

For example, consider the compose screen of any email application, say Gmail.

If you ask a develthe-most-important-skill-to-become-a-successful-user-experience-designer-screenshotoper to tell you about this screen, he might probably say something like, “You know, it’s a layover, with two text boxes and a large edit box. In the bottom bar there are a couple of icons and a “send” button. When the user presses ‘send,’ the data is validated and submitted to the server.”

If you ask the same question to a designer, he would say “I love the minimal design in this, see how neatly they have arranged the textboxes and the message field. And they have used the blue color for the send button, which is a universally accepted color without any negative implications! Brilliant, no?”

If you ask someone from the business side, they would say something like “We need to send the data through the algorithm to pick up relevant keywords, so that we can show matching ads and increase revenue.”

There is no problem with any one the above responses, they all are genuine and true.

But, if you see the same interface from a user’s perspective, say a 50 year old dad, he would say, “My daughter has gone abroad for an assignment, it has been three days we spoke to her over the phone, but you know it is very costly from here. And maybe she is busy and we don’t want to call and trouble her every time. She, before leaving, taught me how to use this email thing and I am trying to send an email to her from me and her mother.” Her mom would add, “Can we send her those photos of Pintu too?”

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You go beyond text boxes, colors and technical words. All you see and hear are emotions. Nervousness of using the app for the first time. Eagerness to communicate with their dear one. Love and affection.

The most important skill you require, my friends, to become a successful user experience designer, is the ability to understand that elderly couple. And thousands of others like them. Everything else will fall in line, when you make it your responsibility to make sure they are able to use the application without any difficulties.

If you walk a mile in their shoes, see the product through their eyes, empathize with the user – that makes the winning difference more than any other skill you might have.

When you step outside your technical boundaries, forget the rigid business needs and become your user, only then do you become a successful user experience designer.

And your user will thank you for that.

By Harikrishnan Menon

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