🥋 What makes a good designer
Being empathetic is good for any human, not just designers.
A gazillion articles are trying to answer this question. Of course, as usual, the context and specifics of a particular role or company may be more nuanced, but in general, this is my list of expectations.
Even though technically, you don’t have to feel empathetic for your users, and you can design stuff by just knowing the user-centred process and following it (I know some designers who work like that, and they have decent jobs, so empathy may not be a requirement for all).
BUT I strongly believe that if you don’t care, you won’t advocate for your users, you won’t dig deeper into their needs, you won’t spend more time improving your designs, you won’t understand why designs should follow accessibility guidelines, etc. Only by truly empathizing with people’s needs and pains, one can do more to reduce those pains.
Yes, you can solve user problems by following the proper user-centred design methodology, but the best designers I know have (what seems like) natural empathy for others. Being empathetic is good for any human, not just designers.
I can imagine that you can design anything alone and without talking to others, and maybe even build the product yourself as a one-person show, BUT as a true designer you need to interact and communicate with others: peers, project partners, stakeholders, clients, …, and of course users.
This is not just about talking to other humans, it’s also about articulating your design decisions and clearly expressing your opinions and ideas. I’ve seen examples when bad communication significantly slowed down projects and even negatively impacted the success, and often relationships and trust.
Ability to communicate clearly and timely will define your future success. Being a good communicator is good for any human, not just designers.
The world is changing. Problems are changing. Tools are changing. People are changing. Everything is changing. Maybe, except for fundamental human psychology and motor functions, but brains are also being rewired to some extent. The point is – never assume you know everything.
There will always be something you can learn from others. My journey of learning has been such a rollercoaster that I concluded – never stop learning. The moment you stop – you become obsolete. Be humble and open to the idea that other people may know better.
An interesting observation that I had – often, people who are categorical, sound quite confident and one would think they must know what they are talking about (and you don’t =), but I have seen too many examples when this is just a perception (and maybe a mechanism to fight the imposter syndrome? 🤔).
Know the process and foundations
This seems like such a simple thing to do, but I see too many designers who don’t know the basics. With the abundance of information that you can find for free, I can’t think of a reason why designers still have not learned the process. Read books, watch courses, webinars, and tutorials online, read articles, and practice different methods yourself.
I learnt a lot from my side projects and tried to apply the ideal process and various methods. Lots of mistakes and lessons learned, but it worked for me. You can do it completely free these days. So, I always wonder why… (If you have an answer, leave it in the comments. Truly want to understand the underlying causes).
Prioritize better designs over being right
For some reason, I’ve seen many designers being too sensitive about the feedback they receive when showing their work to others (peers, project partners, clients, etc.). I completely understand the desire to hit the right spot with your work on the first try. I want it, too =) However, this is not how great designs happen.
Quite some time ago, I realized that it takes multiple iterations to find the best solution. I accepted the fact, that if my ultimate goal is to create the best possible solution to a problem, the most effective way is to get multiple perspectives and ideas from more people. Just take it as a fact.
Throw your ego away, it doesn’t help you. It doesn’t mean you have to take all the feedback into account, consider all options, pros and cons, trade-offs, constraints, etc. and make your call. Then, own your decision. But don’t forget that your end goal is to solve the problem even if your initial ideas/designs are not the best.
This relates to the “Always learning” item above, but I find it important enough to call out as a separate point. Do not assume you (or anyone else for that matter) is always right. Always do your due diligence to get data to support decisions. Making decisions based on assumptions without any data increases the risks of failure, lost time, money, etc.
Not every assumption can be validated with data, but questioning statements/opinions is a good practice. Especially, the most critical ones. Sometimes, it’s worth spending more time (than initially allocated) to get that data instead of pouring hundreds of hours of multiple people to make something, and then realizing the assumption was not valid.
Adaptive and collaborative
Being flexible with what process you use is critical. Every situation is different, with its constraints, priorities, people, etc. A good designer should be able to understand the specifics of a particular project/objective and choose the right path to achieve the set goals. Be a good team player and be open to modifying your process to help the team accomplish the big project goals.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should throw away everything you believe in just because some team members have their opinions. You should still advocate for your users and UX design process, but be flexible to adjust it to the realities of the project. Real life and business are different from the ideal design process. Also, a good designer empathizes with other team members’ needs.
For example, if you have always been doing a hand-off in a particular way, and there is a different method that will be more effective and efficient with the current development team and will help the whole project be more successful, it may be worthwhile to use that other method that will allow the project to be more successful. The overarching goal is to help the whole project/product succeed, and not to stick to the things you are used to doing. Think bigger than just your particular role.
I respect when people want to share their learnings and takeaways with less experienced peers. The quote I saw on Twitter sums it up really well:
Be the senior you wanted when you were a junior.
Many folks seek advice and guidance on how to navigate a career in UX, regardless of their experience level. Everybody has some answers they are looking for. The challenge is more prominent with junior folks. First, there are a lot of them, and the number is growing. Second, the sources for these answers are quite limited. I see it too often when a designer “disconnects” from the community and stops helping out others who are earlier in their career.
Of course, I empathize with their new priorities in life and career. Some of them get more family responsibilities, and some of them get burnt out and disengaged from the Design world. Some of them don’t care enough about others.
There are many reasons for reduced engagement with their flock, and I empathize with them. Though I always love seeing when folks are willing to share the lessons they’ve learned on their career journey. I respect that.
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