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UX Design Work Culture

From inquiry to innovation: unseen traits of ‘great’ UX designers

This year, Aubergine completed 10 years of existing and creating UX solutions for some of the world’s most impactful digital ecosystems. Reflecting upon our hiring process at Aubergine Solutions made me want to share insights on what makes someone a ‘great’ UX designer.

The answer to that question mostly comes from intuition at first, and most hiring managers I have spoken to or worked with would first choose to describe UX talent as having a ‘creative spark’, ‘an eye for detail’, or ‘smart’ – before they outline the tangible skills they have (portfolio, past work, skills, etc). 

UX design is like the modern-day art canvas on which the entire digital world builds itself. Behind every great user interaction is a great UX designer who took the right calls, and great UX designers are much like artists.

So, all in all – There is something unique about great UX designers in the sense that they work with a unique artisanship that grounds itself in user research and tangible UX principles that remain the same for all designers. 

Yet, they seem to better understand human-digital connections, and their expertise comes from a place of creativity and not just skill alone. 

So we know that great designers can combine learned skills to expand creative horizons. But the simple question arises – What common traits exist in great UX designers? What do hirers in the UX industry really look for beyond the obvious skills?

Here are some ‘abstract’ details of the traits that good UX designers show from the start 

They always want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing 

The journey of designing a good product starts with clarity, and clarity comes with questions. 

I remember my first job as a UX designer. I was on a project brief call with a product owner, taking a download of all the features their team had envisioned for the product. 

Within the first few minutes of the meeting, I asked 4-5 questions which were going to help me understand the ‘why’ behind a lot of things we were envisioning for the product.

A meeting, originally scheduled for about an hour, was over in the next 5 minutes.  

The product owner took a few days to conduct more research, and the next time we met, there was a lot more clarity in the direction we wanted to achieve.  

Why? The questions brought to light an interesting observation: 

Curiosity feeds clarity. And outcomes that emerge from clarity in goal, become revolutionary solutions.

They don’t just do, they observe

If there is one must have UX design skill  – it is observation! To create, one needs to not just see – but observe. While the skill seems rather simple to understand, the complexities lie in the layers of its use.

For example, in terms of design – you will need to observe the product you want to create. This observation will matter in means of research, analysis, competitive breakdown, color theory and more. When you just ‘see’ the product, you don’t try to understand the depth or the intensity of it. The observation you make – sets you apart. 

On the other hand, observation matters in the way you view people and users:
What do they have to say?
What problems are they facing?
What are their behavior patterns like?
Do they even have a need for the product you are creating?
If not, which part of their life could you simplify?
Has your design catered to the infrastructure needed? 

You cannot find answers to these questions by simply asking them. You need to observe, learn and connect the dots to derive meaningful insights.

Getting a deeper look into your competitors can help you get better insights and even a better understanding of how users react to their product. By understanding this, you get input on how you can differentiate your product.

Better observation skills, better insights.

They understand clear communication

Design decisions depend on the way the articulation is done. Design is subjective and hence when we are solving specific problems, we usually come up with more than one way to solve it.

Now, the problem here isn’t in your design – it’s the way you explain it, which, in turn, is the result of bad communication. 

The value a designer can add is hidden behind what is visible. But that which is hidden needs to be highlighted and communication plays a key role here. For example, one of our designers used to be strategic about presenting 3 options every time there was a design review. She would ensure that one option is closely matching to the client’s brief. 

The second option would be strategically designed to be close to the ideal solution. And the third option would be extremely out of the box, to experiment with the scope of innovation in the product. 

Each solution was presented with a well informed story which clearly articulates the reasons behind decisions and pros and cons of each. Even the business impact behind design decisions were brainstormed before picking a direction. 

Result- The clients who would work with her, would clearly understand the value she brings to the table because she spent time connecting the dots of user, business and technology needs and helping the team reach an informed decision through her articulations and storytelling skills.

They oscillate well between zooming in and out 

One of the most common skills that a designer has is being meticulous. ‘Zoom in’ to the intricate details of the design to feed into the intuitiveness of your product. 

By zooming in, you gain insights into the icons, the interactions, the hover states, the labels, the tiny, tiny details that define your product’s intuitiveness. While not every user is going to notice every detail that you focus on, collectively they do impact the usability of the product. This is why it’s important to nail down all the details of your design.

Similarly, it’s also important to ‘Zoom out’ and look at the bigger picture. This is relevant from ideation to execution:

What would the end-to-end user journey be? 

What is the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve through this product? How will the market receive this product? 

Will the overall system architecture match the user’s mental model?

Be prepared for a consistent cycle of zooming in and zooming out if you want to connect the dots to weave a usable product. By covering all these pointers, you can ensure that you can cater to businesses, users and technology. 

They’re creative, and know how to channelize it

Designers are expected to be creative by default. But if they are too creative to find order in chaos, they can soon end up loosing their energies in the wrong direction. 

Even when we work alone, we manage our own tasks and submit them at the right time to maintain deadlines. But when it comes to being a leader in the project you’re working on – you might want to go the extra step. 

As a UX Designer, if you’re able to master the skill of management, you will automatically be deemed a leader. It is one of the most important skills in your UX design career. While it’s easy to feel like going the extra mile can be unnecessary, if you want to stand out – this is the way to go. 

Help manage tasks better by guiding your team or even work on managing a project better yourself. For a UX Designer, it’s important to be as independent as you can be. It is not just about designing, but it is equally important to deliver on time. 

Since you will be dealing with multiple teams and stakeholders, you will be questioned in multiple ways about different parts of your product design. However, if you’re able to master the art of management, you can lead a team and grow your career in no time. 

Master management and you’ll be able to master growth. 

This set of skills are recommended from my experience. Of course, having strong design skills is a must, but these are skills that could set you apart and help you shine.

Wishing you a great UX Career Journey!

Bhakti Dudhara
Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer at Aubergine. Working daily as a user experience specialist, designing products that make a dent in the universe, and building a team capable of taking the legacy forward. Always eager to meet innovative product owners and mentoring designers since the day we started Aubergine in 2013. My philosophy of design lies in asking the right questions.