What Makes The Best UX Designers Best In Their Job?
Sep 78 min read
IT Marketing Strategist at Ideamotive. Travel addict and remote work advocate.
UX design industry has developed quite rapidly over the past few years. Because of that, UX designers are appearing all over the web. They offer their services and putting portfolios in front of your eyes. And all of them seem professional!
The truth is: not all of them are equally skilled and prepared to do their job. But how can you tell best UX designers from the ones who are only beginners trying to appear professional? Well – there are some traits that mark outstanding UXers. In this article, we advise you what to look out for if you really want to hire the best professionals in the industry.
The fundamental idea behind the human-centred design is that to find the best solution, designers need to develop an empathetic understanding of the people they are designing for.
Empathy is often mentioned as an important trait of great UX and UI designers. But what does it mean in practice? Empathic approach to design is not exactly about feeling what the user feels and trying to be in someone else’s shoes. This is virtually impossible.
Nevertheless, best UX designers need to have an ability to accept that other people might have different views and perception than their own. Empathy in UX design starts with the profound understanding that the audience for whom the product is designed sees the world in their own, unique way.
User-Centred Design is surprisingly difficult. One of the biggest issues, certainly for those with no HCI orusabilityexperience, is a lack of appreciation of how users think and work. Their assumption is that users will approach and solve problems in the same way as the designers and developers of an interactive solution.
Understanding that the user thinks differently than the designer is the first step. Then it is all about learning as much as possible about what it is exactly that conditions their perception of reality.
Observation – deciding who should be observed and what behavior should be observed.
Capturing Data – recording what exactly happens while consumers interact with the product. This step is supported by the observers asking questions such as “Why did you do that?” and “What problem did you just come up against?”
Reflection & Analysis – this is when all the collected data is brought together to produce insights about the users’ needs and problems.
Brainstorming – a collective process of coming up with practical solutions to the previously identified needs and problems. The solutions should be thought of as concrete features to implement in the design process.
Developing prototypes – best solutions are now made into prototypes that can be tested. According to Leonard and Rayport, this is an important step in empathetic design for three reasons: clarification of the core concept of the product for the development team, enabling the team to share the current design with those who do not work in the functions covered by that particular team, and the potential for further improvements once tested with real consumers and following discussions with the target users.
Best UX designers know and implement the above steps in their work. That’s how they use their empathy skills in practical ways.
Ethics in UX design
Empathizing with the user is also important for ethical UX design. Great designers never use their skills to take advantage of the users and manipulate them into behaviors that don’t serve them. That’s because they deeply care about the impact their design has on the end consumer. Knowing the power of design, they always think the whole UX process through, to make sure that the interaction benefits users in the long run.
The opposite of ethical UX design is dark UX design, which manipulates and/or frustrates the consumer. For example, by limiting the interaction possibilities and trying to manipulate them into sharing data that they are not willing to share. Some people prefer to call it an a**hole design, as it reflects the intention behind this kind of UX design – which is anything but empathy.
2. Knowledge of behavioral psychology
Many people tend to think that a UX designer is someone who’s mainly concerned with the visuals – graphic design, logotypes, typography, layouts. All of this is, of course, very important – but not enough. Best UX designers should also be familiar with behavioral sciences and psychology.
Why is this so important? Simply because if you want to create genuine engagement from the user’s side, you need to know how she makes decisions.
Again – it is not about manipulating the user into decisions that she wouldn’t want to take. Best UX designers combine a good sense of ethics with the behavioral knowledge to attract users that are naturally interested in the product. Then the real task of UX design becomes to make it easy for the customer to engage in an interaction that solves their problem.
An understanding of psychology and habits of the users can lead to a more informed design process. This understanding involves, first of all, the users’ decision-making process.
Best UX designers know that users can make decisions in two main ways. One of them is rather automatic and habitual; the other involves effort and conscious consideration of the pros and cons of the decision. Each of those decision-making processes involves certain behavioral patterns that depend on numerous factors – including the context in which the information is presented.
Creating this context is a vital part of the UX design process – and this is why it is so crucial for the best UX designers to understand how the context influences the behavior.
Three elements of a user’s decision making
Users’ decision-making constitutes of three major elements: motivation, ability, and trigger. Understanding those is an important part of UX designer’s job because it is through those elements that the end consumer interacts with the product. This is why conducting user research at the beginning of each UX project is so important.
How can a designer communicate the product to users without knowing what motivates them to engage, or what triggers their interest in the first place?
Designing triggers are one of the clearest examples of how successful UX design applies the knowledge of user behavior. Best UX designers know the specific triggers that are likely to influence their target audiences – such as specific language, colors, or interaction preferences. At the same time, they are aware that some triggers are quite universal and appealing for most people.
One of them is personalizing the message. It has been proven that measures such as mentioning user’s name in a marketing e-mail, or Amazon’s “Recommended for you” microcopy can increase conversion rates. That’s because the end customer feels like the message is crafted specifically for them.
3. Creative problem solving
When you read this subheading, certain connotations might immediately come to mind. Creativity means thinking outside of the box. Being innovative. Being able to come up with ideas that no one else had before.
But creative problem solving may be way simpler than that. The best UX designers don’t try hard to be creative just for the sake of originality. In UX design, the core value of creativity is something else.
One of the main problems in the UX industry is that it has become a place where common mistakes are turned into standards. In other words: it is easy to believe that some UX solutions work, just because they have been implemented by successful businesses. The common use of certain interface features or UX flows grants them credibility while pushing potentially more effective solutions to the side.
Avoid common mistakes
A common example of this phenomenon can be drop-down menus, which are often taken for granted and used on many websites. This solution keeps being copied and implemented by UX designers all over the world – just because it has been validated by many big companies who use it on their sites. Meanwhile, user tests clearly show that drop down menu performs quite poorly when confronted with a real user. There are many other navigation solutions that can potentially be much more efficient.
Best UX designers would not make this kind of mistake. They would not implement a UX feature just because it became a default solution for their competition. Instead, they would make decisions derived from careful user research & their knowledge of behavioral science.
This is the true meaning of creative problem-solving in UX design. “Creative” means tailored to the very specific needs of the target audience and the product requirements. It is simply the contrary to copy-pasting popular solutions without verifying how they perform.
4. Attention to detail
Paying attention to detail derives from the same mindset as being on the lookout for creative solutions. Best UX designers don’t settle for simply copying what others did before. It is deeply rooted in their work culture that they make a conscious effort to design an experience which is as close as possible to what the user is looking for.
This requires looking at the product over and over again – while being able to notice subtle nuances that sometimes change the whole user experience. Many UX designers highlight the fact that harmony of UX resides in the details – and this is for a reason.
Details are often what makes the user experience whole and wrap it up with a particular feel that using the product brings. While it is very important to deliver the core value and make user flow intuitive and straightforward – there are also certain details that can enhance the UX immensely.
Best UX designers know what those details are, and they pay attention to them while working on a project.
This is one of those UX features that may seem like nothing more than a nice add-on. In reality, visual feedback and responsiveness is what assures the user and indicates at which point of the application flow she is. This includes effects such as swiping buttons, payment confirmation notifications and other forms of reassurance that the action user undertook was completed successfully. Best UX designers understand that visual feedback is a form of acknowledging the user and making them feel as they are really interacting with the product.
A quick way to make your UI warmer and less mechanical is a human tone in the copy. If your product sounds human, it’s easier for people to trust you.
Best UXers do not underestimate the meaning of well-crafted microcopy. This includes button copy, micro-messages that guide the user through the experience and… error messages. Communiationg errors can be a critical point in user flow and either turn the whole experience into frustration or… a joke.
Think the difference between Microsoft’s “Something happened” message while setting the system up and MailChimp’s “Another user with this username already exists. Maybe it’s your evil twin. Spooky”. Microcopy can change it all for the user.
The power of white space comes from the limits of human attention and memory. Our short-term memory can hold a small amount of information (typically around 7 items or even less) in mind in an active, readily-available state for a short period of time (typically from 10 to 15 seconds, or sometimes up to a minute).
Best UX designers know that, in a great design, what’s not there can be as important as… what is there. The use of whitespace can heavily influence users’ perception of a product. Paying attention to this kind of detail often results in increased conversion and retention rates, as it makes interacting with an app easier, neater and more pleasurable.
But the effects of paying attention to detail in UX design can translate into serious financial benefits, too. Take the example of BestBuy’s website designers, who decided to change one detail in their users’ buying experience, which was to take away the “register” button. They simply allowed customers to purchase products without the need to set up an account.
This “little change” led to site’s annual revenues increasing by $300 million a year. Do we have to keep convincing you that you need a UX designer that appreciates the importance of detail?
5. Great work ethic
Last but not least, best UX designers have great work ethics. Working as a UXer is a challenging job – some people even compare it to being a therapist! It requires maximum engagement over a long period of time. It’s hard to conceive awesome UX designs overnight. They are products of continuous iterations, user tests, feedback, and improvements.
This means that best UX designers need to have certain personality traits and work habits that enable them to perform well at such a challenging job. While the list of those traits and habits can be very long, it comes down to a few most important points:
Good communication skills
UX design often requires working with a lot of different people, exchanging ideas and working as a team. Best designers know how to communicate effectively and they naturally create a collaborative environment around them.
Being able to accept negative feedback about their work
Creating outstanding UX design requires working through numerous iterations, asking for feedback and improving upon it. Professional UX designers know how to take in negative feedback and use it constructively. That’s because they are confident enough of their own skills.
Hardworking, but also knowing when to stop
Best UX designers – just like all great creatives – understand that it is important to put in the work in order to achieve amazing results. At the same time, they know when to take a break when they feel stuck. They acknowledge that this is a part of the whole process. It is sometimes necessary to detach from the project completely, just to be able to look at it from a new angle the next day.
In UX design, things often take time. Best UX designers understand that creating a digital product is a complex process. They are willing to go through each and every step of it. From initial user research up until making the final visual touches, they treat each part of the process as a necessity. They are not trying to rush their way through to the end.
Michał is a digital marketing veteran with a growth hacking mindset and 10+ years of experience. His goal is building high-quality technological content, with particular emphasis on React and Ruby on Rails. Traveler, climber, remote work advocate.