UX Skills That Pay The Bills

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I gave this talk at UXCambridge and Mirror conference in Braga, Portugal in 2016. I believe that it's people's soft skills that really make the difference on projects. I had a think about some of the best people I've worked with over the years and identified the soft skills that they all had in common. This talk looks into each of these skills in turn and explains the difference between hard and soft skills.

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UX Skills That Pay The Bills

  1. 1. Soft UX Skills to Pay The Bills Image source - http://www.pngall.com/unicorn-png Hello, thanks for dropping by. I’d like to tell you why I think that its your soft skills that really make a difference during complex design projects.
  2. 2. Why are some UX’ers just so good at what they do? @chudders One day I was sat in the office, staring into the middle distance and was thinking…. Why do some people feel so easy to work with? Are there any common skills they have that I can identify? Being able to do the job isn’t enough, the best UX’ers have something else that goes beyond just technical skills.
  3. 3. I think that it’s people's soft skills that pay the bills @chudders Let me tell you why…
  4. 4. We focus on the wrong types of skills @chudders I think we focus too much on what people can do (their hard skills) and too little on how they go about doing it (their soft skills).
  5. 5. We have some problems @chudders Problems? oh yes…
  6. 6. Demand Supply @chudders < There is a shortage of good UX’ers and competition for jobs is ever increasing as people switch to UX from all manner of different roles.
  7. 7. How can you differentiate yourself? @chudders Despite the market feeling like it’s still booming how can you set yourself apart? How can you make sure that you really shine on projects?
  8. 8. How can I get into/ get better at UX? @chudders This also applies if you are trying to get into the industry. You might be thinking could I get a job as a UX’er? Do I have what it takes? If you’re an established practitioner theres definitely something here for you too!
  9. 9. Acquiring the skills you want / need can be tricky @chudders You might know the skills areas you want to develop but it can be hard to get on the right projects that allow you to develop these skills. Budgets might not always allow you to do things in the way that you would like. The great thing about soft skills is that you’ll use them on every project so theres nothing to stop you working on them right now!
  10. 10. Keeping up with stuff is impossible! @chudders The pace of the evolution of tools, techniques, methods and approach can be overwhelming. Trying to keep up with reading and the ‘latest thing’ feels impossible. The great thing about soft skills is that they will always be useful and will never go out of date.
  11. 11. Hard skills are becoming commoditised @chudders It’s never been easier to learn how to do stuff. You name it there’s a youtube video or an article to show you how. This is great but the impact is that it’s making it easier for others to get the same skills as you have. This makes the soft skills more and more important. You’ll have heard people talk about new recruits having the right attitude and that they’ll pick up the hard skills. Soft skills are harder to teach/ change as they are often more aligned to our personalities.
  12. 12. Portfolios don't help @chudders It’s interesting to consider that portfolios focus all to often on who we’ve worked for, what the output but less frequently talk about just how we went about doing something. Bananarama were all over soft skills. ‘It ain’t what you do but the way that you do it’. Craftsmen talk about how it’s not about what you make but the way that you make it. It’s our soft skills that contribute so hugely to the process of design and the experiences we have when working with one another.
  13. 13. @chudders https://www.toptal.com/designers/ux/job-description UX Design Consultant Role And all too often job ads focus on the ‘hard skills’, the sorts of things that more and more we will expect people to be able to do. The soft skills are underrepresented. Perhaps it’s because we don't ask for them in this formal way that they get overlooked during the recruitment process?
  14. 14. Worry not! @chudders The beauty of soft skills is that regardless of how long you might have been in the industry you may already have the right soft skills to thrive. Soft skills are wonderfully transferable. You can bring them into the industry from elsewhere and take them with you when you leave!
  15. 15. Skills @chudders So I’ve mentioned ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills quite a bit so far. What the hell am I talking about?
  16. 16. Image source - http://www.pngall.com/unicorn-png The ‘UX unicorn’ describes an individual who can do everything. Research, design, strategy, you name it. I accept that this is a Pegacorn but go with it for a moment. UX unicorns are very rare (for good reason). Let’s break down the skills that we might expect one to have…
  17. 17. ‘Business’ ‘Core’ ‘Technical’ ‘Soft’ ‘Topic’ Image source - http://www.pngall.com/unicorn-png Let’s break this mythical unicorn down into the different skills areas that we might want them to have.
  18. 18. Hard skills @chudders Let’s start with the ‘hard’ skills…
  19. 19. Core‘Topic’ area skills • Research techniques • Ethnography & discovery • User modelling • Product design • Interaction design • Interface design • Information Architecture • Usability @chudders These topic areas are typical of the sorts of ‘types’ of work a UX’er may be proficient in. I think its fair to say that typically people lean towards either the research or the design side.
  20. 20. Core‘Deliverables’ skills • Sketching • Wireframing/ prototyping • Journey mapping • Personas • Usability reports • Expert reviews • Constructing user stories @chudders Ok so a contentious one when considering lean but the reality of many UX roles (particularly within Agencies) is that you will be producing deliverables such as these. These are typical deliverables and UX’ers would be expected to be comfortable producing any of them.
  21. 21. CoreTechnical skills • Coding skills • Sketch, Axure etc • Computing skills • Setting up recording kit • Getting TV’s/ projectors to work?! • Getting Skype to work?! @chudders Despite the focus on research and design there are still many technical skills that make our lives easier. The ability to make stuff work is clearly useful and its amazing just how many tools we end up using during a typical project.
  22. 22. CoreBusiness skills • Project management • Time management • Professionalism • Writing skills • Negotiation • Influencing @chudders So theres definitely some cross over here with some of these being examples of critical soft skills that will be useful when conducting business. Speaking of soft skills…
  23. 23. @chudders So why is it the soft skills that really pay the bills? Let’s look at ‘soft’ skills in detail…
  24. 24. Soft skills are personal qualities and attitudes that can help you to work well with others and make a positive contribution to organisations you work for. https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/aboutus/newsarticles/Pages/Spotlight-SoftSkills.aspx What are the ‘soft skills’ that employers want? @chudders This is a useful definition from the National careers service. It echoes an earlier point I made about attributes that you will already have that will help you on UX projects.
  25. 25. Think about someone you think is a great UX’er @chudders Give a moment to think back over your previous projects and see who pops into your head.
  26. 26. @chudders What soft skills have you noticed great UX’ers having? In this part of the talk people offered up some great examples of soft skills. have a think yourself and keep them in mind and see if we came up with the same ideas.
  27. 27. Pragmatism @chudders This is all about being able to decide what to fight for and what to let go within projects. It’s important to be true to user centred design but you don’t need to be dogmatic. You’re being paid by the business and being asked to represent the user. A tricky conflict of interest eh! Design is compromise and you always have to work within constraints. Design is also never finished so be pragmatic about which battles you choose to fight.
  28. 28. Communication @chudders The first thing that springs to mind when considering communication is talking but of course listening skills are equally important here. Being able to communicate well is critical because you have to be able to share your vision and bring that idea in your head to life for others. It’s your responsibility to make sure that the users voice is heard. Use stories to communicate what you’ve seen in the field to help your teams understand your recommendations.
  29. 29. Flexibility & adaptability @chudders Projects change all the time. You need to remain flexible and be able to adapt to changing requirements and constraints. Within your research you’ll learn stuff that means you’ll need to change your approach. Expect your initial approach to be wrong and learn to change it as you go. Inflexible people are hard to work with. We’ve all encountered people like that and have experienced the negative impact they have on projects.
  30. 30. Positivity & resilience @chudders All projects go through good and bad periods. Whatever happens you must remain positive and roll with the punches. Work out your own survival strategies to cope with the tricks times and don’t take criticism personally. I think many of the best UX’ers are highly self motivated which helps them to get through the tricky spells on projects. Side projects are also great to help with this because they offer you full control over what you are doing which often contrasts hugely with project work!
  31. 31. Confidence & Influence @chudders On a recent project a colleague had to approach people as they were on their way to work to get feedback on a prototype she had made. No one was interested. She knew it too. Despite this she managed to approach people with confidence and authority and managed to get what she needed from them. You’ll often be in uncomfortable surroundings presenting to very senior people. It’s important to be able to communicate with confidence and authority to ensure that decision that are made consider user needs and insights from your research.
  32. 32. Creativity & problem solving @chudders We are lucky to work in such a wonderfully creative industry. Our projects present us with endless problems to solve from the initial design challenge to the constraints we must work within. You could summarise design as itself being all about problem solving so it’s clearly a critical skill to have. Everyone enjoys working with people who can make problems go away!
  33. 33. Selling & influencing @chudders Selling is tainted with a bad reputation but in reality it’s an essential life skill. As a UX’er you have to sell your ideas, your recommendations, yourself and you methods and processes. It comes in handy in real life too. Try convincing your 4 year old to brush their teeth or negotiating for that discount off that new pair of shoes and you’ll realise how valuable it really is.
  34. 34. Curiosity @chudders It’s essential to have an enquiring mind and accept that you don’t know all of the answers and you’ll go far. The joy of project work is that it will uncover industries and domains you never knew even existed. The ability to use your curious mind to ask questions to unpick how things work is a great skill to have. Be a thief. Steal the things that you know work and apply them to your own projects.
  35. 35. Reliability @chudders Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone did what they said they would when they said they would do it?! Sounds simple doesn’t it yet it seems rare. Committing to delivery and having a strong work ethic is so important to ensure successful projects.
  36. 36. Interest in people @chudders The ability to get on with anyone and having a genuine interest in making things better for people is so important. Being able to quickly build relationships with people is critical when conducting research. If you can see the world from their perspective you will find it easier to design things that work better for them.
  37. 37. Genuine desire to make stuff better @chudders This is vital. If you don’t genuinely believe in what you are doing why will you bother to fight the important battles on behalf of the user? We are truly privileged to be able to do work that reaches so many people. This gives you the perfect opportunity to improve peoples lives.
  38. 38. Commercial acumen @chudders Typically you’ll be employed by a commercial client so an understanding of how their business works will be critical to designing an effective solution for them. It’s as important to be able to speak the language of business as it is to be able to speak the language of your users. The key skill of any great UX’er is the ability to be able to strike a balance between the user and business goals.
  39. 39. Leadership & decision making @chudders Strong leadership skills will help you to guide your teams to successful outcomes. You should lead by example and be accountable for the work your are tasked with completing. You will need to frequently make decisions in situations when you feel you have insufficient information to do so. Stick your neck out, make a call, you have to keep things moving forwards.
  40. 40. Don’t be a dick @chudders Possibly the most important one of the lot. Keep your ego in check and remember that a bit of self deprecation always goes a long way. This does mean you should be a pushover though, tension between different roles can be healthy. Remember there is no such thing as a UX expert anyway. No one really knows if something will work until it goes live.
  41. 41. @chudders All of these skills have something in common So you’ll have realised that none of these skills are that specific to UX at all. They are all totally transferable. That means they’ll be useful to make you awesome in your next job too.
  42. 42. @chudders As you progress the soft skills become more important The more senior you get the less of the ‘work’ you end up doing. So as you progress you’ll end up relying more on the soft skills than on the hard skills.
  43. 43. Classic UX job interview fails @chudders I chatted to Tam, our head of HR about the soft skills that she often see lacking for applicants to roles at cxpartners.
  44. 44. @chudders Actively listen in interviews, reflect back clearly, answer in a clear articulate way Curiosity is important - We need people who will be interested in problems that our clients face Reflection - What would do differently / learnt / would change Flexibility/ adaptability - Ways of thinking - if not flexible you become hard to work with Ability to build relationships These are the things we look out for that are good indicators of strong soft skills.
  45. 45. Make sure you highlight your soft skills in your CV @chudders So don’t forget to make a point of highlighting your soft skills within your CV and linkedin profile.
  46. 46. Homework @chudders You homework is to pick a few of these that you think you need to work on and practice them. Identify someone you work with who is good at them and try and unpick what they do so well and then copy them! Let me know how you get on!
  47. 47. Thank you! @chudders Thanks and good luck!

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