Underrated Skills That Will Skyrocket Your UX Design Career

Raluca Angelescu
January 16, 2023
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When I got into Design, I knew I had a whole world of possibilities ahead. So many industries are transitioning to Design, and it goes the other way around as well. You can learn many new things once you lay down the foundations. From AI to 3D Design and coding, everyone seems to be picking up something to add to their skill set.

So you are confident in the UX process and thinking of learning something new. There is a whole debate on what to learn, so let me share with you what I did and what helped me do senior-level work after one year in the field.

Advanced English

If you are reading this, it means you are either a native speaker or you know the language. If the first one, skip to the next tip; if the latter, stick around.

This might come as something new or surprising, but hear me out. And yes, my English could be better too, and I am working towards that.

One of the advantages of working in tech is the flexibility you have: you can work with clients and colleagues from all over the world and from anywhere. Despite the recent layoffs and uncertainty in the industry, there are still opportunities out there, and most of the time, you need to speak the same language as them.

Becoming more and more proficient in English, expanding your vocabulary, and making sure you write clear and concise documentation will not only help you network more but will also make your work look professional and well put together.

How to practically do this?

  • Read quality articles and books and pay attention to the language. Keep an eye out for expressions and industry-relevant words, jot them down, and incorporate them into your vocabulary;
  • Always proofread everything that goes to the client or other teams. For bonus points, use tools such as Grammarly or Hemmingway. You will be surprised how much you can learn from them if you pay attention to suggestions.

Presentation skills

I cringe when I look at my first presentations regarding how the deck was laid out and how I talked. Fast, rushing through the slides just to get it over with and not showing relevant content to the audience. Presentations were a chore, and the days following up to them were full of nervous rehearsals and self-doubt. Sounds familiar, right?

I am sorry I need to disappoint you; I will not share any secret here unless you count this as something new: Practice and put yourself there as often as possible.

Plus, work doesn’t always need to be final; it’s the message and the delivery that count.

How to improve your presentations in a few steps?

  • Stop adding too much text to slides. Keep it as simple as possible. You do the talking.
  • Tailor your content to your audience. Your client doesn’t care what affinity mapping is but does want to know how the new Design can get those customer satisfaction numbers up.
  • Talk slowly, and allow time for questions. The more you rush it, the less confident you will look.

Visual design (including animation or 3D design)

You are probably familiar with the debate around Dribble. Some argue the designs shown here are unrealistic, while others just love jumping straight into tinkering with the high-fidelity part of their work. Dribble fans might say that eye candy makes your work visible, and it’s valid to one extent.

No matter how great a flow is or how much research you’ve done, the visual appeal will always be part of the equation, whether we agree or not. I might not need to reiterate this, but beautiful screens should not exclude thorough well-researched work. This perfect balance should always be there.

If you’ve already mastered the visuals, it’s time to take it to the next level and get into delighters: micro-interactions, animations or 3D elements. Whatever you choose will certainly make a difference. And in my view, it’s fun as well.

How to do this?

  • Make a habit of playing around in your favorite design tool. Take some screenshots of apps or websites you love and start copying them. I used to do this when I started, but I still do it now, and I feel my UI skills have improved tremendously.
  • Keep your eyes open when interacting with products you really enjoy using. They can be screens or the new metro map when you visit another city. Look for mental models and patterns and try to understand why you like (or dislike them).

Business acumen

Having a clear picture of the business itself is one of the most underrated skills a designer should have. While expanding visual skills is valuable and can help translate your work into something easily understandable, Designers should have a bit of business flair to do this translation in the first place.

Whether you are working with a product manager or not, taking time to understand the business model, competitors, and revenue streams can offer you a holistic understanding of what you are trying to build. It can take you from executing screens into an informed decision-maker and advisor. In addition, understanding this can also offer additional insights into things you might not have considered or understand why the CEO pushed back that new feature you loved so much.

How to do this without a business school degree?

  • Don’t be a stranger to the client. Ask questions, and communicate; they will be happy to provide details. Don’t forget about stakeholder interviews.
  • If you work with a Product Manager, keep him close. Build a collaboration based on transparency and curiosity.
  • Be up to date with what happens in the industry you are working in. Google it, understand the concepts and keep an eye out on the world.

Thinking like a developer

And no, you don’t need to learn to code. Unless you want to. But you need to learn something from the Software development team you are working with.

I will skip the collaboration part as I consider it to be self-implied. But what I find valuable is to learn how to think about all possible “what if”s, and all possible edge cases. You won’t be able to know all, of course, but the more you are exposed to this thinking, the most use cases you will think of and Design for. This, in turn will improve your Design, increase trust, and save some developers some precious time asking questions.

How to do this?

  • Join some of their meetings, especially the ones they discuss the designs. Try to see what questions they ask and why and figure out if it’s something you forgot to account for in your Design or something technical. Nonetheless, you will learn something new.
  • Before declaring a design finalized, take some time to review the screens and ask all the questions you can think of (bonus point if you are doing this as part of a team). What happens in each possible scenario a user can use your product?

I know after reading this, it feels like you need to know all, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. The secret is to take small steps and focus on your passion.

You might be more inclined to visuals; others might love the business side a little more. The most important thing is to take a step back from time to time and see where you can create value. Take it easy, stay consistent, and results will come!

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