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7 Tips to becoming a great UX Designer

user experience Jan 27, 2019

As a UX designer without any formal schooling, I’ve taken a more experiencial journey into becoming better at what I do. As I reflect back on my many years of learning, I’ve highlighted 7 areas that I practiced to becoming a better UX Designer, and here they are!

Learn to solve problems

Everyone can find problems and bring them to light. But a a crucial part of a UX designers job is to understand the problem and design a solution that is easy to understand and implement. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When I was 18, I worked in a coal mine. It was my job to service all the equipment in the mine.  There were over a dozen pieces of equipment and each one had 10 or more different areas that needed to be greased and each area had different amount of grease that was needed.

So on my first day, I followed my boss around as he walked me through each piece of equipment and he would tell me how many pumps of grease to put in each area. He sat there with me for a week as I had to memorize which areas of the equipment to service.

I remember thinking there had to be a better way and I have no doubt every new employee thought the same thing as me at this point but near the end of my training, I went home and googled images of these machines and I opened them in photoshop and placed leader lines at each grease point with a number of times I was supposed to pump grease. It was a simple guide I could reference if I was ever unsure.

A few months later in my job, I was moved up to become a buggy driver and I had to train the next new employee to take over my job. The first day, I sat with him and showed him the daily process and on the second day, I watched him but I also handed him this guide that he used and it made the on boarding process much better for him, and I was able to train him much faster.

Now you may come across problems like this in your life and I encourage you to practice a similar technique where you start to think about how you would design a solution for that problem and use those as your exercises to becoming a UX designer.

Practice Good Communication Skills

This doesn’t mean developing the ability to talk a lot, but more importantly, exercise how to engage in communication and actively listen and concentrate on what the other person is saying. Don’t just agree with the user to agree, but reflect back on the message and ask questions to give you more understanding and this brings me to my next tip.

Learn to really understand the user

There are plenty of apps like Facebook, dribbble, or Uber where you might feel it’s easy to understand the user because we use apps like that on a daily basis, but each product has a unique user and it’s important to not take them for granted and make sure we understand them.

We may also be in situations where we start off really disconnected with the user and this becomes the most important time to begin a journey of understanding the user.

For example, In one of my projects, I was hired to design a medical reporting system and I received a medical report template that a doctor started out with. The report had terms like “prognosis, benign, autosomal” terms I had never heard of and to me, I had an initial reaction to want to change some of these terms to make sense to me. Instead of saying prognosis, what if we said “likely outcome”. But there was an important factor here. If I were designing for patients, this would have been a perfect solution but these reports were for doctors to see. Doctors that had already spent years with this jargon and it was a world they lived in.

In order for me to design this system effectively, I had to map out the doctor’s routine in the current system, learn how they used these reports and what was most important to them. Things I just had no clue about beginning the project.

Always take notes

As a UX designer, you find yourself doing a ton of research, involved in many meetings and gleaning information from users and stakeholders. It’s important to always take notes to use for reference as you are designing the experience.

The first thing I do when sitting down to a meeting is open notability on my iPad, tap the record button, and begin writing notes. Recording the meeting also helps me replay discussions later on as I’m working on the design. Because I use notability, I’m also able to tap on an area of the note and jump to that part of the conversation so I don’t feel like I have to write everything word for word, but just highlight the important notes.

Learn to Sketch

As I designer, who knows illustrator, photoshop, Sketch, Adobe XDFigma, and 30 other digital design tools; I used to love jumping into one of these tools immediately to show my clients how quickly I could go from thought to polished concept. but I’ve learned the hard way there are a few issues with doing this.

First, High fidelity design slows down the ideation process. Stakeholders get hung up on questions like shouldn’t that button be a little larger? Why are we using that font? And you’re stuck on trying to solve problems in a UI that you might not end up within the end.

By sketching ideas out first, you fly past this irrelevant stage of feedback and save the important feedback for the end, when the ideation is near complete.

Now although your sketch isn’t meant to be perfect, I would highly recommend practicing the basics of drawing straight lines and writing clean text so your wireframes are easy to visualize. Rather than quickly drawing a square and throwing text in, take your time to make these lines and text clean and it will really add value to you and your process.

Now with tools like notability, there are guides to helping you draw straight lines and smooth circles easily, but I still practice taking my time to make my sketches as clean as possible.

Welcome Constructive criticism

As a UX designer, it’s your job to listen and understand that other people can contribute to you moving towards a great design better than you can on your own.

Now, I’ve worked with uptight designers who felt every piece of feedback was a personal attack on their skills. In one specific case, I was mentoring a graphic designer who began working on a website for their company. He was very new at designing for the web but had some great experience designing for print.

I began giving him feedback on making his design more responsive and I could tell immediately, he had this huge mental barrier up that was not going to let me “attack” his design. At the end after a lot of time spent on the design, he presented his design to the stakeholders and they decided to scrap it all and outsource the design to an agency.

Now you can welcome constructive criticism without agreeing on each critique. It’s important to find a sweet spot between a company or product's goals and the user experience. You still want to collect and evaluate each piece of feedback. Most times if a user or stakeholder is giving you feedback, even if the proposed solution isn’t solid, they are bringing up a problem that in most cases needs to be solved, and you can think more about how to solve it.

Learn to communicate your designs effectively

More important than how beautiful your work looks, is your ability to visualize and communicate solutions clearly and effectively. If you search designs on dribble, you will find thousands of exciting and vibrant concepts but it’s rarer to see good visual storytelling and experience a journey that makes sense.

Now with easy to use prototyping tools built into Figma, Adobe XD, Sketch and similar apps, you can easily prototype your designs and practice communicating your designs in a way that the user can begin at the onboarding process and finish through the product with a solid understanding of what the product is trying to solve.

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