The 9 Most Essential Non-Design Skills for UX Designers

Camren Browne, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Becoming a great UX designer is a constant process of self-improvement and education.

Whether you’ve developed your design expertise with a certification program or are totally self-taught, chances are your learning process won’t stop there. On top of continuing to master essential design skills, there are lots of other non-design things that designers can learn and improve upon to make them even better at what they do.

In this article, we’ll cover nine auxiliary skills that can help make you a better designer. What are auxiliary skills, you may ask? Auxiliary skills are non-design related topics that help enhance or supplement your design abilities and career. The skills we’ll be covering are as follows:

  1. Empathy
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Communication
  4. Coding
  5. Analytics
  6. Business and finance
  7. Research
  8. Psychology
  9. Networking

Keep in mind that many of these skills are what factor into how competitive you are in the current market for UX designers. For each skill, we’ll go over what it is, why it’s important, and how to get better at it. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

1. Empathy

Some of the best designers are ones who can identify with their users, customers, and clients and be sensitive to their needs. Too often, designers can get caught up in their own bias or their own desire for what a product should be, that they completely ignore who they are actually designing for.

Empathizing with your users and clients ensures you are creating designs with purpose and with the right intent.

Furthermore, when people feel they are understood and prioritized, you have a better chance of forming lasting relationships and earning repeat business. One of the best ways to get better at empathizing is to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes by challenging yourself, your biases, and getting out of your comfort zone or usual environment.

Empathy is not a skill that you can pick up overnight. It takes time and attention to cultivate. If you’ve got a background in something like teaching, and you want to be a UX designer, you just might be ahead of the curve.

2. Critical thinking

UX designer mapping out their thoughts on a glass wall

A critical thinker is someone who approaches life with curiosity, a desire to learn, and the ability to analyze and evaluate information gathered from observation and experience.

Critical thinking is crucial to a designer’s career as they must be able to search for ways to enhance their clients or users lives as well as use the information they acquire in a purposeful and meaningful way. Improving your critical thinking skills can be done by getting to know your own mental processes and thinking patterns, disputing basic assumptions about the world around you, and getting in the habit of asking simple yet relevant questions.

3. Communication

Communication is a broad topic with lots of sub-categories like verbal communication, visual communication, written communication, and more. As a designer, you’ll be communicating with clients, colleagues, and users with a mix of communication styles.

Good communication skills can help you get your ideas across better, discuss and present your work accurately, write strong proposals, and ensure your designs are accessible and easy to interpret.

Effective communicators often have exceptional listening skills, take their time to respond, and dedicate time and energy into their communication skills whether it be by taking a short online course, doing daily writing prompts, or attending public speaking meetups and events.

4. Coding

Ux designer sitting at their laptop, learning to code

Not many design jobs require coding knowledge but if you’re going into interface or web design, having some proficiency in coding and development can take you far. Not only can it help you create more “development-friendly” designs and take some of the burden off of your coding colleagues, but it can also make you a more well-rounded designer. Understanding how your prototypes and designs will be developed and translated into coding language can give you a more complete idea of how a product comes to fruition. There are tons of free online resources you can utilize to learn more about development and coding. Try CareerFoundry’s free 7-day course, Frontend Development for Designers, or check out this fun coding game by MIT to practice your skills.

5. Analytics

Data analytics is a systematic computational analysis of statistics often used to interpret meaningful patterns within a bunch of data. Businesses often use analytics to observe, predict, and improve company performance by tracking website traffic, app downloads, social network activity, and advertising ROI. What does any of this have to do with being a good designer?

Having a good grasp on analytics can help you understand your conversion rates and back up your design choices with solid quantitative data. Google Analytics’ free online course is a great way to boost your knowledge and use analytics to your advantage.

6. Business and finance

As a designer, your focus is usually on the customer or user’s interaction with the product you’ve created. Widening this scope to include what goes on with the business and finance side of the organization you work for can help you understand not just what other experiences your users are having but also what your clients, colleagues, and other team members may be dealing with.

Acquiring some financial knowledge can help you communicate with your team better, help understand and achieve company-wide goals, and can help you measure your own performance or even start your own design business. Becoming business-savvy can seem overwhelming but there are great YouTube channels and online courses to help familiarize yourself with the world of finance.

Ultimately, having some skills in UX strategy will help you work more actively at the intersection of business and design (and can help set you apart from other candidates for roles!).

7. Research

UX designer distilling research by mapping their findings

Many people falsely assume that designers produce their works on a creative-whim without much thought or planning. In reality, each choice a designer makes is usually backed by lots of research and data. Through this research, designers are able to find their target audience and produce products that are more in line with what that audience desires. Improving your research skills can help you identify where improvements need to be made, what’s lacking, and how to go about tweaking your designs to fit the user’s needs. Getting better at research takes a lot of practice staying open and not giving in to your own bias, coming up with thoughtful and effective questionnaires, interviews, and user tests, and getting comfortable with using different data collection practices and software.

8. Psychology

Knowledge of general psychology is another extensive topic that can lend a hand to many diverse professions, including marketing, healthcare, education, and, of course, design. After all, designers must be able to identify and predict what their users need, want, and why. Understanding basic psychology principles helps give you an idea of common human motivations as well as consumer behavior and can help make creating that enjoyable, user-friendly product a bit easier. Having a bit of psych knowledge can also make you a better team member or leader by understanding how different personalities work together in groups. Again, as with most of these skills, the internet is your friend. Simply typing “psychology crash course” into your web browser will offer tons of articles and video resources for you to learn from.

9. Networking

A group of designers sitting around a table, talking

No designer is an island. When it comes to excelling in design and pushing your career forward, networking is a crucial skill to have.

Networking can help you connect with potential clients, see what job opportunities are arising, and can give you an idea of what steps you’ll need to take to climb higher in your organization or specific industry. You’ll also be more adept at meeting other designers who may be able to share helpful resources, useful contacts, or offer some sort of mentorship.

This may seem like a formidable skill to develop, but the best way to improve is to push yourself out of your comfort zone, attend company or industry specific events, start up conversations on LinkedIn or similar platforms, and find ways to make fun and meaningful connections. You can learn more about how to network excellently in this guide.

In closing

There’s a lot more that goes into being an exceptional designer than creativity and artistic prowess. Becoming a well-rounded, competitive designer often takes a lot of initiative, hard-work, and self-education.

We recommend finding an excellent UX design course (that offers mentorship and career coaching) to help you develop a broad skillset, as well as a great UX design mentor to provide insights on the non0design related skills they see as most essential to the job.

All in all, a curious mindset, willingness to improve, a drive to learn, and your unique background can be enough to boost your skills and reach your career goals as a designer. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to become an exceptional UX designer, check out these articles:

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