Grow your UX skillset

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

Following on from my previous blog post, ‘Improve your chances of a job in UX’, here are some more top tips on the skills you need to develop to work in user experience.

Work experience

Experience on real projects can be hard to come by as a student, but running your own website or helping out on someone else’s can be an excellent substitute. There’s a lot of overlap between web design and UX, and knowledge of how sites are put together definitely comes in handy. There’s no shortage of websites that could do with volunteer web design and UX work, so take advantage; it’ll look great on your CV.

Create a portfolio

Some of our consultants found it very useful to have their own portfolio. Even though this mostly contained work they had done during their university time, it was a very good starting point for talking about skills, knowledge and thinking. Show a diversity of projects in which you have been involved, describe your objectives and what you did to achieve them, present the outcomes and use a visually appealing format to convey this information. A well-structured slideshow or a nicely laid out paper version will help you greatly in your job application.

Be curious

To be a UX consultant you need to start training the cynical and critical part of your brain that doesn’t accept poor experiences so you can begin using it constructively. The key is to really think about why something doesn’t work rather than just being frustrated by the poor experience and saying “the site is rubbish”. What do you believe the ideal journey would be? Which part of it is failing you as the user? Remember there’s a wealth of useful articles and studies that have looked into user behaviour, submerging yourself in this will give you a greater understanding of what users require from a given process.

Use life experiences

A reasonably consistent truth about being a user experience practitioner is that in any given project, you have a very specific task: to understand everything. I mean, not necessarily all at the same time (although that will happen), but you will tend to be the individual in a project team that others look to for insight and direction on the end-to-end experience from a user perspective. That might require that you can bring an extraordinarily broad range of personal skills into a project that enable you to represent the user, from understanding the stimulus that compels a user to engage, to evaluating the efficiency of a unique call-to-action, via user research, facilitating design workshops and presenting outcomes to executive stakeholders.

If you’re new to user experience, you might not think you have those skills already, but here’s the tip – you’ve almost certainly had life experiences that are relevant. Never underestimate how compelling it can be, in an interview, or on a CV, to articulate those experiences as acquired skills and how they make you a better candidate. Want to focus on a skill that helps get you a user experience job? It’s the skill of articulating your own experiences.

Teamwork

Might sound obvious, but the first skill you need to become successful in UX is the ability to work in a team; UX is not for loners. Even as a freelancer, to deliver a project you will almost certainly work as part of a larger team that might include other consultants, developers, visual designers, marketing experts, copywriters, project managers. Learning how to effectively coordinate and communicate with other professionals is crucial for delivering great digital experiences. Gaining the trust and support of other team members, understanding their point of view and complementing your skills with theirs is the only way your vision can make it into the real world.

Attention to detail

Your CV and any written work you submit to a prospective employer say a lot about you. Typos and grammatical errors can be like a flashing light saying ‘this person is careless and doesn’t check their own work’. Seems like a small point, but fast forward yourself into that crucial presentation to an important client: little mistakes can be like spinach in your teeth – once someone notices them it can be distracting and undermine confidence in what you are saying.

Communication

You can’t discuss the skills needed for this exciting industry without mentioning the golden ticket; ‘communication’. UX involves working with a huge variety of people from stakeholders right the way through to the general public, which is what makes it exciting but also challenging. Not only hone your written skills, but also verbal, and non-verbal, learn when and how to apply them to any given situation such as presenting in a boardroom, working with your colleagues or interviewing a respondent.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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