What does it take be a UX designer?

I went to the season kick-off of Waterloo User Experience Group meeting last night. The session is called "UX ChitChat" - cute! One topic we chitchatted was what takes someone to be a UX designer? This is a popular question and have been asked by people not only try to get into the field but also asked by people who have been doing UX design for years. The latter takes one step further and asks the question: what does it take to be a great UX designer.

This is certainly a topic that closes my heart. I'll link my opinion with some inspiring resources on the topic. The most important trait (or UXNA) I think for a UX designer to have is compassion for users.  You need to be the advocate for users and it comes very naturally. For example, if you hit a confusing road sign, a hard to navigate website, or even those teapots in Chinese restaurants that are so hard to pour out tea without spilling it, you think about the poor experience users suffer. You also feel strongly that there should be a better design for this! Richard Ziade describes very nicely in his post (i.e. Design is... ) about what separates a good design from a bad design.

Everyone is a designer in a sense. But what separates good design from bad design?...Good design is about taking the time and energy to see through another's eyes and create something that sympathizes with how they think. At the risk of sounding hokey: Good design is thoughtful and compassionate. The beneficiary of a good design experiences something very unique. A good interaction experience creates an emotional bond and loyalty to the creation that is really, if you stop and think about, a bond with it's creator. "Someone took the time to think about what I need and worry about how I think."

With the UXNA, you also need proper training and experience to be a UX designer. Dan Saffer from Adaptive Path has a great article on how to be an interaction designer. It gives an overview of the profession, necessary training and experience you need with lots of great resources listed in the article. I think there are three skill areas for UX design:

  • User research: researching both users and markets through focused groups, interviews, filed investigation, scenario analysis, problem definition, brainstorming, requirements gathering
  • Interaction design: storyboarding, wireframing, prototyping, visual design
  • Usability testing: designing usability tests, data gathering and analysis, reporting testing results and design recommendation

A good designer will have experience in all these areas and is an expert in one or two areas. Many UX designer job posts list these similar skills. Form my experience, in grad level CS Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) field, we are trained in all these skill areas but focusing less on how to use different design tools in the Interaction Design phrase. Whereas college/university level multimedia design programs have more hands-on practice on tools such as Adobe CS3. However, they usually don't teach various user research methods and how to conduct formal usability study. The missing skills can be learnt from either taking a specialized course or on job training.

Here are some of my favorite UX blogs:

Basement.org by Rich Ziade

This is my favorite blog. This blog talks about Web 2.0 technologies and the importance of good experience design. The blog has influenced a lot on the way I'm thinking about design and how technology trends influence our lives. One nice feature of the blog is that the author has a column which provides a brief description of cool design tools and news from other blogs.

Functioning Form by Luke Wroblewski

This is a very visionary blog and a must read among designers. The blog often interviews the experts in interface design and and asks about their design vision. The blog helps me to think about the big picture and the direction of user experience. It also offers very well written articles about technology and design.

Adaptive Path Blog and Essay Archives

Not much description is needed here since Adaptive Path is the UX consulting group in the field. Each designer in Adaptive Path also has a great personal blog.

Future Perfect by Jan Chipchase

"A picture is worth a thousand words." The old saying would be the best description for the blog. Jan is a user researcher at Nokia, and he travels all over the world and takes great photos of how people use telephones or just everyday things. An excellent portrait of "design of everyday things." This blog is great to read even on a 30 sec break.

Usability In The News by Usernomics

This blog offers very practical tips on user-centered design and introduces new usability research findings that may surprise us designers.

IxDA Discussion List by Interaction Design Association (IxDA)

This is not a blog but has daily active discussions on topics related to interaction design. It's a great UX expert pool and very welcoming.  

Design Critique: Products for People by Tim and Tom

This is a podcast blog that consists of reviews of popular products such as IPod, alarm clocks, and etc.

Technorati Tags: Interaction Designer, UX Designer