There have been countless books written on talent, we know talent when we see it, and we can sense talent in people around us. While most of us have a fundamental understanding of what the word “talent” means, most of us would have a hard time clearly defining it.
What is talent and how do we measure it? What skills must we possess to be considered “talented”? In this post, I will discuss why talent is so important to UX design, and will attempt to define talent as it relates to UX design skills.
What is Talent?
Talent is one of those words that carry a lot of mystique. We all know what talent is and we want to possess it. However, the components that make up talent change from profession to profession. For example, a mathematician is considered talented based on their ability to do arithmetic gymnastics in their heads, while a basketball player is considered talented based on their ability to dribble and shoot. While it is easy to identify the skills needed to be talented in some fields, in others, it can be hard to pinpoint what specifically makes an individual talented.
Part of what makes it so difficult to identify talent is that there are numerous words used synonymously with “talented,” such as gifted, skilled, or a natural. However, while these words are in the neighborhood of talented, they are not quite the same.
The definition for talent is further muddied by the fact that the people who are considered talented did not succeed based on talent alone. There is a whole list of qualities that they had to possess and exercise to achieve their success, many of which overlap with talent.
After asking numerous people to provide images that depict the word talented, I have observed one universal trend: all of the people, ideas, and phrases that were submitted depicted the highest degree of credibility, performance, or achievement.
Based on this concept, I began to search for a definition for talent in UX design.
Why is it Important to Define Talent in UX Design?
Defining talent in UX design can be beneficial for both designers and the companies that hire them.
Defining talent can help UX designers to:
- Understand the qualities, traits, and skills they need to excel in the field.
- Identify areas of strengths and weaknesses that they possess.
- Decide if the field of UX design is right for them.
From the standpoint of recruiters and companies that work with UX designers, defining talent can help to:
- Tailor their search for candidates with the right qualities.
- Improve job postings by making them more detailed and direct.
- Make the interview process more effective by asking the right questions and analyzing the candidates with greater clarity.
Why is Defining Talent for UX Design so Hard?
UX Design is one of the fields where defining talent is nearly impossible. The UX world is evolving and being redefined at a nearly unmatched rate. As such, the skills required to be a talented UX designer are changing rapidly as well.
The lack of a clear job description means that job postings tend to be vague carbon copies. It is not unusual to see phrases like “UX rock star” that, while catchy, do not provide any real information about the skills required for the job.
Unfortunately, the role itself also seems to be trending towards this type of ambiguity. The 2019 Design Census list of skills required for UX Design included a myriad of tasks that are not typically completed by UX designers, such as algorithm design, facilitation, film/video, and coding. While this list does make UX designers seem like the ultimate human beings that can do anything, it also reveals a lack of understanding about what UX really is.
This lack of definition around UX design is dangerous, because it threatens the integrity of what true UX design work entails, and mindlessly lumps any odd tasks under the UX catch-all umbrella.
Areas of “Talent” in UX Design
This is my initial attempt to define talent in UX design. The three areas I discuss below are all skills that can certainly be improved upon. However, I believe that a high level of natural ability must be present within these skills for a designer to be considered talented.
Empathy is the ability to understand or share the feelings of another. Empathy is what allows us to understand worlds that are different than ours and to be open to ideas and choices that we would not have otherwise imagined. As humans, we tend to superimpose our own philosophies or understandings on other people. This is not only toxic and dangerous; it can also be extremely restrictive in the world of UX design.
Empathy is a difficult skill to use because it frequently requires us to come out of our comfort zones. People who have a greater natural affinity to empathy are more able to understand the needs of diverse groups of users, which allows them to find more success in the world of UX design.
The ability to sense, identify, articulate, and solve a problem that exists is an extremely important skill to have for UX design. Problem-solving happens at all levels of the design process, from the architectural level, to the visual design, to the broad concept brainstorm. People who are more inclined towards problem-solving skills are much more likely to find success in the world of UX design.
UX designers are frequently asked to look into the future and navigate the imaginary path of choices that users will make. Based on this path, UX designers are expected to identify and fix any pitfalls or confusions that may occur. Designers who have the ability to clearly foresee these types of obstacles are generally more successful.
It is my belief that, to be considered a talented UX designer, you must be gifted in all three of these skills. Though other skills are necessary for success, such as visual design prowess, these three skills are the most challenging to learn and the most important for talent.
Personal List of “Must Knows” for UX Design
Finally, I wanted to share a candid list of things you should know prior to hiring UX talent or joining the field of UX design yourself:
Understand that you cannot be a Kobe Bryant
UX design is unapologetically a team sport. There are no one-on-one moments where you make the winning shot in front of a cheering stadium for all of the glory. You must be prepared to work closely with people of all different personalities and backgrounds.
You will not have a long term, committed relationship with your work
You cannot grow attached to anything you do when you work in UX design. This job is cooperative and fast-paced; what may have been a great idea at 9:00 am is ancient history by lunchtime. You must be ready for ideas to be continually proposed and updated within your team.
Expect your brain to be deep fried
As a UX designer, you are required to process large amounts of information from various sources, immerse yourself in the knowledge, and then emerge quickly with well thought-out ideas. This process can be challenging and, at times, exhausting.
Develop an all-defensive mindset
One of my first mentors once told me, “There is no wrong answer in UX design. You just have to be able to defend your answer.” The longer I work in UX design, the more I understand how wise this advice really was.
Your design decisions should always be grounded in logic, best practices, and user data, but you have the opportunities in this field to be creative within those boundaries. Therefore, when you use creativity to design a product, you need to predict your audience’s feedback and come prepared with defenses for your decisions.
Some Final Thoughts
In the past, I didn’t know what to say when people asked me, “What makes a good UX designer?” Talent is so ambiguous and our job is so diverse that it made it nearly impossible to come up with a short, simple answer. However, I can now say with confidence that talented UX designers possess problem-solving skills, forecasting skills, and deep empathy with users.