Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: April 23, 2014

What makes a great user experience designer?

In this post, I offer some thoughts on the characteristics that describe an exceptional user experience designer. These are the attributes that I look for when hiring UX roles.

Able to identify problems

“Exceptional problem solver”. That was a bullet item under my resume’s qualifications heading when applying to my first ever design job. Naively, I thought this would help me stand out. Have you ever noticed how large our brains are in relation to our bodies? Humans evolved to be problem solvers, it is a universal quality.

Because anyone can proffer a solution, UXers must be able to go beyond problem solving; great user experience designers are exceptional at problem identification. With the right tools and right mindset, we must be able to determine what’s really going on, and what really matters. To that end, usability research methods and user empathy are essential to user experience design.

Furthermore, problem identification is at the core of innovation. This is why awesome user experience often comes from the workshop of small, highly-focused startups. To disrupt the status quo, these companies have to be better at uncovering problems.

Generate many ideas when solving problems

Because everyone is capable of solving problems, great user experience designers differentiate through process to thoroughly and fairly evaluate solutions.

A common mistake I see from young designers is to offer one and only one solution for a given problem. What happens is that we tend to lock in on the first good idea; after this point, we can only imagine variations of the anchored concept.

Problem solving works best when we allow for serious idea generation. That means opening up the funnel to any concept (good or bad), stubbornly refusing to declare any idea the winner, continuing to generate solutions until the well dries up, and only then narrowing down the list.

Given time and resource constraints, an exhaustive approach is rarely possible. But this is the mindset of great user experience designers, that our initial solutions are not necessarily the best, and that we need to take time to come up with more ideas.

Seek and accept critical feedback

Vacuums are not fertile soil for exceptional design. Great designers need to regularly seek feedback on their ideas, and they must also be able to accept feedback.

Years ago, as a freelancer designer/developer, I worked with a client who already had a graphic designer. This fellow provided visual concepts for the project, and was a brick wall to any critical feedback. He was proud of his work, and insistent that nothing should be changed.

Critical feedback is often informative, since it tells us the exact location of pain points and potential conflicts. It’s human nature to be defensive, but to become great designers, we must be able to accept and assimilate critical feedback.

One approach is to separate ourselves from our designs. When approaching people, I typically say, “Be brutally honest, and hit this with you best shot.” By mentally segregating myself from the design, I encourage criticism and end up with incredibly constructive feedback.

Have passion

Passion is the eye test of user experience design; difficult to measure, but a quality that we know when we see it. Great user experience designers are passionate, and underlying their work is an implicit intensity of understanding.

Passionate UXers tend to do the following:

  • Stay up on the field by reading books, blogs.
  • Engage with other UXers by following them in social media, or attending UX-related meet ups.
  • Attempt to grow their role and scope, as a company has many UX touch points outside of product design. company.
  • Ask questions.