The Most Underrated Skill You need to be a successful UX Designer

We spend a lot of time assessing ourselves and judging our peers in the design world. In tech as a whole really. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just part of the space.

But we really can’t judge everything about a designer from afar, especially from a dribbble shot. There are certainly things you notice about successful people though.

Throughout my professional experience, I’ve been able to pick up on a particular skill that almost directly translates to success in and out of the design field. And it’s one of those things you really can’t see without observing people over time. If I didn’t play a lot of poker in my life, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it.

Successful people read… fast. Not necessarily world record speed but well above average and they use their super power to inhale new knowledge. If you’re not in their speed class, they’re consuming more information faster than you and probably passing you on their way to the top.

In a 2012 article, Forbes showed data that the average eighth grader reads at about 250 words per minute (wpm). Everything I’ve seen has the average adult reading around the eighth grade level. So their average adult reading speed of 300 wpm is right in line with that.

However, the average high level executive reads at 575 wpm. Are you up to speed? After doing a quick search, I found a short test from Reading Soft and another from Staples. If you’re not pushing 600, don’t beat yourself up too much. You can definitely improve.

How does that impact designers?

You’re probably saying to yourself… “cool, but I’m a designer.” Possibly even writing this off because you have no desire to be a “high level executive.”

Fair enough… but this can help you be a better designer.

Previously, I wrote about soft skills needed to be a great designer. These are the types of things many designers overlook because they’re not directly emphasized in design school… or some schools period.

Written communication is one of those and I didn’t emphasize reading specifically enough in that post. As designers in an ever-evolving field, we need to constantly learn and consume information to stay relevant. Reading, writing and comprehension are all related and these are core skills to being able to consume that information.

You can certainly get a lot from watching videos on youtube and listening to podcasts, but if you’re ignoring the written word, you’re really limiting yourself.

I know… this really doesn’t sound exciting. English composition was probably right there with calculus as every designers’ least favorite classes. We like visuals, images, colors, shapes and creating things. Piles of words? Not so much. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with it’s impact on your career.

Additionally, I’ve talked about personal characteristics that will make you successful in your career. If you have these skills, I’m investing in your career early no matter what. You’re going to make it.

One of those characteristics was curiosity. This goes hand in hand with your ability to consume information. The more curious you are the more likely you are to pursue new knowledge and skills. If you can read and comprehend faster, you’re getting that information in your head more efficiently.

Improve your reading speed & comprehension

I’m not an expert on speed reading and certainly not qualified to teach english… I barely get away with speaking the language myself. But I’ll give you a some tips from my experience:

  • Read! Yeah, that’s brilliant. Actually set time to sit down and read. It’s hard to do something well if you don’t do it regularly.
  • Focus and eliminate distractions during this time. Go to the backroom, the back yard, the library or just grab some noise-cancelling headphones. Whatever you need to do, find some peace and quiet.
  • Take care of your eyes. Staring at bright screens all day will fatigue your eyes and ultimately slow your reading down. Rest often, change your eye levels regularly and read on other materials when you can (e.g., hard copy, e-ink, etc.).
  • Take notes while you read. This will help recall and give your eyes and mind a bit of a rest.
  • Don’t be afraid to reread. If you’re reading something really dense, reread sections to make sure you really have it down. Try to explain it in your own words out loud or to yourself.
  • Start writing if you don’t already. Writing in a personal journal or a blog will get you into the written word. If you’re not Grammar Girl, don’t worry about it and just do your best. If in doubt, read it out loud.
  • Learn how to speed read. You really don’t need to be a speed reader necessarily but looking into those materials will give you tips that will increase your reading speed.

Need more? Here are some other resources that are worth exploring:

Originally published at on November 28, 2015.