The Most Undervalued Skills UX Designers Bring to Organizations

Megan Wilson
Aug 21, 2018 · 6 min read

An organization’s UX designers are the cream of the crop when it comes to the creative and artistic aspects of their product. The designers are the ones who give the company their creative and unique flair- without their skills a product would be as square as a box.

Designer to designer, however, we know that our role requires so much more. Despite the fact that UX designers must take on a wide variety of tasks outside their creative ones, our diverse skills are rarely acknowledged by employers.

Which is why I turned to Quora to see what my fellow designers had to say about this issue. I came across the question “What is the most undervalued skill a UX designer brings to an organization?” which includes some insightful answers.

I’ve compiled some of my favorite answers below:

What is the most undervalued skill a UX designer brings to an organization?

Bayu Amus, 8+ years of User Experience design and evangelism

In my experience, it’s the UX Designer’s ability to align the organization with its user’s perceived value, as UX Designer is well equipped with the capability to understand the user behaviors, their pain points, and the problems they’re trying to solve.

Business Insights, Marketing, Sales, might helps the organization with reports, statistics, analytics, and various type of market research, but usually they’re good in outlining “what happens,” without going into deep understanding of “why it happens,” hence often missing out the opportunity to create a better product or service.

Together with the UX Designer, organizations will have better understanding of which touch-points they should prioritize, e.g. by using the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) principle, identify the core funnels through User Journey mapping, identify product related metrics, e.g. by using Metrics that Matters (MTM) principle, then go deep into defining the experience inside the App, to ensure it provides smooth delightful experience towards the overall User Journey.

Melanie Polkosky, Ph.D.,18+ yrs as UX researcher-consultant-designer-coach

Great question! I think it’s their ability to think both strategically and in terms of the customer, which means that UX people are often (typically?) not invited to early or high-level discussions on business strategy, product/portfolio direction and even single-product development. This omission means that what drives a business — financial considerations, technical innovation or even the views of executives — isn’t what might realistically appeal to a specific market, or even any market. If no one in these discussions is representing the user population in a realistic way, it’s a massive oversight that can have (negative) implications.

As an extreme example, I know of a smart developer whipped together a startup based on his seemingly brilliant idea for a mobile app, which he built and then started putting together his business while simultaneously pursuing angel funding. It’s all great, money flowing in for the first year, they’re doing the Silicon Valley thing with a small team of developers. Then, they finally hire one early career UX person. She appropriately insisted on doing some field research to better understand the needs of the user population, who turned out to be a specialized type of therapist. Who had virtually no need for this particular type of app. Who no one had ever spoken to before. The entire team didn’t know a single thing about their job or how they do therapy, just building this “thing” and assuming they will want it. Oops. Before you know it, funds start running out and they’re scrambling to figure out a business model that will keep them afloat. I’d like to say this example is a one-off but it’s not. It happens in companies large and small, dinosaurs and startups.

The difference in larger companies is that they have other revenue sources, so if one fails, they can more easily pick up the pieces. I myself have worked on many products that have ultimately been shelved or products/services continue to be “tweaked” to better appeal to a user population, when what they really need is a major rip and replace. In fact, I’m currently working on a project where organizational issues — call it lethargy, resistance to change, politics — seem highly likely to derail any chance for the needed level of redesign to make a truly great user experience, even though this is the aspirational goal of the project. My standing joke is that being a psychologist in UX often pays off far beyond what I’m being paid for on a given project.

On the UX side, this strategic business ability doesn’t appear to be universal across all practitioners. I’ve frequently heard comments about various professionals that differentiate them into “good with strategy” or “just a designer,” for example. My view is that it’s probably a constellation of various cognitive and social skills that would include problem solving, hypothetical thinking, empathy and compelling communication.

Taylor Reese, UX Practice Lead in Edmonton Canada. NN/G certified.

This will depend on the organization, what it does and delivers, it’s culture, what it does when nobody is looking, and how it grows.

Broadly speaking, especially in organizations which don’t have a strong practice in user experience design, the most important and least valued skill any one designer can bring is the ability to help people realize that the most important thing we can do in almost any industry or effort, is focus on delivering maximum value to the humans who will use or consume the product of our work:

Jeffrey Harris, Senior Designer at Microsoft

There are a number of skills that come to mind, but the most significant contribution that most non-UX leaders fail to appreciate are Design Principles.

Here’s a great collection: Design Principles FTW

Design Principles should immediately follow a good discovery phase. Once we’ve explored the problem space through the market, our users, and our technology, we need to set some ground rules. These rules help us to know what success looks like.

It’s incredibly difficult to synthesize all of your research into a set of principles that will guide the organization going forward. It can be tempting to fall into a trap of pablum and bromides, not wishing to offend anyone.

Well-crafted Design Principles have teeth. They don’t just show their value when choosing between good and bad solutions. We don’t need Principles for that. We need Design Principles when choosing between two good solutions. Design Principles differentiate a merely good solution from the right solution for us.

Most clients today have a good understanding of UX offerings — wireframes, service blueprints, customer journeys — but they rarely understand Principles. They are the most valuable, longest-lasting contribution a UX designer can make.


For more UX tips and insights check out our blog

Digital Adoption 101

Exploring topics of interest for organizations undergoing…

Megan Wilson

Written by

UX enthusiast who loves to share and discover innovative design content. Lead UXer at @WalkMeInc!

Digital Adoption 101

Exploring topics of interest for organizations undergoing digital adoption, such as: digital transformation, training and onboarding, user experience, and the customer experience.

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