Experience designer traits

Jacqueline Fouche
Superfluid experiences
5 min readApr 10, 2019

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Qualities & traits that sets you up for success

I’m one of those — sometimes annoyingly positive people — who believe anyone can do almost anything.

With that in mind, I also believe that your wants, needs, interests, curiosity and hard work gets you to success, rather than depending on innate skill.

You need certain personality traits to be a successful experience designer. If you don’t think you have them, you can start cultivating almost all of them.

I’ve been working on blueprints to help all types of experience designers navigate their careers and interests in a structured way. If you write, research, prototype, practice information architecture, do service-, interaction- or visual design — I’m talking to you.

LIVING WITH UNCERTAINTY

The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. — Wikipedia

When you’re in the work, there are a lot of things you have to figure out, being uncomfortable with the unknown is a necessity.

The philosophy and approach relating to the scientific method will help you.

Figuring out the answer and persuading other people that it is necessary is part of the process and your job.

GRIT

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state. Wikipedia

You have to show perseverance — redesign the flow one more time, take the harsh critique and incorporate it, make the changes after the user validation test.

Suck up that the amazing copy you wrote wasn’t used. Even though you read a 30-page boring article to understand the background well enough to write a 200-character synopsis.

You must want to want to do it.

CURIOSITY

Curiosity (from Latin cūriōsitās, from cūriōsus “careful, diligent, curious”, akin to cura “care”) is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning, evident by observation in humans and other animals. Wikipedia

Drive or motivation. Something in the work must cause the drive or motivation. It’s a need that has the power of driving your behaviour.

Expectancy theory of motivation — when we are thinking about the future, we formulate different expectations about what we think will happen.

When we predict that there will most likely be a positive outcome, we believe that we are able to make that possible future a reality. Leading people to feel more motivated to pursue those likely outcomes.

CONFIDENCE

The concept of self-confidence, self-assurance in one’s personal judgment, ability, power, etc. Wikipedia

It’s a difficult one, because overconfidence is ruinous. Under-confidence means you never get anything done — you’re swayed by everyone’s opinion of the work.

Confidence is also contagious, if you’re confident in your work other people are more inclined to believe you.

If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of the time I spend in one-on-one conversations as a design lead or mentor is around confidence. A lot of my support tactics for designers revolve around building confidence.

Luckily this is quite easy in a space that honor a human-centred and scientifically-driven methodology. Following the method and activities in the process — specifically the research — gets you there.

When you get to a rhythm of following a process or even better your method. Then deliver, get real feedback from live software and repeat this activities.

You generate a feeling of confidence. It’s a feedback loop to prove you know what you’re doing.

EMPATHY

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Wikipedia

I t sounds like many designers equate it with feeling sympathy and it is at risk of being overused.

Cognitive empathy is ability to understand how a person feels and why they might be thinking.

Emotional empathy (affective empathy) is the ability to share the feelings of another person.

Compassionate empathy (empathic concern) is about action — where you feel strongly enough to take action.

You should cultivate your ability to understand and see the world from someone else’s perspective.

Again, primary research (talking to human beings using a structured method) should help you get there.

You want to have a clear understanding of the different points of view for customers. Their stories, background, wants and needs help make better decisions throughout the product life cycle.

There are many techniques and methods you can use to increase and aid empathy — as long as you are able to feel the emotion — you’ll be cool.

BE HUMAN-CENTRED

Human-centered design is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process.

Don’t give a shit about people? Don’t care about making the world a better place? Then maybe this isn’t the job for you.

It doesn’t mean that you have to be an extrovert — or continuously happy. As a matter of fact, most of the designers I know, are introverts or ambiverts.

Each technical skill require interaction with humans. Interaction varies depending on the skill, project phase and responsibility.

For instance.

  • Research requires a lot more human interaction than prototyping
  • Visual designers work more closely with developers than end customers
  • Makers are expected to spend more time producing
  • Leaders need to communicate more

Genius designers, being driven by ego or people who are self-assured to the level of arrogance are not suited to experience design.

EXPERIMENT DRIVEN

This trait is closely linked to curiosity, grit, living with uncertainty and human-centred design.

It’s a philosophy, a belief that you can have an idea/ theory/ hypotheses that may or may not be true.

It’s working out the success and fail criteria for your idea. Then going through the activities to test it.

It’s not about being right. It’s about being better. Always.

I’ve been on this topic for about a year now and I’m making solid progress.

This list is based on conversations I’ve had with designers over the last year and piqued my interest because we had to write job specifications.

I’d really like a bigger dataset. Please get in touch if you have any productive comments or amends.

My current research obsession is around creating a framework for growing your skills as an experience designer.

I’ve called it the shape of an experience designer.

As part of this work I’ve also been looking at some building block concepts. You can read 7 technical design skills and another with thoughts on essential skills.

What’s next?

HELP ME by filling in a survey.

The basic survey takes about 4 minutes to complete.

It gives you a chance to answer more questions — including open ended questions. If you get engrossed it can take up to 30 minutes to complete. I will run this research until 31 July 2019.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

References

6 Key ideas behind theories of motivation

The neuroscience behind curiosity and motivation

3 types of empathy

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Jacqueline Fouche
Superfluid experiences

I’m a hands-on, principal experience designer and design coach specialising in conceptual design for startups and new setting up the design practice.