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8 skills you need to become a UX design rockstar

If you are expecting this to be a list of UX tools, devices or platforms then be prepared to be disappointed!

Being a rockstar at UX design means that you can deliver bankable and measurable results with your work... not eye-candy that impresses your friends and colleagues. So understandably, I chose to base this list on what I have learnt from seeing UX specialists at work on hundreds of projects, split tests and experiments.

Mastering these 8 skills might not be a simple feat - but the returns of achieving this will be worth the while. Every competitive organisation will pay handsomely for a UX rockstar!

Note: These observations are based on my work with several organisations that generated yearly revenue between 8 million to 250 million dollars and teams that varied between 3 to a dozen members.

Last updated

18 Aug 2022

Reading time

6 min


1. You are Empathic

Step into the shoes of your users.

‘Becoming’ your visitors and customers is essential if you want to create an engaging and intuitive experience for them. To do this you need to actually use (and buy where applicable) the product or service you are working on. Use surveys to identify basic demographic information, but more importantly find out what other products your users are fond of and what their passions are.

A great question I love to ask visitors and customers in surveys or polls is "How would you describe yourself? e.g. I am a 30 year old male designer that loves cars”. You will be surprised at how you will learn, and how much your users will have in common. Your users will also feel more comfortable to give you open-ended juicy answers instead of being ‘classified’ by multiple choice answers.

Tools: on- and off-site Surveys in Hotjar (www.hotjar.com) Further reading: Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

2. You are Thorough

Research your users, your product and the organisation.

Get the right facts and information at hand before you start your work. Doing interviews with customers, salespeople and support agents will allow you to understand pain points, persuasive angles and what success means to everyone involved. It’s also critical to define what key metrics are used internally - to make sure you are designing against them. There is no better way to lose credibility than working for weeks on a UX project that has no impact on the bottom line.

In 10 years of growing businesses, usability testing has always been my ultimate research method since it consistently gives the most actionable insights. However, if you are using online services like usertesting.com do not fall into the trap of listening ‘too much’ to your testers’ opinions e.g. "I would not buy this", “I would remove this” (since they are not ‘qualified' to do so) - instead focus on what they do. Where they stuck on a page, did they miss a button or key part of the content? Alternatively, power up your usability testing by recruiting your own visitors for tests.

Note: Always keep in mind that one user’s opinion is not the equivalent of a split test result (where you get a statistical ‘vote’ from your users – see point 7 below).

Tools: Hotjar (hotjar.com), UserTesting (usertesting.com), Further reading: A starter's guide to usability testing

3. You are Lean

Test early, learn fast.

Don’t wait until you have html, design and copy ready to do usability tests. Instead test every iteration of your work as quickly as possible. On a mobile UX project we worked on (where the client was a huge international brand) we actually ran over 50 user tests over a period of 3 weeks. This allowed us to fine tune the flow and experience exponentially. Running tests initially with friends and then using services like UserTesting.com makes this process quick and affordable.

Tools: Usability testing with UserTesting.com, Recruit users with Hotjar Further reading: Chapter 'Usability testing on 10 cents a day’ (Don’t make me think)

4. You are Persuasive

Understand why people say ‘yes'

The science of persuasion plays a huge role in how your visitors and users behave. You simply cannot afford not to understand how psychological triggers influence their (and your) behaviour. With even some basic reading you can learn how to use these principles successfully (and responsibly) in your design.

Further reading: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

5. You are Interactive

Test experiences not designs

If there is one thing every UX designer should stop doing its producing untested ‘flat’ designs. You really need to be ruthless with your process – start with paper prototyping and only once it's tested with suitable candidates move on to creating clickable wireframes or prototypes. Always ensure you are truly designing and testing an experience - not an interface or visual. Creating slide based designs is a very easy mistake to make - and once you get into that habit it can be very difficult to kick.

Tools: create interactive prototypes with Hotjar's Protocloud.org (free); create interactive wireframes with Proto.io (paid subscription)

6. You are Innovative

Do not follow - be followed.

It’s really good to see what your competitors are doing. It’s always a good idea to buy their products and use their services (always capture and document this process for future reference). However you should always be aiming to innovate with your designs. Look to other verticals and industries for inspiration and always look ahead - let your competitors copy you instead. By no means does this mean that you should reinvent the wheel. Users love consistency and easily learnable behaviours… but in a world of ever increasing competition, a different and intuitive user experience can set you aside from all the rest.

Tools: see point 1 about empathy - you need the tools listed there to drive your innovation. Further reading: Purple Cow

7. You are Analytical

Measure what works and what doesn't.

It’s useless to create new UX designs if you cannot measure the impact they have on your designs. While usability testing is a great way to get feedback, it is not a true measure of how your new designs will impact the bottom line (whether its revenue, signups or engagement). Instead split test your work so you can attribute specific results to your designs… and NO, looking at metrics before and after your changes does not work (there are too many other factors affecting the numbers).

When you run a split test you are basically asking your users to vote for the winner - using their details, money or time. Do not be intimidated by split testing. It’s easy, fun and addictive.

Tools: rest your designs on your site with Optimizely or VWO Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Split Testing and 10 mistakes to avoid

8. You are Determined

Do not be swayed from your convictions.

While user feedback is invaluable, internal opinions can be extremely dangerous. "I don’t like that design" or "I would change that phrase" are just some of the most common remarks I have heard over the years. Design by committee is dangerous because it slowly eats away at your idea. Its also very easy to start doubting your ideas - resist this temptation. Follow your beliefs! Just remember that you have stepped into your users’ shoes and your ideas are driven by their feedback.

To minimize ‘personal feedback’ present your research and ask your colleagues or clients to give feedback about how it fits with your users’ challenges and needs (instead of theirs). Focus on the importance of split testing - as this is the true measure of whether it will work or not.

Most importantly be an internal UX champion and give a lot of importance to communicating your reasoning and ideas. Getting buy-in is usually the hardest part of the battle!