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Human skills that designers need to embed in their career

“Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are.” — Donald A. Norman

UX/UI Design
5 minute read

Human skills, or soft skills, refer to skills that individuals need to successfully connect with others. The 2020 pandemic has transformed the traditional work model and remote work is here to stay for many of us. Without a doubt, remote work also has its fair share of challenges. With everyone behind the screen, it can become difficult to communicate effectively. The probability of misunderstanding someone’s tone becomes higher. Bonding with your fellow teammates can become more difficult. These issues can ultimately lead to frustration, low morale, and misunderstanding. It becomes imperative for the team to improve their human skills.

As designers, communicating our ideas and decisions to stakeholders is crucial. You might be looking to break into a design career or perhaps you wish to further your design career by becoming more articulate. Maybe you desire to improve your relationships with colleagues. In this article, I will dive into some of the superpowers that designers can equip themselves with to navigate the design world.


Let's say you're interested in pursuing a user experience career, empathy is a prerequisite for being a great designer. As designers, we ensure a positive user experience and designers with high emotional intelligence are always in demand since they care about the users' problems.

Some possible ways of showing compassion to the user consist of listening, developing the ability to be aware of their body language, offering users a chance to express themselves without judgement, setting your ego aside and learning from them.


“Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are.” — Donald A. Norman (The author of “The Design of Everyday Things”)

Demonstrating curiosity is something that Donald A. Norman heavily championed in his book “The Design of Everyday Things”. Curious designers can create great products if they can understand the target audience. Diving into the user's mind requires us to scrutinise the root cause of a given problem.

You can strengthen your curiosity by developing the habit of asking questions about the designs of everyday objects. Another technique called the "5 Whys" enables you to uncover the root cause of the issue. In this practice, you ask why the given problem is a problem. Then, you ask why again. This process continues till you cannot derive any more valuable information. That is the golden moment when you have discovered your root problem. Based on the root cause, you can then come up with efficient solutions.


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Problem spotter

Being a problem solver is an expectation from every professional in the software industry. However, having an eye for spotting issues is something that designers should also have a knack for. After all, designers are constantly looking for ways to improve the experience.

Have a good look around you. There will be at least one thing that needs revamping. Perhaps, you always hoped that there was a better solution for an app with a woeful experience. After taking your experience as a benchmark, you can decide whether others face a similar issue with it. At this point, you have spotted a problem. From there, you can ideate better solutions and make a positive impact.

Growth mindset

In this fast-paced world, it is of paramount importance to constantly be updating your knowledge. There are two kinds of mindsets: A fixed mindset and a growth mindset.According to the fixed mindset theory, we are born with a certain set of skills and cannot learn new ones. On the opposite spectrum, the growth mindset allows us to master any skill through dedication and practice.

How Can We Transition from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset?

My high school teacher once said, “Embrace life-long education. Learning and unlearning will be the new norm”. Those words of wisdom always stuck with me. The first step to embracing the growth mindset is to accept that failure is not shameful. The trick is to reflect on the mistakes and plan the next course of action. Next, you ought to make friends with patience. Finally, remember to be kind to yourself and celebrate baby steps. You can expedite the process if you surround yourself with supportive folks.

These practices will strengthen your adversity quotient, which determines your ability to bounce back from setbacks. It is common for designers to return to the drawing board, refer to research notes and iterate solutions. Staying resilient in adverse situations will help strengthen your character and allow you to flow confidently through an ever-changing environment.


Communication happens on the listener's terms” — Thomas Erikson (The author of “Surrounded by Idiots”)

Folks from other disciplines frequently lose faith in a design's value if designers cannot communicate effectively. Maintaining positive relationships with coworkers also comes down to how you convey your message.

Thomas Erikson has done a fabulous job describing various personalities one is likely to meet at work in his book “Surrounded by Idiots”. He describes the strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. Based on his studies, observing your teammates and adapting your work style can make it easier to communicate with them.

Best practices to boost your human skills

You may have acquired really strong technical skills from educational institutions. You may have applied them successfully. However, you may also have been left wishing your school had put more emphasis on human skills. You can develop human skills with constant practice.

By keeping the growth mindset in mind, the following actions have worked well for me:

  1. Diving into self-reflection mode. Here, I replay the events and identify areas of improvement. Sometimes, I involve a trusted mentor to gain a different perspective because we all have blind spots in our personalities. At this stage, one has to be aware of the desired human skill that is lacking.
  2. Setting goals. I set goals for myself by detailing the necessary steps. Now, this does not always happen overnight. Therefore, it is crucial to be realistic about the goals you set for yourself. Similar to the first step, involving a mentor in setting those goals can help reduce your tunnel vision.
  3. Practice and seek feedback. Once you have set your goals, the next step is to make a plan to execute them. Your mentor can be there to guide you and hold you accountable in your journey towards the goal.

Soon, you will discover that the desired human skill you worked hard to improve comes more naturally to you. You might even have the pleasure of guiding someone else in achieving those skills.

Food for thought

Which human skill do you wish to improve? Do you have a mentor in mind who can support you in your development journey?

If you'd like to connect to chat more about this, feel free to drop me a message via Linkedin. Keep practising these skills and celebrating the baby steps. You have got this!

Sources and recommended readings:

  1. Building workforce skills at scale to thrive during and after the COVID-19 crisis
  2. The Design Of Everyday Things
  3. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All
  4. Surrounded by Idiots: The Four Types of Human Behaviour (or, How to Understand Those Who Cannot Be Understood)