8 Must-Have Soft Skills for Product Designers
Discover the hidden power of soft skills in product design. Learn how translating ideas and understanding business values can elevate your career.
Jan 7, 2024 | 8 min read
In product design, technical skills alone are no longer sufficient for success. While proficiency in hard skills like user research, UX/UI design, and prototyping tools remains crucial, it's the soft skills that truly set exceptional product designers apart. The intangible qualities, which I’ll mention here, have emerged as critical components in creating products that resonate with users and foster meaningful experiences. This article explores why certain soft skills are a must-have for product designers, highlighting their paramount importance in shaping the design process and ultimately influencing the success of a product.
"Soft skills are the true currency in today's interconnected world. " - Richard Branson.
Richard Branson's quote is one of the best explanations I've heard about the value of soft skills, not only for everyone but particularly in the rapidly changing product design industry. Soft skills are continuous in nature, with no definitive end point. You can develop them every day just like technical skills. This is precisely what I strive to do on a daily basis.
You’ll also notice that each important soft skill here is closely connected with another one. So let’s find out about these crucial points!
An integral aspect of a designer's work involves explaining their thought process to a team that may include non-designers or to a less than well-versed client seeking a solution they have been looking for.
While working on the project, I present my ideas to various internal team members, such as the Product Proxy Owner, Tech Lead, and other team members involved in front end, back end, and quality assurance. Effectively conveying ideas to colleagues in a clear and concise manner is crucial. Visual communication is just as, if not more, important than verbal communication. The right balance of verbal and visual communication enables all team members to understand one another. Initially, I faced the challenge of a language barrier and other non-technical skills, but as mentioned earlier, soft skills should constantly be improved, and actually, they helped me pass this challenge.
Designers should not assume that clients always follow design discussions. Additional explanations can sometimes help avoid confusion, while at other times, they may not be necessary. It's vital to tailor the type of explanation to meet each client's individual needs. The ability to articulate thoughts and present complex ideas to non-designers remains a fundamental component of our work.
There's another challenge that designers commonly face — balancing the needs of business and user requirements. A designer who understands how to consistently bring value to the business while also advocating for user interests is a valuable asset. Critical thinking and some problem-solving abilities go a long way here.
Finding the middle ground between these two points is far from easy. However, we can't forget about the third point — client requests. Sometimes, these requests may simply be personal preferences that need to align with the designer's considerations for the other two points.
Understanding the business model of our company and taking the time to assess how we can contribute to driving business growth is also a crucial soft skill. Many designers overlook the importance of being able to communicate about business needs and how we address them in our projects. Additionally, the knowledge and ability to present and defend your design options is equally the most important soft skill.
The success of a product is always the result of collaboration on a team involving designers, project managers, developers, marketers, and many others because there’s no successful project happens in isolation. As a designer, constant interaction with other team members is essential. For example, this includes learning about technical limitations, usability testing and challenges from developers in order to find effective and efficient solutions.
Design requires interpersonal, strong communication skills, and good communication as each team member brings their unique perspectives. When you know how to effectively use the skills of your team and they know how to leverage relevant soft skills of yours, it not only fosters mutual respect and trust within the team but also creates the most productive process for product development.
The ability to understand and empathize with users is crucial for creating products that meet their needs and provide a positive user experience.
Showing empathy means putting yourself in people's shoes who are going to actually use the product. If we can fully understand the "pain points" of the client, empathize with them, and feel what they feel, we can create a product that aligns with marketing objectives and goals and becomes in demand. It is crucial to have a clear understanding and differentiate between empathy and the designer's personal preferences. When practicing empathy, the goal is to put yourself in the user's shoes and understand their perspective, without imposing your own preferences onto them.
Often, consumers cannot clearly articulate what they need. The designer's task is to use empathy as a tool to solve people's problems, even those they may not be aware of. Empathy can be developed in various ways. For instance, through active listening and carefully observing people. If we carefully observe how people make the same mistakes or encounter the same problems, we can develop better solutions for people skills put them in our products.
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As a professional designer, the ability to embrace constant change and quickly adapt to evolving concepts or unconventional situations is not just important — it's absolutely essential. Priorities can shift, trends may become irrelevant, and client requirements can change unexpectedly. In this dynamic field, projects are constantly in flux, time management and deadlines are subject to shifting, and stress levels can soar.
However, maintaining a flexible mindset is the key to calmly adjusting to these fluctuations and embracing new challenges with unwavering resilience. This is especially crucial for designers, as we work closely with clients, representing the team and company.
It’s also okay that designers often face setbacks, criticism, and challenges during the design process. Flexibility, resilience, and the ability to learn from failures and persevere are important personality traits too.
As designers, we constantly find ourselves seeking a delicate balance and forging a middle ground with various stakeholders to interact with others here, be it clients or our own team members, as mentioned earlier.
Beyond delivering exceptional work, we must also master the art of effective communication, negotiation, persuasion, critical thinking, problem solving skills and active listening. These skills are crucial for our success and the overall success of any design endeavor.
Negotiation and interpersonal skills enable us to navigate differences in opinions and find solutions that satisfy both the client's objectives and our design expertise. Persuasion becomes invaluable when advocating for our design choices and gaining buy-in from stakeholders on group projects. Equally important is the ability to listen attentively, understand the needs and perspectives of others, and incorporate them into our design process.
Just doing an excellent job is not enough. If you cannot communicate effectively, negotiate, persuade or listen, you will face failure.
In the realm of design, our work unfolds in iterative cycles, and the continuous exchange of feedback plays a pivotal role in shaping the outcome. This stage is of utmost significance as it ensures the development of truly high-quality products that resonate with users. By fostering a culture of constructive feedback, designers not only strengthen their skills but also open doors to fresh perspectives and innovative solutions.
Criticism serves as the foundation for constructive communication, social skills and interaction among designers within the team. However, its true value lies in its constructive nature. In this collaborative ecosystem, we grow, learn, and thrive as a united force, driven by the pursuit of design excellence.
Product designers encounter myriad obstacles, ranging from technical constraints to organizational behavior to user experience dilemmas. It's our responsibility to foster critical thinking in ourselves and our teams to identify and understand these challenges, and then devise innovative solutions that address them effectively. A problem-solving mindset allows designers to break down complex problems into manageable components, analyze different perspectives, and explore a range of potential solutions.
Designers with strong soft skills are driven by curiosity, always seeking new insights and approaches to overcome obstacles and drive meaningful innovation. In the competitive world of product design, possessing a problem-solving mindset is a soft skill that sets designers apart, enabling them to tackle complex problems head-on and create products that make a real impact. As a must-have skill, it allows designers to push boundaries, embrace innovation, and drive the field of product design forward.
The field and practice of product design demand a diverse set of soft skills required to thrive in today's changing career landscape. These eight essential soft skills form the foundation for success as a product designer.
Investing in the development of these must-have interpersonal skills will undoubtedly propel your career forward, opening doors to exciting opportunities and paving the way for success in the dynamic world of product design.
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