Mind the cover but read the book

Read time 4 minutes

Nowadays it’s easy to get confused by shiny appearance. The same happens when you’re looking for a UX designer (or product designer) for your project. The word "design" alone makes you imagine a Figma ninja who creates fancy visuals. Not speaking of millions of lookalike portfolios focusing on the visual part of the job. Still it’s the invisible part that makes some designers good and some less in the long run. I’ll try to highlight UX designer’s qualities and activities that can add to a project success years ahead.

Good qualities of a UX designer in short

  • starting with research and analysis
  • understanding what to research, when and why
  • understanding importance of information architecture
  • knowing when to zoom out or let go
  • being tool-agnostic

Starting with research and analysis

It’s absolutely normal to start any project, any job with research. Not only in product development. It’s a great tool, both strategic and tactical. It can be any research type – be it a kickoff call with a client, or a 2-day generative research. It’s how you understand a status-quo, a domain, whatever. Starting with anything else would be counterproductive. Once you know the ground, it’s time to move forward.

If a UX designer starts designing right away, most likely they’ve got your needs wrong. That would mean a waste of time and money for you as a client. How would you react to a dentist drilling your teeth without checking you beforehand? How would you feel if your hairdresser felt like cutting your hair the way they want? Exactly. You want to work with an expert who cares to learn about your needs first.

Understanding what to research, when and why

Analysing the project needs in the very beginning is a given. But there is a big difference between too much and enough research. As well as between useless and useful research. I’ve seen UX designers testing the usability of any potential features or design tweaks. But they skipped to check the necessity of those changes and its impact on people. Not speaking of analysis whether those features would actually help the business. UX designers who use research wisely can help you make better decisions within any constraints.

Understanding importance of information architecture

Information architecture is one of the most undervalued aspects of user experience. When neglected by designers, it becomes an underlying cause for many UX issues and even UX debt. Done well, it serves as a solid foundation for good user experience of a product in the long term.

Knowing when to zoom out or to let go

This is a rare quality that is great to have in a team. But it’s even more valuable to work with a UX designer with such a quality, who plays a guiding role. We all tend to overdo things sometimes. Sometimes a pause is vital to check up on ourselves, understand what’s important, what’s not. What are we doing at the moment? Is it bringing us closer to our goal? Does it feel like a weird way to get there? It’s never late to readjust.

I remember building a design system for weeks. Without a slightest idea how it would serve our future product. Some of us felt we've gone too far. So we stopped and agreed on a small set of components. That was more than enough for us to set off quickly once we get to design phase.

Sometimes I hear teams arguing about tiny things for days and weeks. How great it would be if they could zoom out and see it wasn’t important.

Being tool-agnostic

Mastering design tools like Figma is irrelevant for the project success in most of cases. Don’t get me wrong. I like Figma and it works for me. But I also tried out Adobe XD, Sketch, and Axure. And they also did the job. Some worse, some better.

Instead look for a UX designer who understands the fundamentals of design tools. Who can create and test a realistic concept, and help developers deliver it.
When looking for a UX designer for your project, you’ll judge by visual part of the portfolio at first. Knowingly or not. It’s how we get our first impressions. Please, keep on going and “read the book”. Don’t make the visual skills your sole criterion for selecting a designer. It might save you in the beginning, when you make first impressions, but break you later. At the end, people will judge your product or service exactly the same way.

All said, UX designer is not the only factor responsible for the project success. Consider them your lighthouse that helps you find the way. Yet it’s you who sets up a team with which you make final decisions.