This post was written in 2011 and I have changed some wording particularly around UX to be more encompassing to any designer who works in a user-centred function. There have been a slew of articles around this subject but the focus here is on the character traits that enable personal growth and allow great team dynamics to exist.
I have always had this post at the back of my mind and often check myself against the qualities I have listed here. Of course I fail in some of them, but if you can aim to succeed with just a few of these qualities, your design work will get there too. At the moment I am working on a particularly tough project. The type that consumes you — energy levels, time, and concentration on any other task is difficult. Without being surrounded by good people it would be unbearable. So if you hire people, or are looking to join a team, try and find out these qualities exist in the people you are working with.
Some personal qualities to try and gain or maintain within a team and elements to consider when working as a unit;
Commitment to a project needs to go beyond just the time allocated to it. It needs to be exhibited as a character trait. To not give up, maintain momentum and motivation and keep on moving towards the overall goal is a core trait for any designer to show. Inevitably this may result in annoying a few colleagues as you will not leave them alone until specific tasks are finished or you get an answer to a particularly important problem. Using a bit of charm will go a long way to ensure you can get progress.
There needs to be an underlying desire to ensure that the project succeeds and a genuine care about seeing it fulfill it’s initial promise. Having passion means going the extra mile, but also enjoying the elements of the work once it has started. Being interested beyond the bounds of a project but also spending the time to go beyond the normal delivery will affect other team members and soon create a positive working environment. Having passionate people on a team makes an enormous difference to the success of delivering a product or service.
It is very easy to become dejected due to research findings or user studies that have shown results that were either not expected or detrimental to a project. Having the ability to look for the good, from a bad situation will pay off. A positive attitude to the work, difficult colleagues, stakeholders or customers, inevitably results in a better atmosphere, working environment and an increased potential for more work in the future.
UX work typically has the ability to impact on everybody inside an organization and certainly the customers or users who will interact with what is produced. The repercussions on some of the decisions made, affects different decision makers at all levels in a company hierarchy.
Be aware that some changes will take years to see come to fruition and the plans that are laid out are likely to be the foundations — that you may never witness being executed.
Therefore being particularly patient with people is a necessary part regarding change management. With strategic design work, your users will test you as you are testing them! Learn to control anything you may say in response to seemingly stupid comments or actions. Again it will serve you well in terms of collating valuable design research.
Be aware that on a project, design work has very different tasks that have outcomes with different time requirements. The pace of a project cannot dictate the pace of research and so compromises need to be met, either on budgetary expenditure or time spent.
The important thing to be aware of is that incremental progress is a desired outcome for large scale design projects — particularly on live products. Changes made need to be done in an orderly, considered manner so as not to disenfranchise or confuse customers. On new products, change can be made quickly, but be aware that the grand plan will be phased and broken down into critical elements first, the ‘nice-to-haves’ coming later.
Some projects will last months and at times will require focus to ensure that the quality is not affected as issues occur and problems arise. The importance of giving the team a break in high-intensity work is very important but not quitting is really important.
The ability to finish the work started is important to our work, why research something if it is not followed through? To exhibit stamina, means that the necessary long hours and unusual times to conduct field research will be needed to offer a product that is well designed.
This is something you must have to get you through the elements of design research work that can be difficult. User testing in odd locations, the ability to convince a board member using charm, and an outlook that can deflect hostility by using humour, is essential to a career in this field.
Designers tend to be socially competent because they primarily deal with people to get products designed effectively. Having a sense of humour will allow events that may derail a project to not have a detrimental effect on the outcome. Sometimes you may simply have to laugh to keep sane and the ability to show this, raises team morale and positivity.
Good design is all about empathy for the user and designing for their needs whilst also aligning the business requirements in combination. To design with empathy requires somebody to have that as an attribute in their personality. To be concerned about user’s experiences means you cannot just pay it lip service. If a comment by a user is ignored and not represented in the final design, your attitude to their plight will be revealed.
As a designer it is your responsibility to be the voice of the user and make sure it is heard as a product develops. Evangelize the needs and wants to those that are building the solution. But also consider the realities of what must work for the business and the inevitability of compromise. Diplomacy and politics are a necessity here but with all the factors being present above — you will be well equipped to tackle the hardest design challenges.