If you were to ask someone about the skills a UX researcher might need, they would most likely say things like the ability to conduct research and analyse data or the knowledge of UX design skills. Those answers would be correct; however, an often overlooked skill set needed by UX researchers is soft skills.
What do we mean by ‘Soft Skills’
Soft skills is another term used to describe ‘interpersonal skills’ or to put it even more simply – people skills. They refer to non-technical abilities relating to how individuals interact, communicate and collaborate with others. Unlike their technical counterparts, soft skills are often intangible, subjective and harder to quantify. However, they are crucial for any individual’s personal and professional success, no matter their job title or role.
Why soft skills are important for UX researchers
UX researchers focus on gathering and analysing data to understand users’ needs, behaviours and preferences. Their primary goal is to identify user pain points, motivations and expectations and then use this to inform the design and development of new products or services.
Soft skills are essential for allowing you to make the most of your technical skills. In fact – the Stanford Research Institute International found that almost 75% of an employee’s success comes from soft skills in contrast to 25% of their success being as a result of technical skill.
Think of soft skills as the glue that holds a structure together, the technical skills form the building blocks. However, without the glue, things could end up falling apart.
Top soft skills every UX researcher needs to thrive
Empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This is important in UX research because, as a researcher, you will need to be able to empathise with your users to gain insight into their needs and expectations.
Empathy will allow you to identify your users’ pain points and propose solutions that genuinely improve their user experience. It will also help you build a rapport with participants during research sessions by enabling you to create a comfortable and safe environment where they can share their thoughts and emotions without fear of judgement. Empathy is a key skill for putting people at ease, which is crucial for creating the relaxing environment you need for your research to uncover essential information.
Active listening means fully concentrating, understanding, and responding thoughtfully to what others say. This is a crucial part of UX research as the responses given by participants during testing will ultimately reveal the most critical insights.
UX researchers must listen carefully to users’ feedback and input whether they’re taking part in feedback interviews, usability tests or other research activities. By ensuring that you’re practising active listening, you can identify patterns, emotions and the underlying reasons behind why a user behaves or feels a certain way. This skill is crucial when interpreting data accurately and communicating effectively with participants or stakeholders.
Communication is a universally important skill, and it is no different for UX researchers. UX researchers need to be able to articulate findings and insights in a way that is clear and concise to various stakeholders, including designers, developers and managers.
Strong communication skills will ensure that data is presented in a way that is easily understood as well as actionable. Communication skills can be used when writing reports, presenting to teams and especially when conducting research workshops.
Adaptability is a must-have soft skill for anyone working in the field of UX due to its ever-evolving nature. Thanks to digital innovation, new methods and tools are emerging regularly, so to stay relevant and effective, UX researchers need to be able to be adaptable and open to embracing change.
This also includes being comfortable with ambiguity because research results can sometimes be the complete opposite of what we expect, or contradict past findings. Embracing the unexpecting, having the ability to pivot when necessary and being open to continuously learning to refine your research approach will ultimately make you a better and more competent researcher.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyse information in a way that is objective so you can make reasoned judgements that are free from bias. UX researchers must be able to assess findings, identify bias and consider multiple perspectives simultaneously. Cultivating critical thinking skills will allow you to consider the costs and benefits of potential design solutions and enable you to give recommendations based on solid evidence and reasoning rather than personal preference or bias.
Possessing the ability to think critically about the situations you are faced with will also help you respond better to change. This skill, as well as adaptability, will help you when running research sessions. Even with the most careful preparation, it is still likely you will encounter some unexpected responses or feedback that will require you to think on your feet.
Collaboration is a vital soft skill in UX research because of the continuous need to work in a cross-functional way. This role will often involve working with designers, developers and product managers, meaning that being able to collaborate and be a good team player can help ensure that the end product is as great as possible. Without collaboration, UX research can become isolated and disconnected from the rest of the product development process. This can result in a less effective and less user-friendly end product.
UX research can often involve working to tight deadlines or managing multiple tasks. Time management skills are essential to prioritise work, allocate resources and meet deadlines while ensuring the quality of your research remains high. Being able to manage your time effectively will also help ensure that you have a healthy work-life balance so you can avoid burnout.
In conclusion, UX research isn’t just about technical skills. It also requires a set of soft skills to ensure that user needs are met.
Soft skills like empathy, active listening, communication and the others we have described, are all essential for UX researchers to thrive in their roles and get the most from participants.
By developing these skills, UX researchers can build strong relationships with users, team members and stakeholders as well as work collaboratively with cross-functional teams to deliver high-quality research on time. It is clear that soft skills play a critical role in the success of UX researchers, and they should be given the same importance as technical skills in the field of UX design.
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