15 Simple Habits That Will Help You Become a Better UX Designer

One of the challenges of being a UX designer is the need for continual improvement. I don't think there's a single designer out there that thinks she can't get any better. A simple thing called habit can help you with that.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." (Aristotle)

In this article, I want to share 15 habits that will improve you as a designer.

1. Setting design goals for yourself

Design is learned. Practicing and learning by yourself is the only thing that can make you a better designer. But it's essential to do it efficiently, by setting yourself proper goals.

  • Prioritize your goals. There are endless opportunities and choices you can make. It's easy to get lost in this sea of possibility. You must set a clear vision of what you want to achieve and create an action plan.
  • Set challenging goals. Creating a challenge for yourself will help you work more efficiently in time-limited projects.

And here is a simple 4-step process that can help you achieve your goal:

  1. Choose achievable goals
  2. Set deadlines for each goal
  3. Create a reminder in calendar about the deadline
  4. Reward yourself when the goal is met

2. Practice active listening

Learning is essential to successful designers. One of the best ways to learn is to listen. Listening can be divided into two main categories: passive and active. Passive listening occurs when the receiver of the message has little motivation to listen carefully. The receiver might pretend that she's listening to the message just to look polite.

Active listening is a technique that requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. Active listening is the key element that makes the communication.

Passive vs. Active Listening

Here are a few simple tips that will help you become a better active listener:

  • Let the speaker talk - spend more time listening than talking.
  • Do not answer questions with questions.
  • Do not dominate the conversation.
  • Do not finish the sentence of others.
  • Keep the conversation on what the speaker says, not on what interests you.
  • Plan responses after the speaker has finished speaking, not while they are speaking.
    7 key active listening skills. Image: ccl

3. Build storytelling skills

Communication is the most important part of the design process. When you are working on a product, you need to communicate your design decisions in some form.

What makes a designer successful is not the ability to create nice looking work - it's the ability to communicate effectively.

One of the best ways to communicate your thoughts is by using a story. The best designs come from projects where the team really understands the story behind the final product. That's why storytelling is an essential skill for UX designers. By telling stories you'll get a better chance to engage your audience.

Here are a few things that can help you tell great stories:

  • Immerse yourself in the story of the brand. When you don't know a lot about the subject of your design, you are missing out on many ideas and opportunities. Fill this gap by learning as much as you can about it before you even start to create something. 
  • Create storyboards. Storyboards are illustrations that represent shots that ultimately represent a story. It's a powerful tool designer can use to present their ideas.

Read the following article for more specific tips:
Storyboarding in UX design

4. Avoid using jargon

The way you talk to other people is crucial. When you use jargon on a daily basis, you build a bad habit. When other people don't understand what you're saying, it creates confusion or misunderstanding. And this habit can have a negative impact on communication both inside your team and with your users:

  • Communication problem with other team players. Most people don't use the technical terms that UX designers use. They haven't heard of heuristics or cognitive load. That's why when you talk with not UX peers, it's much better to use simple words to describe complex things.
  • Adding jargon in a product copy. Designers often use jargon in mockups and prototypes. If developers implement copy based on prototypes, users will struggle with UI full of specific terms.

Communicate with clarity and precious

Quick tip: A simple tool called 'Jargon jar' can help you solve a problem of jargon. Each time you notice that people you work with don't understand the words you're saying - write down such words and put them into the jar. Analyze the words you have in a jar on a regular basis.

Jargon jar. Image: buglecreatives

5. Never settle for one idea

Many designers make a mistake of settling with the first idea that comes to mind. If you have only one idea, it's really hard to say whether it's a good or bad idea. Thus, always develop a few design ideas for your project. This will give you something to compare and separate the good from the bad.

6. Let go the urge of making things perfect

Many designers are perfectionists. In the attempt to create a perfect product they spend a lot of time and energy. This often leads to missed deadlines. 

Keep in mind that done is better than perfect. That's why it's better to have something that satisfies requirements rather miss a deadline and provide excuses.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good

7. Learn to sketch

Everybody wants to create something that looks like a final product as quick as possible. That's why we often skip pen and paper and start with digital prototyping tool. But digital products often limit our creativity. That's why one of the basic rules of UX design is

Pens before pixels

Using pen and paper to ideate and test designs will save you a lot of time. It will be much easier to continue the work when you switch to the computer.

Also, certain design problems are best solved by sketching. For example, during brainstorming sessions, it's much easier to express your ideas through sketching than by using plain words.

Read about practical tips on sketching:
Why Sketching Is an Essential Skill for Every UX Designer and How to Master It | Adobe Blog

8. Take notes

Pen and paper should accompany you all the time. Every time you have a good idea, don't rely on your memory. Remember that human memory is fallible. Instead, make a quick note or create a raw sketch in your notepad.

Moleskine is designer's best friend. Image: dereckjohnson

9. Recycle your works

If you've finished a few UX projects in the past, probably you've generated a lot of insights and ideas in those projects. Don't miss the opportunity to use them for good. Here are just a few things you can do with those insights:

  • Use them to solve new problems.
  • Update your portfolio with interesting case studies. 
  • Share your experience with design community (e.g. write an article about your problems).

10. Collaborate more

When you are working with a team, try to collaborate as much as possible. Engage more in every aspect of a project. Learn what others are doing to contribute to the project. Collaboration is an excellent way for UX designers to increase their skills. It also allows designers to appreciate better some of the people you work with on your teams.

Break out of the box

11. Visit usability testing sessions

Understanding users is a primary goal for UX designers. Some designers use personas and analytic data to understand how users interact with a product. While these tools can be really helpful, nothing beats watching real users interact with a product. The more you watch people use your product, the more you understand the problems they face.

Usability testing session. Image: asinthecity

12. Stay inspired on a daily basis

Designers need inspiration. There are a lot of ways to find inspiration. Here I just want to share two tips that will help you:

  • Find a proper balance between work and inspiration. Follow a simple rule - spend 80% of your time doing work, 20% of the time on inspiration.
  • Don't limit yourself only to UI/UX stuff. Take part in other creative activities. Travel to new places, take photos, listen to or make music, practice writing skills.

Personal opinion: I believe that a lot of inspiration comes from advertising. Advertising can teach designers about analogies, metaphors and other techniques that will help them create convincing designs.

Environmental issues are often hard to explain, but this WWF ad is an excellent example of how to describe the problem of desertification with just one single image. Image: Contrapunto BBDO

13. Welcome constructive criticism

Deep down a lot of us are afraid of receiving a critique of our work. Yes, it might be stressful to hear that our work is not perfect, especially when we invested a lot of time in it. But looking critically at your own work is important because

You're not designing for yourself, you're designing for your users

Thus, let go of your ego and stop defending your work. Remember, there are often more things to learn when we make mistakes than when we get everything right. Taking feedback and constructive criticism isn't fun, but it's the only way to improve your skills and make yourself a better designer.

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." (Winston Churchill)

Here are a few tips for you:

  • Learn to filter the critiques. Some critiques will be based on personal opinions rather than facts and findings. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Ask for honest feedback. Make sure people share their real thoughts on your work.
  • Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
  • Don't limit yourself only to design community. Learn from people from other disciplines such as marking.

14. Give criticism on other people designs

Giving critiques is key to improving designer skills. It will help you to:

  • Ask good questions. The ability to ask great questions, gain insight and create working solutions is what makes designers valuable. 
  • Avoid the urge of giving ill-informed advice. Be ready to stand up for your opinion. If you say something should be redesigned, be prepared to provide a data to prove your point. Without data you're just another person with an opinion.

15. Take breaks

Working hard all the time won't take you far. In fact, it's easy to reach a burnout state - a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive stress.
Designers often hit dead ends. When you are stuck, don't fight the block. Instead, walk away from the computer. Take a walk and get some fresh air.

If you see that daily breaks don't work for you, perhaps you need to unplug from your creative work for a while to reflect and see the big picture. Turn off all your digital devices and

Enjoy the JOMO (Joy of missing out)

Conclusion

Great designers are not born, they are made. We're all capable of improving, no matter how experienced we already are.