humility in design

Humility in Design – Don’t Get Cocky


So last week Mark Hamill (him that played Larry Skywalker off the Star Wars) tweeted something that got me thinking about how important it is to have humility.

It got me thinking about the different types of designers, and how overconfidence is such a must-have trait for graphic designers, but the complete opposite for user experience designers.

Confidence In Design

Graphic designers are expected to be confident. When you’re presenting work to a client, you need to be confident that this is the perfect solution – that this is going to solve all of their problems. There is a place for that in graphic design, but graphic design is an art form. But product design is a science. So today I am going to talk about why humility is the most important trait a product or UX designer should have.

Humility in User Experience Design

Having a lot of confidence as a product or UX designer can have the opposite effect.

For example: imagine the product designer creates a flow, followed by a set of wireframes, then a set of high-fidelity designs which then get handed over to development. What’s missing? If the designer was confident that the solution they proposed was the perfect approach, then nothing. But they didn’t test their assumptions.

The Thing With User Testing

There is nothing that will make you sink lower in your chair than to watch someone struggle to use the app or website you designed. Watch someone get lost in the flow, can’t find the way to complete the task, or isn’t able to locate key functionality. The first few times it is humiliating. But after a while you start to understand that it’s all part of the process. After taking the feedback into account, the product will be better for it.

As the product designer you will take this feedback and implement it in the next iteration, ready to test again.

The product designer should exercise humility. It’s possible – and even likely – that they will be wrong about at least a few things. But that’s ok – it’s all part of the journey.

It’s one thing to be confident, but another thing to be cocky. Depending on the field of design that you work in, confidence can either be a blessing and a curse.

Humility means you Keep an Open Mind

Getting cocky and self-assured will encourage a single-minded approach to tackling design problems. As the UX or product designer, you need to keep an open mind. Often the solution that you didn’t expect will be the one that performs best. Be open minded and willing to adapt to whichever way the data or customer feedback informs you to do so.

Less Cocky, More Collaboration

Remember that very often, being a product or UX designer means you’re part of a team, not a lone wolf. As a member of the team, it’s important to remember that it’s possible things might not always go your way, that compromise and trade-offs are part of the job. So in the immortal words of Han Solo, don’t get cocky.

Know That We All Make Mistakes

In my own experience, the best thing to do when this happens is to admit to it, and move on. Digging your heels in and pretending that you are right is just going to make you look like an amateur.  Know that everyone gets it wrong sometimes – only the designers with the humility are able to admit it.

“Well it proves one thing, Mr. Hooper. It proves that you wealthy college boys don’t have the education enough to admit when you’re wrong.”

– Quint

(I knew I’d get Jaws in here somehow…)

Know that There Is So Much to Learn

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

― Albert Einstein

There is always going to be ways to improve as a designer – either by improving design techniques or getting a better understanding of human behaviours. The technology industry changes so often and so quickly, the best skill you can have is the ability to learn new skills. With humility, you can admit that you could improve in some areas, and get to work on them.

Those are just some of the reasons why humility is the most important trait for a product or UX designer to have. There will always be surprises in user testing sessions, always ways for your customers to

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