soft skills

Adaptability – Essential Soft Skills for User Experience Practitioners

As User Experience practitioners, we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the skills we don’t have or have enough of and trying to acquire them.

I don’t hear a lot about the soft skills that, in my opinion, are probably more important than all of the CSS, sketching & typography skills you seek so I thought I’d contribute a short series on some of my favourite soft skills, starting with this on on adaptability.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

– Charles Darwin

Best Practice is a concept that you hear of frequently but very rarely see because very few projects are actually appropriate for ‘best practice’. What most projects need is the best possible practice you can fit in to the constraints of the project you’re faced with. There are usually many constraints.

Typical constraints include a lack of time, budget, people, data, cooperation, interest, and understanding of UX.

You can spend your time battling to remove these constraints – sometimes this is appropriate but usually it is not only fruitless but also places you further behind than when you started. Usually, the best thing to do is to sit down and work out what is the best you can do within these constraints and get started.

Adaptability is about understanding and respecting that, for your client, UX is usually one of many priorities they need to balance. It’s about responding to the environment you find yourself in, building the best process, employing the best techniques you can in the best way you can within the constraints you’ve been given. It’s about doing your job entirely differently for almost every project.

Adaptability is about knowing that you’re not doing things the best possible way but, against the odds, you’re getting them done well enough. It’s about being creative. It’s about remaining aware of the corners you’re cutting and factoring them into the analysis.

Adaptability makes User Experience accessible to all projects.

How to be more adaptable:

  • DO be as familiar as you can with as many different UX techniques as possible – read, listen, talk to your peers, be active in the incredibly sharing global UX network
  • DON’T be precious, or a stickler for process. Don’t expect people to drop everything to do things your way (or the way it says in the book)
  • DO keep doing research
  • DON’T sacrifice time to do analysis and lots of design exploration (sketch!)
  • DO make sure you’re constantly focussed on the end goal – what are you trying to achieve? What is the goal of the redesign you’re doing to that page? What is the goal of that research activity? (Demonstrable victories often buy you more time/budget/participation for future projects)
  • DON’T do it alone – share your process with the team and skill them up to assist, look for ways to work together to save time
  • DO cut corners – interview less people, recruit less fussily, spend less time, prototype more roughly.
  • DON’T forget which corners you’ve cut and why – factor this into your analysis, educate your team on what would have been a more ideal approach
  • DO be creative – experiment, try different approaches and see what works, make up new ways to solve problems (and share them back with us!)

Please share your thoughts on how to be more adaptive as a UXer, and also the other soft skills you think a great UX practitioner needs.

6 thoughts on “Adaptability – Essential Soft Skills for User Experience Practitioners

  1. Hi Leisa, I think this is so right on! Adaptability is key as a consultant. Applying the right tools and providing the right deliverables for each client is crucial to maximize your impact.

    I wonder if for an in-house role, though, too much adaptability looks like weakness. This is where your points about doing the user research and not doing the design totally alone are huge. Creativity is awesome when you can demonstrate a goal you met before by being creative. Such good points there, Leisa!

    Another soft skill (maybe?) a great UX practitioner needs is project management. Scoping projects, organizing documents, managing schedules and coordinating processes & deliverables…again, crucial abilities to both in-house and consultant designer at senior, strategic levels. It’s on the spectrum of communication as a core IxD skill, in my perspective (as shown in this sundial model: But maybe not soft-soft. Communication then. :)


  2. Hi Leisa,

    Nice article, and I agree that these skills are often just as important as your actual knowledge in getting things done in a work (particularly consultative) environment.

    Two of your points particularly resonate with me. Firstly, where you’ve suggested we should be willing to “cutting corners” in terms of recruitment etc (and I agree), it’s essential to keep the client aware of the potential cost of that.

    I don’t mean just complain about it, but constructively point out where it might be useful to plug that gap at a later stage, or that it might affect you in some way now. As long as the client is aware of the risks, (and they may not have enough budget for there to be a choice anyway), then at least it’s a conscious decision for both parties.

    Another, related point, is about being a stickler for process. There are enough different methods and approaches (for research, design and testing for example) that we can generally cut our cloth to match even a tight budget. This flexibility is what makes for a good UX practitioner. People who are completely rigid in their approach don’t usually benefit the client, their peers or UX generally.

    Great post as always!



  3. Great Post. Keep going.

    Lately I has been thinking on how adaptable or flexible every UX practitioner must be, It’s a day by day to get the right balance between your work and the requeriments of non-UX people that doesn’t share at all or dont understant some key values on User Experience.



  4. confesso que estava battnase animado em participar do leile3o do ticies, mas ao ler o Termo de uso, deu uma desanimada.A parte que mais me preocupa e9 sobre o peredodo de licenciamento ser de 2 anos, podendo ser renovada. Muito subjetivo como sere1 renovado? O dono tere1 que pagar algo pela renovae7e3o? Me preocupa o dono de uma cidade, trabalhar 2 anos para fortalecer a marca Ticies e depois desse prazo ne3o ser renovado o licenciamento, ou o Ticies crescer ao ponto de acreditar que os donos ne3o se3o mais uteis, praticamente donos ne3o tem garantia alguma do valor e tempo investido na ideia.

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