The most important trait designers set aside

I want you to bear with me for a minute, and just open the biggest search engine in the world (oh well, that’s Google) and try to search for the traits of a UX designer.

If you’ve done so and did the job perfectly, then most probably you’ll see the results such as:

User empathy
Being empathic

and a lot more Empathy…

And to be honest, it is actually a no-brainer for any designer who has been practicing UX design to identify the most important quality of a designer. Even in design interviews when they ask you, what are you strongest at? and with eyes closed and without skipping a heartbeat, you’ll answer, Empathy.

But actually, it is not empathy (yea I know, you want to sucker punch me). I know we’ve been in this business thinking that it’s all about being an empathic designer, who has the heart to understand and share feelings with others (with users). But no it’s not.

I remember meeting a user for a casual dinner with the goal of knowing her experiences in the app. I sat next to her and for the next hour, all she talked about was her lifestyle, her clothes, and her laziness to answer anything related to our app.

So tell me, how can you be empathic in such a situation? I have my own feelings which I don’t have the time to deal with, and so why on earth should I deal with theirs?

Empathy is hard

Empathy is not something you just pick up across the road and say “I have it!”

Empathy is hard.

And designing is not about empathy.

It is about vulnerability — the quality that we set aside because we f*ckin hate being vulnerable.

What is vulnerability?

Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It’s that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control. — Brené Brown

I’ve watched a couple of Brené Brown’s talk where she shared how others perceive vulnerability, and some say:

The first opening of my business
Saying I love you first
Coming out to my family
Loving someone without the assurance of being loved back
Waiting for the results of my college entrance exam

And the reason why we don’t like being vulnerable is because of its association with weakness. We don’t want to be defined by it. And designers don’t have the time to be “weak” due to the fast-paced and competitive environment we are all in. We numb vulnerability, but well, in fact, it is what we should all have.

Vulnerability in Design

Vulnerability in design is the ability to let go of your egoistic, selfish, and claim-to-be perfectionist self, and jump right out of the comfort zone to embrace your user's feelings and thoughts about your app and about their lives. It is also the ability to welcome whole-heartedly the nerve-racking experience of hearing how much your design sucks and the expectation of all your hard work thrown out the window.

Vulnerability is like stripping yourself (not your clothes, but you can do so too 😏) from what others think you should be so that you can let go of who you really are — the imperfect designer.

We try to be this kind of designer who is a perfectionist when it comes to details and work because we believed that it will minimize the pain of blame and judgment. We try to be perfectionists so that we can be seen, but it is actually hindering us to be, for we are not being our true selves.

Perfectionism is a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight. — Brené Brown

Being a designer is more than moving pixels, shading colors, and having every stakeholder agree with your proposal. It is showing up to every meeting, design reviews, user interviews, and looking at reality in the face that your work won’t always go the way you want it to be. And that my friend takes vulnerability, it is not being weak, but being courageous. It is where empathy, love, and more mushy stuff springs from.

So, you want to be a designer? then strip yourself off.

Product designer from the PH based in SG . Email at . Brainfart @

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