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  • Writer's pictureSarah Coloma

The best tools you need to know to be a UX designer

*This blog post was originally published on October 28, 2020.

I was recently on a video call with a UX designer from a healthcare company who had graduated from my university. She had a degree in Marketing and Business. Many of the students on the call had similar backgrounds: marketing, business, advertising, some psychology and were fairly new to the term UX. Two of us were in an interaction design program (I have a BS in Economics).

While there were many questions about her process, about working with developers and product managers, managing user needs with business metrics etc., there was a specific type of question I remember myself asking so many times when I first learned about UX, too.

"But which tool is the best?" There are so many variations of this same question. "What tool should I learn? Is Sketch better than Figma? What is the best white-boarding software?"

This question implies that there is one strategy to do UX, specifically doing it in a digital format with a screen interface. I don't think is true that UX only exists in screens. The sentiment that I share with the designer on the call is that the greatest tools for a designer are listening and empathizing with other people.

The sentiment that I share with the designer on the call is that the greatest tools are listening and empathizing with other people.

It makes sense, right? Take for instance a situation that personally affected the designer, Deborah Adler. If you're talking to an elderly person who's having an issue with mixing their medicine bottles with their husband's, but you're so committed to addressing the problem from a digital, internet-connected perspective and resistant to other forms of prototyping, you can't reach that person where they are. You're not solving their problem. They need a low-tech solution that works for them, a better visual hierarchy on their medicine bottles. That's what Deborah Adler did, and it became a mainstay of Target. By only accepting one type of solution for all problems, you're not participating in human-centered design. You're not meeting people where they are.

I think the other issue with the question is that the person asking is trying to figure out the magic bullet software needed to be a designer. The truth is that there's no magic bullet. Digital and even physical tools come in and out of fashion. Learning these digital tools is helpful to ideating or prototyping a solution, but knowing how to use any one of them isn't a golden ticket to a UX job and knowing one tool over another doesn't mean you'll be able to come out ahead for a job interview necessarily.

I've done numerous informational interviews in UX and a common refrain is that what companies look for primarily in candidates isn't Sketch or Figma knowledge. Rather they look for problem solving capability and curiosity. You may have a niche tool as a designer, which is great and helpful. However, even long term, that niche may not be a permanent fixture and certainly can't solve every problem.

The tools that every designer needs seems are in fact those soft skills, and none of them hints at a pre-determined solution. It's true what they say - the classics never go out of style!

Thanks for reading! I'm doing a post every Sunday and every now and then a bonus post on Wednesdays.

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