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03 Oct

The Unicorn Is Dead: Soft Skills Beat Coding Skills

On July 12, 2017, Kent State University professor Paul Sherman spoke at the Northeast Los Angeles User Experience (NELAUX) Meetup to a crowd of over 60 attendees. The talk title was "The Unicorn Is Dead: Soft Skills Beat Coding Skills."

Here's a summary of the talk, which was well received by the UX practitioners in attendance.

Key UX Takeaways from Paul Sherman

Good news, everyone! UX salaries are up! Hiring is strong! So, why do so many UXers still feel like they have to fight for a seat at the grown-up table?

Is it because we're not unicorns? That is, because we're not all UX researchers, designers and front-end developers?

Nope. That's not the reason.

Here's why: UXers love to explore design and solution spaces. It's what we do. Some of us even like (or at least don't hate) to code. It's never been easier, with frameworks, libraries, and so many proven patterns for web and mobile.

But, as a community of practice, we're not so good at critical competencies, like:

  • Articulating an experience vision and aligning it with the business's product vision
  • Subtly influencing the product vision through user research dissemination
  • Keeping up the slow, steady, and often frustrating work of organizational change and alignment around user needs

So, what's the fix? It's deceptively simple: UX practitioners need to learn to play better with our neighboring disciplines, learning to "manage up" as well as borrow some techniques from our partners in product management.

We need to develop our organizational influence skills, aka soft skills. That is, we need to:

  • Learn how to develop a strategic vision and implementable tactical action plans that align with our organization's goals
  • Internalize the fact that at least half of our job is to be change agents and act accordingly

Paul Sherman photo, smiling middle aged white man with buzzed hair and a short beard

About the Author

As the founder and principal consultant at ShermanUX, Paul Sherman has worked in the field of usability and user-centered design for the past 15 years and now teaches in Kent State University's online Master of Science in User Experience Design program. Sherman earned his doctorate in human factors psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, his Master of Education degree from Rutgers Graduate School of Education and his Bachelor of Arts in English from Rutgers University. His research focuses on how pilots' use of computers and automated systems on the flight deck affects their individual and team performance.