UX expertise and business skills don’t always go together — although you could make the case that they should. While you can create great user experiences without being a boss in the boardroom, having some key business skills in your back pocket can be a useful and often necessary toolset for creative professionals. But designers often aren’t taught how to run their own business in school, so many tend to learn these all important business skills only once in their careers. That’s in full swing.

Designers who develop these skills often see more success in their practices because they understand the business case for their hard work. We asked four designers what they think is the most essential business skill UX designers need to be really successful in their careers.

 Photo of Andy Vitale (bald man with large black beard)
Andy Vitale

Speak to business partners in their own language (not design speak)

UX designers need to develop a deep understanding of the business, including the problems the business faces and its goals. Designers need to take the time to understand business constraints and strategies, as well as what work has already been done to better integrate with our cross-functional partners and be better aligned with them.

The business team is worried about profits, the marketing team about brand and experience, and many other stakeholders have their own robust agendas and goals. In order to build relationships with them — so UX designers can influence them and solve problems with them, ultimately leading to them becoming advocates for UX — designers can’t confuse them with design speak. We have to communicate in ways they understand. When an organization has one universal language and one common process that design is part of, it allows UX designers to do what they do best, which is solve problems for people.

Andy Vitale, director of user experience, Polaris Industries

 Photo of Matt Faulk
Matt Faulk

Become a master salesperson

As a designer, one of the most important business skills one can possess is the ability to sell. Selling is an art and a huge part of creating great work. Many designers lose sight of the fact that the success of the work you do depends greatly on your ability to get the client to align with your vision and reasoning.

The ability to sell isn’t just for getting ideas pushed through — it also applies to the work you create. What’s the ROI on the work the designer is doing? What value beyond “pretty pixels” is the designer providing? As design professionals move forward in their career, they should look to establish themselves as business professionals or consultants. Learn how decisions are made. Ask a lot of questions. Solve business problems through design.

If you do these things, you’ll be successful.

Matt Faulk, UX designer and CEO, BASIC Agency

Be choosy about picking your clients

Black and white photo of Ben Moss
Ben Moss

In my experience, the most important business skill for UX designers is knowing how to pick clients. Being selective with your clients might seem like a luxury with that student loan or mortgage payment looming, but it’s the surest route to being able to afford to be selective. The work you do today is going to determine the work you do tomorrow, so try to make sure you stick to the path you want to be on.

Life’s too short to spend your time shuffling Post-its with people you hate. Trust your gut: It’s fine to turn down work for no other reason than it doesn’t feel right. You’re just clearing your schedule for the life-changing opportunity that’s around the next corner. Oh, and if anyone promises their project will be “great exposure” for you, run away as fast as you can.

-Ben Moss, UX designer and editor of WebDesignerDepot.com

It’s empathy that matters most…cognitive empathy

Photo of Eran Dror
Eran Dror

User experience necessitates a convergence of many different skills, among themsystems thinking and spatial reasoning. However, I believe one of the most important skills a good UX designer should have is something called cognitive empathy, which is something that great teachers also have. Essentially, cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how another person thinks and what another person might understand or have trouble understanding.

Additionally, a good UX designer will be a good listener. Having the ability to listen and ask questions is very important. As we like to say at Blue Label Labs, the quality of UX is equal to the quality of the conversation in the product room. If there is a true meeting of minds in that room, a great app usually follows quite naturally.

Eran Dror, head of product, Blue Label Labs