I always look to improve as a designer. I know I have to do some design watch to develop my skill & taste. Every day I look for articles and videos on our industry. They assure me to get better at making experiences. The thing is, I fall into what we can call a distraction trap. You know, it’s when your mind is telling you:

« keep looking and spend time with me. I don’t mind because I’m the internet »

And you hear your voice until you get saturated over information. You read, listen, watch, so many things you can’t remember what you were looking for in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, There is some very good content out there. Yet we should redirect our focus on the most important thing for an UX: people.

I often read articles about the best skills to develop as an UX (The majority of articles, duh … ) and in those skill set, there is one who picked my mind.

Have empathy

The top skill. To have it means to be a good UX. I agree, but hang on a second, isn’t that a bit evasive? How do we get better at this? Wait, are they selling an empathy course, with an Empathy design kit for only 99 dollars?

Give me some practical advice instead of some crook advice. Getting better at empathy is one of those things, who makes sense and doesn’t at the same time, Urgh … it’s frustrating.

It got me thinking, I know empathy is a must to become a greater UX, but we need some concrete, measurable advice here. Most of the time we talk about it as a trait, it’s something you have or don’t. No worries, I’m here for you with the solution, one habit will ensure you to progress, and rule this game. Are you ready?

Talk to one stranger a day

Boom, I just dropped it like it’s hot.

 

Sounds stupid? Yet, it is very, very effective. Talk to one stranger every day and you will know people. Don’t miss a day and in a year you will have talked to 365 new people at least. You will become aware of what they want, aspire to be, their fears (if you dig enough). You will find things they don’t know about themselves. When you see people in a crowded place, I see an infinity of personas, so enjoy before Thanos snaps his fingers. OK, that was some dark humor…

Don’t cheat! When I say talk to one stranger, it’s not an interview. Do not say something like :

« - Hi, my name is Roland and I am an UX.

-What the shit is that? (people will say these exact words)

-I’m investigating on … »  And start asking a tone of questions.

Here are the rules of this game:

  • Start a conversation with a stranger
  • Stay in a simple conversation and not an interview
  • Learn at least three things about him (name & age doesn’t count, stop cheating). Find his tastes, what he’s been up to lately, +3 point if you discover his passions, +6 if you know what he hates.

And the most important rule :

Avoid the « what do you do for living » routine.

Avoid this reflex question at all times. It will help you in the beginning but break this habit, even outside the challenge. If you don’t, you will fail like everybody else at socializing. You will start judging people by their employment. They will be answering likes robots or upset because they don’t like their jobs. Sometimes they are not proud of it or don’t have an employment, you never know. People are far more than their jobs, and by not asking them what they do for a living, you will be more empathetic. Try to guess it with your sharp UX skills instead, you’re welcome.

With those rules in mind, you will learn how to engage people and read them without being creepy. We all meet creepy people outside, don’t belong to this group.

The cure to shyness

Shy designers, this exercise is crucial for you. I’m serious. You can’t say you’re making products for people if you’re afraid of talking to them in the first place (Ouch…i’m punch lining). And NOBODY will tell you this, to be honest, they only want you to finish the wireframes by 5pm. Work to get out of shyness, this trait has nothing to offer you.

Thinking everybody thinks like us,  we often have this problem. It’s natural because we never been in someone else’s head. The only way to know and realize people are different is to pick brains. You can’t tell how people will react to a product with 100% accuracy. The easier you understand people, the higher the percentage will be. Talking to strangers have so many benefits I can’t count.  Let’s have an example.

The last stranger I met

His name is « John » (let’s keep his name private) he’s 22 and lives in France. He was actually born in Japan and lived several years in L.A. His big thing is DJing. He smokes, and don’t sleep well, these days at least (shadows under his eyes). The kind of music he likes to mix? House & Electro. His favorite being Afro House (Wait…was he hitting on me?)

See? I got this « data » in a ten minutes conversation. It was simple and it filled all the criteria. Three things or more about him he acknowledges (or not). All this without falling into the boring closed minded interview routine.

Conclusion

Again, if you are really shy I encourage you to take it slow, you have time. Remember, consistency is one of the most important things to start a habit. If you can’t talk to a stranger, for now, say good morning to anybody once a day without fail, you’ll see. Fifteen days, thirty days will pass and you’ll be more at ease to say a few more words. When you’re at this step, add a commentary such as «  what a beautiful day », «  I like your jacket ». Do it, even if it seems very little, don’t underestimate your brain and capacity to progress. Do this, and one day you’ll be talking to people without noticing (compounding rocks). Engaging with someone will be easy in no time and you’ll have a deep understanding of people, not only by a survey or a book. You will develop this number one skill you need to to be a great UX.

PS: If you’re not shy and think you don’t have to do it. Well, If you can’t walk into a stranger at any moment of the day to start and hold a random conversation, you need practice. So go get them, tiger!