In this article we discuss:
- What a UX consultant does
- Traits to look for
- Problems to avoid
UX consultancy ranks as one of the hot UX topics these days. However – or maybe exactly for this reason – almost every one of the few sources out there has a different definition or explanation of a UX consultant and their duties.
What does a UX consultant do?
Basing this on the definition of consultancy, a UX consultant “provides expert advice professionally”. I mean, in the field of UX.
As I said, we can’t find much help out there. The simplicity of this hands-on approach to defining UX consultants appeals to me. You need help on a UX-related problem and good advice from someone with background knowledge and experience.
Sure, we all have an ambitious idea of a UX consultant, someone similar to MacGyver. This guy, the ultimate source of reliable information, “has an extraordinary knack for unconventional problem solving and an extensive bank of scientific knowledge”.
So a UX consultant resembles a superhero… Right?
Like a good UX consultant, MacGyver shows up whenever somebody has trouble and solves their problem. Of course, he succeeds every single time. This idea of a consultant – even if your dream-consultant wears a suit and only solves issues on paper – sums up some important information: both realistic and unrealistic.
True, we can call a consultant an expert dedicated to solving problems you might not have the ability, time or resources to solve. In real life, consultants don’t just appear out of nowhere to save to world – superheroes do that. They also cannot guarantee to solve all your problems without your active participation in the process.
You need a UX consultant when you need UX expertise to complement your team
The first step of finding the best candidate: Think about your project quickly. Do you really need a consultant to help you with your product? To answer this question, you identify the problem hindering your progress.
Ideally, turn to a user experience consultant when you lack certainty about how to move forward with your UX process or need the expertise to complement your team. Once you know you really need the services of a UX consultant and have a clear question to pose, you can start to look for your best choice.
Who would make a good UX consultant for you?
Still, the MacGyver analogy also reveals the trouble in hiring a consultant. A really good consultant can prove hard to find. They might have some other projects in line (like saving the world with a safety pin). Also, you might have unrealistic expectations, like saving the world with just one safety pin.
Based on this, we thought it’d help to go through those traits and capabilities to look for in a UX consultant. You should then discuss them with your potential candidates before starting a project together.
UX consultant trait #1: Expertise with your specific problem
By definition, a UX consultant should have expertise in UX. But they should also have it in the field of your problem! You need someone who has proven experience solving very similar challenges. They must know the techniques and tools to help with your difficulties.
Very possibly you need a UX research consultant to find the root of your difficulties through user research methods. Or you might need a design consultant with a wide range of UX design experience who can bring new ideas to the table.
That sounds clear, but let us go into detail. You decided to hire a UX consultant because your team or product needs help and the eye of someone not currently involved in the process. You got stuck somewhere and have already spent time identifying and trying to solve the key problem.
The main point: You want to look for advice backed up by solid knowledge. It also makes sense to ask for references from companies and entrepreneurs who have had problems similar to yours.
UX consultant trait #2: Empathy
You want to work with a UX consultant able to listen to your needs and to react to them considering a likely complex mix of professional, business-related and personal challenges.
By no coincidence, this trait comes right after the actual expert knowledge. In fact, expert knowledge means nothing if the consultant cannot empathize with your situation, problem and your team.
Also, you decided the involve an outsider in a process with its established roles and rules. You need a UX consultant with the right levels of empathy.
That not only lets them understand and react to your problems quickly but to communicate with everybody smoothly and so to dig deeper. Testing it comes with its own difficulty, but good conversations help a lot.
Does your potential choice ask clever questions during discussions? Do you have the opportunity to describe important details without interruptions? Look for someone who can focus on your needs and capabilities in an attentive, solution-centric way. Simply pointing out how you went wrong doesn’t suffice.
UX consultant trait #3: Flexibility/Adaptability
As an addition to your existing team and work culture, you need not just an empathetic UX consultant, but one who can adapt quickly on a practical level, too. Make sure your way of working and your consultant’s preferences match smoothly.
Discover how they work. Ask about tools and project management preferences. Also, stay honest with yourself: Do you face project management difficulties? Does your team struggle with organizational challenges?
This can, of course, influence your decision to turn to a consultant. But an external UX professional (user experience designer or researcher) can’t and won’t solve such problems.
Depending on your project, you will need to agree on the scope and/or timeframe. Don’t confuse a consultant with an outsourced part of your team.
Plan ahead and have a project plan and allocated resources. Work with a consultant able to give you a clear estimation of what the project will need in terms of these resources and when these should come available.
UX consultant trait #4: Process orientation
An ideal UX consultant has a holistic view of the UX design process. This lets them see connections between details you may have missed. This strategic approach comes from years of experience and having seen similar situations and challenges.
In fact, this results from them having gained expertise with your specific problem. You might do many usability tests and never come to the same conclusion as a UX consultant.
Also, after gathering information about how you work, a great external UX professional can give you a clear idea on how the process will involve and affect every party – meaning your team, the consultant and most importantly, the end users.
UX consultant trait #5: Curiosity-driven persistence
When hiring an external UX consultant, you take some risks, too. As your consultant will probably join your team for the duration of a fixed term project, you need someone motivated to learn about your project quickly. Give them a lot of valuable input within a limited period of time.
So look for someone driven by professional curiosity. That ensures they won’t stop looking for alternatives until they’ve solved your challenge to satisfaction.
Also, such drive and perspective can help push your team or your company towards new solutions and processes. You may need to make decisions or introduce processes in-house in order to improve user-centric thinking.
A curious/persistent UX consultant can highlight and hasten these sometimes-slow implementational processes.
Summary: The 5 Most Important Traits to Look For In A UX Consultant
Look for these most important traits when hiring a UX consultant:
#1: Expertise with your specific problem
#4: Process orientation
#5: Curiosity-driven persistence
Want to read more?
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