For every decision made, there are an equal number of lingering questions. Is this the right move? Did we do the enough research? Are we totally messing this up?
These kind of questions can haunt any professional, but they are particularly prevalent in creative work like UX design, when any problem can be solved a myriad of different ways.
Of course, you want to create a design that solves problems in an optimal way, that provides the One True Answer and makes people weep with joy.
In these situations, there’s always the urge to ask someone who’s been there before and knows what to do.
Well, in some cases that’s exactly what you should do. There are plenty of scenarios when it’s wise to hire a UX consultant. But before you do, you really should know the scenarios where a UX expert will be most useful.
If you haven’t guessed by now, that's what the rest of this article is about.
Hiring a UX consultant makes sense when you want to...
Get an outside perspective
The longer people work on a particular project or in a certain industry, the more perspective they lose.
Tunnel vision is real; it just goes by different names in the business world. Common manifestations include confirmation bias, where you only look for data that proves you point, or design fixation, where you’re certain your first idea is the best.
Of course, the risk of not curing your tunnel vision is that you’ll miss problems or opportunities that are hiding in plain sight.
In the short term, that could mean your product only has an average user experience and plays only a minor role in the market. In the long term, tunnel vision could mean your business doesn’t capitalize on changes in the market and slowly becomes irrelevant.
An UX consultant will bring a fresh perspective to your product design and give you an insightful, holistic perspective. Consultants aren’t as emotionally attached to your product as you and your staff, and they don’t have to kowtow to office politics.
They’ll just conduct their research, deliver the results, and share their honest opinion about what you should do based on their (hopefully) extensive experience.
Plan your UX strategy
Over the past decade or so, multiple studies have concluded that design-centric companies consistently outstrip their competitors by significant margins. These companies all treated user experience as a core part of their strategy.
The McKinsey Design Index is the latest formula to prove that design-centric companies are, in fact, crushing it.
A UX consultant can help you develop a similar strategy for researching, designing, and validating a product that your audience will actually value and pay for.
Whenever you’re planning a strategy, it’s infinitely easier to have someone who’s done it before.
That way, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, a UX consultant can advise you on what type of research you need to do, how you should validate your ideas with your audience, and where your designers should focus to create a super UX design.
Implement that shiny, new strategy
Having a plan is one thing. Putting it into action is another. As a rule, humans are resistant to change. So implementing the change management to put your game changing UX strategy into action will be a lot easier with an experienced lead in place.
Typically, this requires convincing executives who approved the UX strategy in theory to follow through in practice. Or persuading Agile-obsessed developers that user research is critical to the product’s ultimate success.
User centered design needs to follow a flexible but specific process. Implementing your strategy means building that process into the way your organization works and getting everyone to commit.
Sounds challenging right? That’s why this is a great time to call in a UX consultant.
Conduct user research and analyze the results
It’s been written that consultants bring two things: ideas and legitimacy.
Essentially, consultants should be able to pioneer new ways of doing experience design and prove why those new ideas are worthwhile.
The first part is a result of experience: the greater the consultant’s body of work, the more solutions they’ll be able to propose for your UX strategy.
The second is a product of user research. Yeah, I know. Your team might be already be doing UX research, but there’s research and then there’s research.
Our State of UX Research survey found that over 70% of designers aren’t happy with the amount of time they spend on getting to know their users.
The most common reasons? Lack of time in the project schedule and a lack of stakeholder buy-in.
Without properly validating your UX design with real customers, you’re basically launching a product with your eyes closed.
This is where a UX consultant comes in real handy. Their experience in product launches and change management will make it easier to get buy-in for the type of in-depth research that yields high-growth products.
Build a design system
Things work better when people are on the same page. I think we can agree that’s a universal truth.
Here’s another one: building digital products is difficult, which means keeping all the design styles consistent is messy. That’s why people are really excited to build design systems.
There are a lot of silly design system definitions floating around, but suffice it to say, there are repositories of all the most important branding, development, and design standards for a particular product or group of products.
Google’s Material Design system is a prominent example:
Behold: Material Design
It wouldn’t be on this list if it wasn’t a challenging endeavor, so yes building a design system is another excellent job for a UX consultant.
From deciding on an initial scope to defining the system standards, building your very own design system is absolutely a worthwhile endeavour. Improving the consistency of your UX design across of your product touch points will be a tremendous help to your users.
But if you haven’t done one before, it’s best to call in the calvary. Design systems are powerful assets, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fail.
Look, let’s call it like it is. Do I work for a UX design agency that offers UX consulting? Yes. Does that in any way dampen the simple logic that some things -- particularly things as important as UX design -- are best handled by experts? Absolutely not.
If you ever feel unease about how a your experience design project is shaping up, give a little more thought to calling in a consultant. The risk is minimal: if they suck, make them leave.
But if they influence the effectiveness of your experience design in any serious way, you’ll have more than recouped your investment.