For every decision made, there are an equal number of lingering questions. Is this the right move? Did we do enough research? Are we messing this up?
These questions can haunt any professional, but they are particularly prevalent in creative work like UX design when problems can be solved in many ways.
Of course, you want to create a design that optimally solves problems, provides the One True Answer, and makes people weep joyfully.
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 precisely what you should do. There are plenty of scenarios when hiring a UX consultant is wise. But before you do, you should know the scenarios where a UX expert will be most beneficial.
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 an outside perspective.
The longer people work on a particular project or industry, the more perspective they lose.
Tunnel vision is real; it goes by different names in the business world. Common manifestations include confirmation bias, where you only look for data that proves your point, or design fixation, where you’re confident your first idea is the best.
Of course, the risk of not curing your tunnel vision is that you’ll miss problems or opportunities 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 a long time, 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 view. Consultants aren’t as emotionally attached to your product as you and your staff; they don’t have to kowtow to office politics.
They’ll 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, 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 your audience will value and pay for.
When planning a strategy, having someone who’s done it is infinitely easier.
That way, instead of reinventing the wheel, a UX consultant can advise you on what research you need to do, how you should validate your ideas with your audience, and where your designers should focus on creating a super UX design.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of Hiring a UX Consultant
Engaging a UX consultant is an investment with its financial considerations. A precise cost-benefit analysis can provide insights into the expected Return on Investment (ROI). The expertise of a UX consultant can potentially save resources and significantly elevate the user experience, thereby translating to higher user satisfaction and increased revenue over time.
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 much easier with an experienced leader.
Typically, this requires convincing executives who approve of 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.
The user-centered design needs to follow a flexible but specific process. Implementing your strategy means building that process into how your organization works and getting everyone to commit.
Sounds challenging, right? 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 results from experience: the more significant the consultant’s body of work, the more solutions they can propose for your UX strategy.
The second is a product of user research. Yeah, I know. Your team might 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 how much time they spend 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 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 getting buy-in for in-depth research that yields high-growth products easier.
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, so keeping all the design styles consistent is messy. That’s why people are 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 critical 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 weren’t a challenging endeavor, so 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 design system is worthwhile. Improving the consistency of your UX design across your product touchpoints will tremendously help 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.
Maintaining a Relationship with a UX Consultant
A fruitful collaboration doesn’t have to end with the completion of a project. Maintaining a relationship with a UX consultant can provide a stable foundation for continuous improvement. Their ongoing insights can be pivotal in adapting to user feedback and market changes, ensuring your product remains user-centric and competitive.
The learning doesn't stop here. There are numerous resources available to understand the realm of UX consulting further. We recommend exploring articles from UX design thought leaders, engaging in online forums, and reading books on UX strategy and consulting. Continuous learning will equip you with the knowledge to make informed decisions in your UX endeavors.
Look, let’s call it like it is. Do I work for a UX design agency that offers UX consulting? Yes. Does that dampen the simple logic that some things -- particularly things as crucial as UX design -- are best handled by experts? Not.
If you ever feel unease about how 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 profound way, you’ll have more than recouped your investment.