Whether your organization is planning to launch a new digital product, or there's a chance that existing user experience flaws may be blocking your growth, it is beneficial to hire external UX consultants. These experts are able to identify problems with your product, find opportunities, and help your company make a leap.
Since the Netguru team has countless successful product design projects under its belt, we want to share our experience to help you choose the right advisors.
User experience is a central part of digital product development. While its role has been underrated for a long time, focus from some of the most successful online brands has shown that UX design is now an essential element of building competitive advantage.
UX is an activity that can, and often should, be handled by external consultants. It requires a unique and rare set of skills and knowledge, and the results of a UX consulting project can be easily passed to your internal team.
Top tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, and fast-growing companies such as Slack and Netflix, are embracing design thinking as a crucial part of their culture. Their approach is based on UX workshops that are organized at the earliest stages of the product development process.
UX design and optimization are no longer considered tasks for an isolated specialist. Instead, product design sprints are used to engage every stakeholder. Only full transparency and good communication practices can lead to finding the optimal user journey – the first step towards identifying UX-related challenges and opportunities.
When do you need a UX consultant?
Unless you’re a tech giant, or a software company like Netguru, it can be very difficult to build your own in-house UX design team. Finding and hiring the right specialists is hard, especially as you need people who have enough knowledge and experience to spot potential UX blockers, and identify further optimization opportunities.
On the other hand, reputable UX consultants will have participated in countless projects from different industries, and in organizations of different sizes.
An outside perspective, which often proves invaluable, can be unattainable for your in-house team. A consultant, however, can point out solutions that are hidden from a closer range. An external team can provide expert advice and an unbiased analysis, which will result in direct recommendations.
Product design is also a great area for consultancy since a lot can be achieved in a short space of time, and actionable recommendations or tasks can be handed over to your team.
The goals of hiring a consulting team are:
Increase your efficiency and raise profit margins.
Improve your product's UX design and unlock its potential.
Boost lead generation.
Optimize conversion rates.
Increase customer lifetime value.
Help you gain substantial competitive advantage.
Finally, hiring an in-house specialist poses a bigger risk than hiring an external consultant. In the case of consulting, your commitment is shorter, and the procurement process is much easier and more transparent than recruitment. This is especially true in the area of digital design, where the demand for specialists is very high.
What makes a good UX consulting team?
There are several crucial characteristics of an elite consultant. Here are some key points:
Individual knowledge. Consultants have completed countless projects; that's what makes them the best specialists in their field. They may have a higher hourly rate than a regular employee, but that should go hand-in-hand with them being more experienced and knowledgeable. They can elaborate on both the positive and negative aspects of every solution.
Collective knowledge. A good consulting team excels in scaling up their expertise. Even less experienced consultants have instant access to top advisors with years of experience, as well as internal databases, frameworks, and case studies that they can apply to your project. Quality consultants aren't afraid of admitting they don't immediately know something, but are resourceful and seek advice from others to find the right solutions when necessary.
Learning ability. While you should expect a consultant to be experienced and well-read, it is their learning ability that matters most in the dynamic tech industry. There are new user interface patterns, tools, and trends emerging by the day. The ability to learn may be the most important characteristic of a desirable UX consultant.
Skillfulness. It is not only theoretical knowledge that matters, practical skills are also crucial. This holds true especially when considering the modern design approach. The process is based on UX design sprint workshops, where UX designers gather key insights and data, brainstorm possible solutions, agree on the most promising ones with the team, and verify their choices. These tasks require strong analytical skills as well as the ability to think creatively and come up with out-of-the-box solutions, often on the spot.
Great communication. A proficient UX consultant has exceptional communication skills, allowing them to extract information from your team – irrespective of their personalities. They are also skilled in facilitating workshops. Oftentimes, your team already holds the answers to the questions you’re asking. Customer support agents, sales representatives, analysts, software engineers – they all have some unique insight into who your users are, and who they could be if you are able to extend your customer base. Additionally, good consultants introduce ideas gradually when delivering presentations, explaining them to the customer effectively.
Extreme ownership culture. The best consultants own their meetings, and they own the results of the process. They are professional yet benign, assertive yet open-minded, and creative yet driven by the value their service provides.
High efficiency. You want the consultants you hire to be able to deliver results fast. This applies to all aspects of their job – analysis leading to understanding the real problem, generating ideas on how to tackle challenges, and finally, the real-world effect. They need to be able to efficiently execute and implement the results of their work to your product or company's structure.
Red flags – How to spot unsuitable consultants at the first meeting
Certain behaviors should raise a red flag. If you’re looking to hire a UX consultant and you notice a candidate does one or more of the following, give a second thought to hiring them.
Try to fit you into rigid categories. Bad consultants assume that all customers within a given industry are alike. They are quick to apply a template that has proven successful in the past, and don't understand that it may not work for a different customer, in different circumstances.
Promise an easy answer to a problem that you know is much more complex. You may notice them trying to dismiss all evidence that does not fit their presumptions.
Undermine your business model immediately. Good consultants will assume you know your niche better, and first try to identify hidden design-related blockers that are hindering your growth.
Try to force your team into technology stacks and contractual conditions that the company does not feel comfortable with. Any sign of a hidden agenda should be treated with suspicion.
Try too hard to close the deal. Good consulting teams should not be desperate to work for you. Instead, they should be determined to establish a partnership that will allow you to win together, but they will always leave you a choice, since they have other potential clients waiting for them.
Focus on short term success. Quality consulting teams will set long term goals as they want your company to benefit from the partnership.
What can good UX consultants do for you?
External UX consultants will run a professional business analysis for you, and identify key stakeholders and KPIs. They should start with in-depth research that puts the product analysis in the context of the market – competition, industry trends, and changing user expectations.
Consultants will bring to the table the ability to build a model of reality, and later validate its assumptions to decrease project and business risks, along with increasing the probability of success.
If you are a mature organization, they will help you go through digital transformation. They will give strategic advice, and help you become more equipped to compete in the digital era – both through the internal capabilities of your organization, as well as the external capabilities of their products and services.
The best UX consulting teams can transform the way your customers interact with your product, and help you to discover a user-centered perspective on your business. They will:
Extract hidden information from your data and your team.
Identify the biggest challenges related to your product's design.
Set up the framework for the ongoing iterative design process.
The best UX consultants will not just improve your product design and key business metrics. For as long as their engagement with the project lasts, they will teach your team how to develop your product with a design-first approach, and inspire everyone involved in the project to evolve their perspectives.
When a project involving a top consultant comes to an end, you should be able to run your own design sprints, identify possible UX problems, map user journeys, and brainstorm creative solutions to overcome blockers and optimize performance.