“Experience Designer” is one of the best and most important jobs in America.
Don’t take my word for it; CNN Money said so in a report predicting double-digit job growth for UX Designers over the next decade. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that every $1 invested in UX yields up to $100 in return. According to Forbes, “Good UX Design Means Better Business.”
As the demand for UX design talent booms, executives face a tough decision: hire staff designers or leverage external consultants?
This decision has consequences. Sometimes companies lose valuable time seeking to add an employee when they could have realized value rapidly with consultants. However, companies who rely on outsourced help might ultimately later be better served by a dedicated team member.
I don’t believe there is one, simple answer that fits every situation, but I can provide a brief analysis of a few common scenarios.
Scenario 1: “I need a quick diagnostic.”
Problem: Your relatively simple product has been operational and in-use for some time now, but all is not well. Perhaps the conversion rate is slipping, or customer satisfaction scores are low, or (if it’s an internal tool) employee efficiency is down. You suspect the design of the system is to blame but mostly you just lie awake at night wondering, “why?”
Solution: You need a fast and low-cost effort to identify UX issues that have negative effects. A seasoned experience design expert can measure and report obvious problem areas and point you in the direction of ‘low hanging fruit.’
Consultant or Staff Hire? Consultant.
Bringing a veteran (expensive) UX expert on staff to conduct months of research and usability tests is probably overkill. At the end of all that effort, all you’ll have is a definition of some problem areas—you won’t even be looking at solutions yet.
Consult with an outside expert who will conduct a heuristic analysis. You’ll benefit greatly from a outside perspective delivered quickly and without bias. Sometimes you’ll be shocked at the simple solutions uncovered by a consulting UX practitioner, such as “The $300 Million Button.”
Scenario 2: “I need my team to see things from the users’ point of view.”
Problem: You’re building a complex digital product. You’ve got all the required skill areas covered: product management, engineering, content, marketing. Just one little problem: nobody quite has their finger on the pulse of how end-users feel about what you’re building. With the fast pace of work you’ve established to hit release milestones, your staff also doesn’t have the time to go find out.
Solution: Modern, digital product teams need an embedded UX lead consistently advocating for the user. It’s absolutely true that UX is everyone’s responsibility, and it’s also true that your users deserve a dedicated UX professional as a core member of your team. Ultimately, UX also must have a seat at the strategic leadership table if you want to deliver a great end-to-end experience.
Consultant or Staff Hire? Staff Hire.
Many companies have a sales-oriented or engineering-led culture. In such environments design is usually regarded as an add-on or surface-level issue. Leaders rely heavily on short-term UX and design contractors, resulting in a disjointed patchwork of design decisions, disorderly documentation, and no clear product vision.
Shifting the corporate culture toward one that is user-centric demands a focused and empowered design leader with skin in the game. You need someone who can bring your vision to life in the details, inspire others to build deep customer empathy, and build the right kind of experience design team. UX consultants begin engagements as outsiders to your organization, and your business must not outsource such a critical part of its core mission. Finding the right design leader is a time-consuming process, but it is a worthy investment that will pay off in the long run.
There is a place for consultants in this scenario, however. Your design leader will face many challenges and critical decisions in the early days of establishing his or her practice. An executive-level design consultant can help accelerate the integration of design into existing business functions, lay out a strong roadmap and maturity model for future growth, and provide external validation of your direction relative to industry trends.
Scenario 3: “I just need a facelift.”
Problem: While your site or app works fine from a technology standpoint, there’s no denying it’s just plain ugly. It looks old and tired. People can’t find the features they need and key content is mysteriously elusive. Marketing just completed a costly rebranding effort and you need to apply the new look. You’re smart enough to spot an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: update the interface to the new brand guidelines while simultaneously fixing usability issues.
Solution: You need a fixed-cost UX upgrade and visual refresh. You want it delivered on-time and without a lot of hassle. (Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s make sure the new user interface is ‘responsive,’ so it works well on mobile devices.)
Consultant or Staff Hire? Consultant.
With the functionality and content are mostly defined, an external consultant can easily complete a reasonable scope of work for a fixed cost. Assuming most of the development work will be on the front end of the technology stack, it should be a quick and painless operation.
Say it turns out your problems aren’t limited to just the user experience and design, and you discover major back-end changes are needed to improve or add functionality. A good consultant will help you identify this early on and can provide feasible options to tackle the larger scope of work.
Know when to leverage experience design consultants
The right UX consulting partner is a cost-effective, reliable resource for quickly solving clearly articulated problems. While an internal UX lead will benefit many aspects of your business over the long haul, a consultant can multiply and accelerate their efforts up-front, rapidly transforming the culture of your organization to one that delivers a best-in-class service design and user experience.
Saxony Partners will help your businesses create competitive advantage and delight customers through world-class enterprise design strategy, service design, and user experience design.