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Becoming a Great UX Consultant, Part 1: Some Myths

Selling UX

A unique perspective on service UX

A column by Baruch Sachs
February 4, 2013

I have been a UX consultant, in one form or another, for about 15 years now. After 15 years of doing the same thing, I have a decent amount of experience to look back and reflect on, so it seems a good time to examine where I’ve been and where I might want to go as a UX consultant.

If I were honest with myself, I would have to say that, out of those 15 years, I’ve considered myself to be a great UX consultant in maybe only the past five years or so. Admitting that makes me realize that I would also like to explore and articulate how UX consultants go from good to great. This is a question that I get a lot from others. So, over my next few columns, I’ll explore this topic in greater depth. In Part 1 of this series, I’ll discuss some myths about what makes a UX consultant great. A big part of understanding what makes a great UX consultant great is understanding what deficiencies hinder greatness.

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Myth 1: Great Design Skills Are Key to Being a Great UX Consultant

Eh…, maybe not. I know plenty of amazing designers. People who can take the most obscure vision and convoluted requirements and turn them into elegant, natural, sophisticated, yet simple designs. Yet, for all of their superiority in design, great designers are sometimes unable to communicate effectively. Some designers like to say that their designs speak for themselves; but when you’re a consultant, clients may perceive that outlook as arrogance.

Being able to communicate the intricacies and particulars of your designs effectively is critical to your acceptance as a trusted advisor. I’ll freely admit that I am not the very best at design. I have very well-educated ideas about what is good versus bad design, what represents the right design for the domain I’m working in, and so on, but when it comes time to actually create a design, I recognize that there are people who are far better than me.

However, some of those people who are great at design may need a lot of help with communication. They might not know how to sell their designs. Or perhaps they don’t know how to make people comfortable, knowing that they not only know design, but can execute a design project. It is this type of communication that is very important to winning clients’ trust, helping them to believe that you are able not only to design something, but to complete their project successfully.

There is no doubt that being a great designer is a strength. However, if you focus just on your design skills, you’ll never be a great UX consultant.

Myth 2: Great UX Consultants Are Passionate People

Passion is, indeed, a key differentiator between merely good and great UX consultants. People who are passionate about what they do exude confidence and can get in tune with clients in a way that others cannot. But being passionate will get you only so far.

Passion does not make up for a lack of experience and knowledge about your area of expertise. I have worked with UX consultants who are extremely passionate, but incorrectly assume that they can use their passion to hide their lack of knowledge about user experience. Someone who practices their craft passionately is different from a person who is just passionate. When you are truly passionate about your profession, you’ll do everything you can to master the intricacies of your discipline.

In addition to being a master of your discipline, you also need to understand that it is almost always better to listen rather than to talk. People who have great passion for, but little depth in a subject do not make the best listeners. Sometimes, it is almost as if their passion ignites an insatiable need to talk.

When I interview people for a position on my team, I almost always let them ramble. I never make judgments about people solely on the basis of what they say, but also by what they do not say. A person who does not feel the need to ramble simply because the person on the other end of a conversation is keeping silent, a person who does not talk just to fill an empty space, that is a person I want on my team. A critical component of being a great UX consultant is just knowing when to shut your mouth. Don’t let your passion for what you do make you difficult to listen to. Great consultants know that they are there to listen just as much as they are there to offer guidance.

Myth 3: Knowledge Is Key to Being a Great UX Consultant

On the other hand, you can be truly knowledgeable about user experience and its tenets and still not be a great UX consultant. Knowledge will get you only so far. Having knowledge about user experience without knowing how you should use it will hinder you in this profession. There are plenty of consultants out there who have excellent depth and breadth in the UX professions, but are still not the ones clients look to when thinking of engaging a UX consultant.

Why? Because, although these people may be quite knowledgeable about user experience, clients just don’t want to work with them. Whether clients perceive them as arrogant, combative, or just plain reticent in communicating what they know, UX consultants who focus only on their knowledge will never be great consultants. Clients who hire UX consultants are more inclined to work with personable, effective communicators who not only know their discipline, but can easily convey their knowledge to others.

Conclusion

What these myths reveal is that, to be the great UX consultant you strive to be, you really need to have quite a lot of depth and breadth. Yes, you need to be a very good designer. You need to be passionate about your profession. You need to be knowledgeable about user experience. But most of all, you need to be an amazing communicator who puts people at ease and makes them believe they cannot succeed without you. This ability does not come naturally to most consultants, but you must recognize that it is something you should continually work to improve. Being a great UX consultant means a commitment to constantly improving yourself in a multitude of areas.

Part 2 of this series will focus on some best practices and guidelines that will put you on the proper path to becoming a great UX consultant. 

Senior Director, User Experience, at Pegasystems

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Baruch SachsWith over 12 years of experience leading and participating in successful efforts to improve user experience across various industries, Baruch has a developed a wide range of skills in the areas of interaction design, user interface development, and product management. For the past 5 years, he has developed and led the global user experience team at Pegasystems and serves as the principal end-user advocate for the Pegasystems Services organization in the delivery of user interface design and user experience to customers and partners.  Read More

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