Collaboration Instead of Education
My last column stressed that, when we start educating our stakeholders, we run the very real risk of alienating them. We may start talking at people, instead of talking with them. This runs counter to everything we should do as UX consultants. We want to bring people closer together and get them invested in the success of the product or application we’re working on. One way in which we can do that is to educate by showing rather than lecturing.
Most business people are show-me types. When I work with clients, I spend a lot of time with them. I wireframe with them. I put ideas on a whiteboard with them. I talk about every element of the user interface with them, from the architecture down to the look and feel. I end up sharing my design process with them—and while there are certainly folks who don’t want that level of detail, the majority of the people I work with ultimately embrace the knowledge. When consulting, consider yourself a shepherd of sorts. You are there to guide and provide direction, but in general, you have to move with the herd. You can’t stop your client’s progress completely by taking time out to lecture. You can slow them down and speed them up as appropriate, but at all times, you need to be in a guidance mode.
This is what differentiates a great UX consultant from a good one. A great UX consultant knows that true leadership is not always about standing in front. It’s also about standing side by side with your clients—and sometimes even stepping back to let them find their way, while never letting them stray too far into unproductive territory.
Clients see a great UX consultant as a trusted adviser and thought leader. People look to us to provide design direction, best practices, world-class design, and to be the UX expert. However, within each client organization, we earn rather than assume this type of role just because we’re UX consultants. As with any type of consultant, giving sound advice and knowing when to speak and when to remain silent are prized abilities.
When we encounter bad design ideas or people fail to take our advice, we naturally want to slip into educator mode and prove to people that we know best. But, at these times, it is essential that we maintain our trusted-advisor status through engaging in collaboration, showing people design ideas, and continually offering to show our designs to users to get their feedback. By collaborating with our clients whenever possible—rather than lecturing them—we allow them to evolve and grow along with us. They’ll develop a better design sense rather than shutting us down and continuing down an unproductive path.