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UX Trends Come and Go Every Year, but Good Consulting Is a Constant

Selling UX

A unique perspective on service UX

A column by Baruch Sachs
January 19, 2015

Times of uncertainty—whether because of economic, political, or societal changes—are good times for consultants. The more problems there are, the more insecure people are about deciding how to address them, so there is good and plentiful work for consultants, including UX consultants. Last year, 2014, was a great year for User Experience as we saw many organizations develop a more robust understanding about what User Experience is and is not—and more importantly, how User Experience has evolved to become part of the larger revolution known as Customer Experience.

Over the holiday season in December, I read about 20 articles and blog posts on predictions of User Experience trends for 2015. As happens every year, I agreed with some of them, while I thought others were ahead of their time by anywhere from one to five years. And I disagreed with many.

However, UX Magazine’s “The Top UX Predictions for 2015” cited three UX trends that benefit from keeping true to good, old-fashioned consulting principles:

  • the rise of Slippy UX
  • the death of Web design
  • good to great customer experience

What these three trends have in common is that they all raise things that UX professionals have been doing for years to the next level. Whenever an organization is trying to move to the next level of complexity and mature their offerings, consultants become even more critical. So, while 2015 will be a great year for consulting in general, it is going to be a great year for UX consulting in particular.

Slippy User Experiences

While this design concept is not really new, Jake Zukowski, Assistant Creative Director at frog design, has coined the term slippy UX to describe a very natural progression from sticky user experiences, for which the design goal is to get a user to notice, then stick around and continue using your Web site, application, or product. In contrast, the goal when designing a slippy user experience is for it to catch a user’s eye, then seamlessly integrate with that person’s life, and support whatever he or she needs. This type of experience lets people get on with their life while it does useful things for them. Think of user interfaces for cars, critical medical devices, airplanes, or connected homes.

Anyone who has ever designed a user interface for an airplane, a nuclear reactor, or a military application knows very well the importance of such slippy experiences. When I was designing a network-management user interface for the U.S. military, this was precisely our goal. When a soldier is racing down a dirt road in a Humvee in dangerous territory, the last thing he needs is a sticky user experience for an application that navigates for him and keeps a lookout for things in the road and enemy combatants. While, at that time, we did not have the term slippy, military folk being the acronym-loving, practical bunch that they are, we coined the acronym and catch phrase: KITFA (Keep It the #$#@ Away), which nicely summed up what we were trying to do. This type of experience should enhance, not interfere with what a user is doing; nor should it consume too much of a user’s attention. We sorely need this UX design mindset for both consumer and enterprise user experiences, but it’s a lot harder to accomplish.

Herein lies the need for a UX consultant: Companies have been fighting for so long, not only to grab people’s attention, but to keep it. So it is not going to be easy for them to grasp this new design goal, then design and implement the next generation of user experiences. For companies to get this right, they are going to need a lot of help along the way.

The Death of Web Design

This predicted trend is about how we need to get beyond design patterns and into the uncharted territories of product design within a holistic ecosystem of products or applications and their overall user journeys.

We’ve already accomplished a lot of the easy work with design patterns. Recreating new versions of things like shopping carts and checkout processes offers little value. But there are larger issues to solve like connecting all of an enterprise’s product offerings or designing an omnichannel user experience that lets someone move seamlessly from wearable, to mobile, to car, to home without skipping a beat. These are the types of challenges that make UX designers’ blood pump these days—and these are the challenges that drive companies’ need for UX consultants.

Many companies currently design their offerings for specific channels, within a somewhat siloed organization. So bringing someone in from the outside to help an organization look at everything holistically is exactly the sweet spot for a UX consultant.

When Good Is Not Good Enough

Whenever an organization tries to go from good to great, they need assistance. Design consultancies are currently being snapped up by larger, mainstream consulting firms, as well as by companies that are looking to differentiate themselves. Capital One’s acquisition of Adaptive Path is a great example of a company’s knowing what it would take to progress from good to great, but needing help getting there. They had been contracting with Adaptive Path for years and knew that this group was the right partner to help them achieve greatness.

The Constancy of Consulting

Regardless of whether these trends become reality in 2015, the basics of what consulting is all about do not change:

  • being authentic
  • relationship building

If we look at the example of Adaptive Path and Capital One in greater depth, we can quickly see that these two characteristics of consulting were in full play. First and foremost, Adaptive Path was authentic with Capital One. During their initial relationship, they did not just tell Capital One what they wanted to hear, they told them what they needed to hear to be successful. Furthermore, they did so in a way that made the relationship stronger, without sacrificing what Adaptive Path did well or wanted to be as a company.

No matter what type of UX consulting you do, the need to be authentic is always there. Some inexperienced consultants might fall short of this goal and let a common caricature of a consultant determine how they conduct themselves: a person who would lie and say anything to convince someone to buy his or her services. But experienced consultants know that this way of behaving is only for short-timers. If you want to be a successful consultant who not only has leverage with your clients, but their trust and commitment, you must always be up front about your experience and authentic in what you communicate to a client, even if that means having a difficult conversation.

As UX professionals, we know that users can perceive when they are being shortchanged by a design or an interaction. The same holds true for our clients. Trying to convince potential clients that you and your services are everything they need often has the opposite of the desired effect. Clients can tell when you are being overly clever or laying it on too thick. Authenticity is always the best approach.

In everything you do as a consultant, you should always keep the growth and maintenance of your client relationships in mind. Every interaction you have with your clients has the potential to change the relationship for better or worse. When you’re authentic in all of your dealings with clients, this may not always enable you to establish or improve your relationships with them. However, savvy UX consultants know that, when they’re honest in communicating what a business needs, but the business does not respond positively to their guidance, it is likely not a business they would want to work with. 

Senior Director, Technical Solutions and Global Design, 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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