One Rule of UX Consulting

Kevin Richardson, Ph.D. / Monday, June 23, 2014


One Rule of UX Consulting

There is a rule in consulting that many professionals don’t seem to understand (or want to believe). This rule applies regardless of your specialty. It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself a UX Architect, a Design Researcher, a UI Visual Designer, a Production Artist, an Intern or the local big cheese. If you are a consultant in this wild and wonderful profession of ours, this one rule applies to you. Are you ready? Here it is:

It’s Not the Client’s Fault

I’m serious. Repeat it over and over until it’s inscribed on your brain and in your heart. Now write it on the palm of your hand. In ink.

Yes, It Can Be Your Fault

Think back on the difficult projects in your past. Did the client make many “busy work” requests of you? Require more revisions than you felt were necessary? Were your ideas not immediately understood? Did the client ask for “more” or simply not like some aspect of your work? Have you felt put upon by clients that just don’t get it? Be honest now. We’ve all had this experience. What I’m suggesting to you is that you were the cause of it all. That’s right – it wasn’t the client’s fault. It was yours.

I can hear you mumbling, “Yeah, right” as you shake your head. You’re thinking you can lump my rule in with clichés like “The Customer is Always Right” but you’d be wrong. The truth is that the customer isn’t always right. That cliché is simply a way to guide employee behavior in the face of situations over which they have no control. It is an ex post facto piece of advice. As a consultant, you can (and, by definition, should) have control over the situation. That’s what makes us consultants. We are the experts, the hired guns, the people with the experience and the answers. It’s why the client is paying us. And this is where many consultants get it wrong. They think, through hubris or inexperience, that because a client is paying you for your big ideas that they will, nay should, be satisfied with what you deliver to them. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

A Consultant’s Lot

In addition to technical expertise, a large portion of a consultant’s job is to educate and lead clients on the journey that is their particular project. Clients want to understand why you made particular design choices (especially when they differ from the choices they would have made). They want to be part of the design process. After all, they have to live with these designs long after you move on to greener pastures.

Here are a few things you should be doing as you work with your clients to ensure that you are keeping them engaged in the process:

  • Make your design rationale clear to them as you are designing. Include clients in your work by sending them early, unfinished versions and walking them through your thought processes.
  • Pick up the phone and talk to your client about that idea you had for resolving a particularly sticky problem. Their problems are your problems. Don’t wait for the next regularly scheduled review meeting.
  • Design collaboratively! Use time actually spent with your clients to get together in a room and work through design issues on the fly. Use the whiteboard. Sketch on large sheets of paper. This may sound a little like “writing in the coffee shop window,” but it’s important. Not only does it reinforce your expertise and expose your design rationale but it allows the client to understand, first hand, how this thing called Design works.

Remember, technical expertise is only part of consulting. Good consultants can see beyond the client’s requests and deliver on the client’s needs. That’s what consulting is all about.