Should you continue on your career path as a UX designer or should you veer into the world of consulting? Becoming a UX consultant may be the perfect next move, but it’s not the right choice for everyone.
In this post, we share advice to help you decide if you should become a UX consultant.
1. What is a UX consultant?
A UX consultant is an experienced UX designer who has stepped into the role of business consulting. This position is sometimes called a product management consultant.
Here’s a snapshot of the tasks you’ll perform as a UX consult:
- Meet with clients to help them accomplish their goals for improved UX design
- Create a UX strategy
- Help a design team create a usability testing strategy
- Brainstorm product ideas and features
- Develop wireframes and prototypes to quickly communicate your ideas
- Roadmap the user experience
- Understand the end user deeply, including their wants and triggers
- Run workshops
- Establish milestones for product design
- Help design and development teams get unstuck
- Explain user behavioural psychology to clients
- Audit apps, software, websites, and SaaS products for the user experience
Because you’re the expert in user experience, your clients will lean on your knowledge to improve their products and ROI.
As a UX consultant, you’re hired on to audit the design process. You may be hired during any stage of the design.
2. UX Consultant Vs. UX Designer
You may think that UX consultants seem to do a lot of the work that UX designers do. While there is some overlap, the two roles are distinct.
As a UX designer, you work alongside a creative team of fellow designers and developers to build a satisfying user experience. But when you become a consultant, you move to an advisory position. Instead of being involved in the minutiae, you’re one step removed.
Here’s the major difference between UX designers and UX consultants:
UX designers work at a problem that they know exists.
UX consultants are hired to find problems that no one has identified yet.
Also, there’s a learning curve involved with building a consultancy. Even if you’ve freelanced as a UX designer in the past, building a consultancy is different. Instead of working directly on a project, you’re offering professional advice. And this shifts the way that you sell your services.
3. What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a UX Consultant?
Do you need a specific education to become a UX consultant?
The most important thing you’ll need to become a UX consultant is experience. Real-world experience trumps certifications and college degrees.
Your education may give you a slight advantage over a consultant who doesn’t have such qualifications. However, sentiments are changing and many people hire consultants with proven records.
You can impress potential clients by earning an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer programming, graphic design, or software development. You can also produce a UX certificate to demonstrate that you know certain skills or tools.
UX consultancy isn’t a role for a junior UX designer. To be taken seriously as a consultant, you need many years of hands-on experience with multiple companies. Also, you should be fluent in multiple aspects of UX design, including user research, information architecture, interaction, etc.
You never know what tools your client will prefer. It would be embarrassing to be a consultant and not be comfortable with the tools your client uses, especially if they’re common UX tools.
4. The Benefits of Becoming a UX Consultant
Why should you become a UX consultant? Here are a few reasons why offering consultancy services may be the right move for you:
You Become a Thought Leader
As a consultant, you present yourself as an informed expert in user experience. You graduate from doer to thinker.
You Get Paid for Your Thoughts
You’ll do less hands-on work and more thinking—and get paid for it! However, this doesn’t mean that you’re doing less work. Consultancy is still a lot of work, but it’s definitely different than being a part of a design team.
You Can Share Your Experience With Others
As a UX consultant, you can translate your years of experience into real world value for your clients.
You Drive New Ideas
Designers may be creative thinkers, but as a consultant, you have more liberty to innovate. You can introduce new ideas and push an industry forward.
But remember that clients aren’t paying you for unproven theories or cute designs with no data to back it up.
5. The Drawbacks of Being a UX Consultant
Are there any reasons why you shouldn’t become a UX consultant? Here are a few things to consider.
Consultancy is not a steady pay-check, at least not in the beginning. It will take a while before you’ll be able to rely on your consultancy as a full-time job.
Slow to Build a Network
Clients are reticent to work with an unproven UX consultant, especially if they don’t know you. You need to reach out to your network so that you can build word of mouth to get more clients, and that takes time.
It’s Still Hard Work
You’re not just sharing advice and cautionary tales. You’re also creating reports, collaborating with teams, educating young UX designers, and overseeing projects. The success or failure of a project can come down to your advice, and that may be a heavy burden to carry.
Consultancy can be difficult if you’re not a people person. You’ll be forced to work with different personalities. It’s better to build rapport than to bark orders, so it’s important that you’ve developed the soft skills of communication and empathy before launching a consultancy.
6. Who Should Become a UX Consultant?
If you’re a junior UX designer…
And you only have three years or less of hands-on UX experience…
Or you’re risk averse…
If you don’t have a solid portfolio that will impress future clients…
Then you shouldn’t pursue a career as a UX consultant.
However, if you’re a senior-level UX designer who’s ready to push yourself to the next level, becoming a UX consultant may be the perfect solution.
But remember that a consultancy isn’t as “secure” as a 9-to-5 job. In the early days of your consultancy, you’ll have to hustle to build awareness for your new business. And you’ll have to work hard to earn every client. But eventually, if you’re good at your job and able to provide value to your clients, you’ll start to earn referrals.
7. Practical Tips for Becoming a UX Consultant
Let’s take a look at practical steps to becoming a UX consultant:
Keep Your Day Job
Here’s the good thing about creating your own UX consultancy: You can do it part-time. Start out slow. It’s best to moonlight as a UX consultant until you’ve built enough business to go on your own.
Decide on Who You’d Like to Help
Who is your ideal client, and why? Before creating a consultancy, identify who you’d like to help. This will help you specialize. And by specializing, you’ll be able to better market your service to your target audience.
Work on Your Portfolio
You need a strong and varied portfolio. But don’t include every project in your portfolio. Only add the case studies and projects that present you as a lead designer. This will showcase your thought leadership capabilities.
Work for a UX Consultancy
Not sure if you should start a UX consultancy? Consider this alternative:
Join an established consultancy. By hitching your star to an established consultancy, you get an opportunity to learn how consultancies work up close. You’ll get a quick introduction and education to UX consultancy, including how to:
- Pitch your ideas to new clients
- Calculate quotes for projects
- Work with clients
- Conduct workshops
Also, if your goal is to start your own consultancy eventually, don’t just sit back. Get engaged in every aspect, from client acquisition to workshops, so that you use that on-the-job knowledge to grow your own consultancy when the time comes.
8. Final Thoughts
If you’ve been a UX designer for a while, you may be itching to try something new. Perhaps you still have a passion for user experience, but you’re tired of doing the same old thing and want to challenge yourself to do more.
If that sounds like you, consider becoming a UX consultant. You don’t have to commit to UX consulting full-time. Try it out part-time to see if it’s a good fit for you.