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By Ildikó Tuck

Should I listen to my UX consultant or implement my own vision?

Today some 89% of Australians are consumers of digital content and we have a seemingly endless selection of it to choose from. Given our vast choice of content, we, as users became increasingly more discerning.

It wasn’t too long ago when we were happy if an app had a mobile version or a responsive site. Now, the options available mean that we will not put up with anything less than delightful. And, once we find that piece of delightful software, we tend to stick to it. We all know this first-hand, being daily consumers of digital content and knowing our own devices intimately. With the importance users place on their experience with today’s online content, entrepreneurs building new software are usually fully aware that they require UX, and they need it to be excellent.

So, let’s assume you are an entrepreneur with a brilliant idea and decide to hire a UX consultant because you know that your project needs good UX. What’s next?

In the first meeting, it seems like the UX consultant and you get along perfectly. They are asking questions, finding out everything about your app, they are on board with your vision. Great stuff all around - that is the kind of people you want on your team, people who want to help you build this amazing dream.

Then, unavoidably there comes a time when the first difference of opinion occurs. You want that navigation element in a certain way, but the UX consultant advises you against it. What now? How do you resolve the conflict between what your vision tells you and the UX consultant’s professional advice?

After all, you hired them for their skills in a job you didn’t feel qualified to do yourself. It makes sense to listen and follow their recommendation, right? Yes, that might seem like the sensible option and most of the time it will save you from getting into too much trouble. But as the product owner it might feel like a compromise.

Sometimes the consultant gives you vague answers like “it depends”, or “yes, we can do it that way too”. Now what? Should you be concerned? Why are they not standing their ground and fighting to enforce UX best practices? Aren’t they supposed to know better?

This point is when you should really be listening. A skilled UX designer will defend their decision using best practices or other references from the UX world, however they will not fight you tooth and nail to ensure everything is done their way They will also seem uninterested in any sort of “XY website does it that way…” type dialogue.

Why? Because the skilled UX designer knows that you are not your user and neither are they.

When it comes to rolling out the user interface, and particularly if there is an impasse, the one point that your UX expert should be fighting hard for is getting actual users involved. They will want to create rapid prototypes and test both your ideas and their own with your target group and take as much of the guesswork out of the equation as possible. Yes, it is true that you can’t test everything and it’s also true that a usability study isn’t equivalent to the real-world experience people will end up having with your app, but it’s better than anyone’s guess.

It’s the users that are important. Everyone on your team - stakeholders, designers, developers, marketers - everyone is simply too smart and too involved to be a good candidate for objectively evaluating your app’s UX. They aren’t suitable to test with because their existing knowledge about the app will shape their feedback to a point where it has nothing in common with what your end users would say.

Lastly, as mentioned, UX consultants usually aren’t interested in “Awesome app does it this way and they seem to be doing well” type of arguments. No doubt they could come up with another ten great apps that do it completely differently. But engaging in that type of discussion to try and convince people is a waste of time.

A much better use of time would be “OK, let’s create a quick prototype with this version, and another following best practice, then test them both”. Because even though Awesome app really is awesome, their product isn’t yours. They (hopefully) tested that interaction pattern within a cohesive experience. They chose it because it proved to be the best for displaying the information they wanted to display and allowing the interactions they wanted to allow. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but you do need to test how the pieces work together for your users and your particular idea.

So, to answer the question from the title: yes, you should listen to your UX consultant, especially when they talk about the importance of usability testing.

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