At the beginning of this year, there were more than 1.94 billion websites online; over 4 million mobile apps on iOS and Android; and 4 billion Internet users all over the world. The creation and distribution of these materials is a vast industry; but who makes sure that they are well-designed, user friendly and intuitive? These professionals are UX designers – and here, we’ll discuss why UX consulting is in such high demand.
You could argue that the power of information lies in how you access it, which is arguably at the root of why UX is such an integral role. How a website or app looks and feels has a substantial impact on the likelihood of conversion, so it’s crucial to get this right. However, UX isn’t just about how a site looks – it’s also about how it works. A UX designer will manage how the user navigates and operates the website, ensuring it’s accessible and easy-to-use.
That said, considering the importance placed on ‘operation’ it’s easy to assume that a UX specialist needs to be a master coder as well as a designer. In fact, this is far from the case. Really, a UX/UI designer should be an expert in empathy. This is becoming even more the case now that companies are beginning to implement AI customer service solutions and expectations are high. Now, consumers expect these interactions to be on a par with a human agent. Below, we’ll make the case for empathetic UX in the current business landscape, and explain why UX experts should be designers not coders.
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UX consulting as a driver for business success
Before introducing the code vs. empathy question, let’s outline the business case for UX consulting. It’s well known that UX designers command impressive fees, but what is it that makes the investment worthwhile? The fact is, it’s also well-known that design-oriented businesses outperform their rivals. Today, this is so much the case that designers are being drafted into C-level positions. Design can make or break a product – especially when that product or service is mediated through a digital interface (which today, is pretty much everything).
Let’s demonstrate this with a scenario: imagine you’re choosing between two apps with very similar functionality. They have the same features and they retail at the same price; however, the UX of option one isn’t so great. The text is difficult to read, buttons are poorly placed, and the menu is difficult to navigate. Option two, in contrast, is legible and intuitive. Naturally, you’re going to download option two and consumers will behave in exactly the same way.
This is because consumers like well-designed products – but consumers are a diverse group. This is where the second key business case for good UX comes in: accessibility and inclusion. The more accessible and inclusive your website is, the bigger the market and the greater the reach of the product. Essentially, this means that UX isn’t just about pretty colours and fonts; it’s about understanding how these choices will work for the end-user.
An accessibility specialist will know how different colours create contrast, the cultural significance or certain design choices, or how the app or website will work for some users with impaired vision or dexterity. Considering 1 in 4 Americans identify as having a disability, this is a market segment that simply can’t be ignored. This brings us onto the notion of empathetic UX consulting – which we’ll look at in more detail later.
UX design in the age of AI
AI is transforming the way consumers interact with companies. Now, customer services are always available, instant, and fully personalised – but only if they’re executed correctly. This is why UX in AI-powered customer service is so important; to get the interaction with a machine learning application right, it has to be as lifelike as possible. That is, empathetic AI UX design is absolutely critical.
This means that for the most part, even in the face of this huge leap of technological capabilities, the principles of UX remain the same. You need to understand customers’ needs, their objectives, pain points, and how you can help them. In fact, treating an UX/UI design project for artificial intelligence too differently from any other initiative can be a recipe for disaster. The AI capabilities take over and the customer gets left behind – you still need to make sure their pain points are being addressed.
Sometimes, this can be hard for the senior management to stomach, especially when a significant amount of investment has been put into AI technology. As a result, a UX designer needs to use their facilitation and perusation capacity to ensure customer-centric outcomes throughout the entire development cycle.
Therefore, when designing for AI, the UX designer has to be an advocate for the user. This means they have to take on rigorous, generative user research. A UX researcher will ensure the product team knows their audience, including their needs, desires, pain points and behaviours. The research findings should focus on human experience and the qualitative data that unpins the AI application’s big data. This approach will also manage any inherent bias, or indeed, prevent developers getting ‘lost in data’ and leaving the focus of the project behind.
By ensuring customers are at the centre of the development process, UX experts can ensure that they gain their trust. This is essential when it comes to roll out of AI-powered solutions, as some consumers still remain hesitant about interacting with chatbots or digital assistants. Therefore, they need to advocate for design solutions that offer transparency and control over personal data, so consumers are more likely to buy in. Trust is a key part of an empathetic relationship between company and customer, so UX designers need to nurture this confidence.
Why empathy caps code in UX
What makes the UI/UX specialist an indispensable part of a development team is just that – empathy. If you’re going to hire a UI designer, they will need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of a diverse set of users and respond to their needs. The UX specialist needs to analyse the system, identify pain points, and catch things that might go unnoticed by the developers and coders.
Herein lies the key point. UX designers should remain focussed on their function: good design and flawless usability. A lot has been made of cross-functional experts or designers that can code; and certainly, this isn’t to say that designers don’t need knowledge about what makes their interfaces run. The capacity to prototype, tweak implementations, and interact on a cross-disciplinary level is undoubtedly valuable.
However, coding is best left to coders. Insisting that a UX designer should code creates a sense that these experts should be a one-man-band – but the fact is, a one-man-band rarely sounds any good. If you’re attempting to play the harmonica while banging a bass drum, there’s likely to be dissonance. The same goes for production teams; leave professionals to do what they do best.
The fact is, front end and back end development and design are highly specialised. Each takes entire careers to master and expecting one person to do both is foolhardy. Besides, it’s often advantageous for the UI/UX designer to have some distance from the code. By not being over-familiar with the development process, they can see usability or interaction errors that programmers might miss, or indeed, get a little defensive about. This is an essential part of being a UX usability expert – placing the customer at the centre of the UX/UI design project.
What we need are talented designers and talented developers, and for them to work well together. This is where empathy comes into play once again: you need development teams of team players. This breaks down silos, opens minds and leads to innovation. Team members should learn from each other; developers can look critically at design concepts from a user-centred standpoint. Equally, designers should understand the basics of implementation.
Through collaboration, they can produce their best work. If you empower your team to focus on their strengths as well as learn for their teammates, then you don’t have a one-man-band. Instead, you have a symphony.
The case for external UX consulting
But how do you but together this symphony orchestra of development talent? Where do you find these experts to make up an effective cross-functional team? This is where we’ll extend our argument for empathy, by making the case for drafting in external talent and soliciting UX consulting.
The good thing about freelancers is they’re often incredibly adaptable. They’re used to working in environments with diverse people, deadlines, budgets, and resources. This – perhaps counter-intuitively – makes them excellent team players. They know they have to collaborate to get the job done, as opposed to being stuck in their ways.
This mobility also means they come with unique insights. An advantage of external UX consulting is they can give unbiased opinions. For example, in an ongoing project, they can provide a fresh pair of eyes that can identify problems the original team didn’t spot. This is particularly beneficial for long-running or fraught projects, as those involved may miss mistakes or opportunities because they’re jaded, or merely used to the system.
UX consulting also gives businesses the opportunity to define advantages or disadvantages with respect to the competition, so they can gain a deeper knowledge of different users. If you want to hire a UX expert or specialist, first look for someone that knows the users of the system; then look for someone that knows the competition. From here, you can out-do your competitors.
To further extend the business case, the advantage of external UX consulting is that usually, these projects require intensive UX/UI work at the beginning. You’ll hire a UI designer and they’ll be extremely active at the beginning, mapping user flows, information architecture, and wireframing. This work then peters out as the project moves further into the development stage and the programmers take the front seat.
Let’s model an example; a UX analyst or expert might work full time at the beginning of a project. Then they’re required less and less; the expert ends up doing less relevant tasks, and meanwhile, the company is still paying their fee. Really, the UX specialist is wasted – they should, as we stressed above, do what they do best. Really, bringing on team members ad hoc works for everyone – the expert remains focussed and driven, and the business saves money.
Keeping design customer-centred
A UX designer’s role is to come up with the ideas, functionalities and processes that help the user to fulfil their needs. Equally, they’ll help the business improve their systems and achieve their goals. This is because the UX designer’s role isn’t programming – it’s people. When a UX expert considers concepts they shouldn’t be limited by the complexity at a technical level; instead, they should place the customer at the centre of their approach.
Of course, these concepts need to be validated by developers, but this is where empathy once again is centre stage. The best UX designers will be team players who can open conversations, bounce around ideas, and innovate. This is especially the case as AI comes to the fore of customer service and businesses need to look even closer at interface design and function.
But where can you find professionals with this elusive balance of hard and soft skills? To source fully certified, quality-controlled professionals, businesses should look to Outvise’s pool of freelance talent. Here, you can find a curated list of TMD and digital professionals offering UX consulting, design, and implementation with extensive experience across fields. You can also find developers, product owners, data engineers, and more to build an exceptional development team. Explore the portfolio of certified professionals here.