Why We Are Leaving Consulting
August 29, 2019 | This is a special post from Julie Fortier and Edward Guttman, managing partners of User Experience Lab. As of August 31, 2019, UXL will no longer take on consulting engagements. UXL will continue to help clients augment their UX talent by sourcing and placing expert design, technology, and strategy consultants with their in-house teams.
Important decisions don’t happen overnight…
We have spent almost our entire professional careers as user experience and design consultants. We have seen and done a lot over the years, working in diverse industries with thousands of clients and users, participating in conferences and events, and traveling across the US and around the world.
There hasn’t been a tool of the moment, implementation framework, or delivery platform that we haven’t mastered.
Since the beginning, user experience consulting has felt more like a calling than a job, and it has given us tremendous satisfaction. But now, systemic changes and advances in the industry are having an impact on UX consulting:
Internal design teams. Over the last 5 to 10 years, some of the most powerful companies in mature industries such as travel, e-commerce, and finance have aggressively recruited and hired some of the best designers from across the country. As clients come to recognize the vital importance of user experience and build their internal teams, their need to work with consulting agencies has diminished. It will take time for internal teams to formalize how outside experts can enhance process and results with fresh perspectives.
Surplus of designers. Universities across the country now offer courses and degrees in user experience. But more importantly, private companies such as General Assembly, Noble Desktop, and other online players are promising UX training in a matter of weeks. Novice designers coming out of these programs are flooding the market, bringing down rates. In fact, rates for design services have been stagnant if not lower than they were 20 years ago.
More efficient tools and frameworks. Newer tools such as Sketch, InVision, and Zeplin are creating tremendous efficiencies in concepting and production, leading to shorter engagements. Simultaneously, short-burst Agile development cycles mean UX and design services can be 2 months on/2 months off, making staffing challenging. Frameworks such as Bootstrap, Angular, and React are standardizing user interface patterns and potentially improving usability across the webosphere, but one could argue that speed and efficiency are compromising some of the creativity of our craft.
Changes in the competition. While all competitors are not created equal, competition overall is increasing, including independent freelancers, offshore IT consulting firms now offering UX/Design services, and large business consulting firms offering UX services via digital groups grown through rapid acquisition.
These factors have contributed to shorter, lower-priced design consulting engagements. Long-term engagements, which used to be the norm, are being replaced by projects of 12 weeks or less. Even as the engagements get shorter, the sales cycle is just as long. Small agency owners like us have become full-time salespeople to maintain a semblance of steady revenue. And as a consequence, we have gradually found ourselves drifting further and further away from applying our expert design skills, which was why we started our own business in the first place.
In the face of significant change, the only choice is to adapt. While we leave our agency life behind with sadness, we are also excited to build and lead new client-side design teams. We look forward to new challenges ahead that will let us refocus on learning about a business, its products, and its users to deliver meaningful and intuitive experiences.
To our fellow small agency owners: We wish you luck. The next few years will be defining for you as you reshape how you sell and produce to keep engagements profitable.
To new designers entering the market: We also wish you luck. Get real-world experience on applications that solve real problems for real people. Practice designing for desktop. Sharpen your skills across the full lifecycle from user research to design to testing, but be an expert at something. Few of us are experts at everything.
To our clients: Thank you for your trust and loyalty since the inception of UXL in 2005. We have learned a tremendous amount from you, and enjoyed the many excellent relationships we have developed along the way. Thank you for the opportunity to help you in your quest to develop great products for your employees, clients, and customers.
To our employees and contractors: We remain infinitely thankful for your loyalty and service, and for taking a chance on working for a small agency like ours. We have had the privilege of working with some of the smartest designers in the business, and we will be forever grateful for your support.
Let’s stay in touch! Challenges are best faced and accomplishments best celebrated when shared.