10 reasons for a career as a UX consultant

15 years ago I started my professional career as user experience (UX) consultant. I was part of a company with a mission: making technology more user friendly. Nowadays user experience design is well known (thank you Apple), but that were still the dark ages of usability. Today Monster.com holds +1000 jobs in the usability field, but when my company in 2001 organized a lecture for university students, I was literally the only one showing up.

In 2001, web usability was still in its early stages and practically the sole domain of a self-called guru with an ugly website. To master the field of user interface design I had to study Windows’ style guides and Apple’s human interface guidelines. In other words, we were pioneers and and I loved it.

Years went by and I moved on to another great job in compliance training, knowledge management business process management but I never regretted my years as a UX consultant. In nearly 10 years, I learned many lessons that helped me to succeed in subsequent jobs.

Here’s why I believe that a job as UX consultant in a small consulting company can be game-changer for your career:

  1. You learn to think about what people really need. When designing a online banking website, it should make transferring money hassle-free. (Even in 2016 that’s not evident given the number of financial institutions that still mandate the usage of that pesky digipass.)
  2. By working in many different sectors, you can sharpen your analytical skills. For many projects, I was lucky if I got a 2-hour briefing and often the first sketches were created on my 2nd day of a project. So being able to analyze lots of information in a short amount of time was essential.
  3. Besides analytic skills, you develop strategic skills too. In order to meet your end-user’s expectations of technology, you need to understand the company’s strategy and how that technology is fulfilling the company’s mission (“why are they here?”). You can design a great app but still miss the ball if you did not understand the business model and value drivers.
  4. Next to the front-end for an end-user, you learn that the back-end of technology is equally important. Ordering shoes online may be a great user experience but if the retailer’s internal system is a mess, you may end up with Mephisto’s instead of Jimmy Choo’s and who wants that?
  5. Since technology never stops developing, it’s guaranteed that you will never be bored. Technology keeps evolving and you need to keep up with every next big thing. Today you may be designing smartphone apps; tomorrow you may be developing wearables. So, imagine how the world could look like in the next 15 years. The importance of technology will certainly not decline.
  6. By working in a small consultancy company you develop a customer mindset. As a consultant you are drilled to serve your customer’s wishes. Once you pick-up that customer attitude you never loose it. In a my current job at Johnson & Johnson, I never deal with real customers, but there are 1000s of internal customers that use the platforms my department creates and maintains. To give those people the service they need a customer mindset is key.
  7. If your consulting company is doing well, you have the opportunity to work on dozens of projects for multiple companies. There’s often no faster way to learn a a lot in a short amount of time. Like in my case, I learned to design user interfaces for a variety of technologies and develop all sorts of user aids like manuals, e-learning etc.
  8. As a consultant, you will see many different company cultures. Keep your eyes open because you may find your dream job there (I actually did :) At the flipside, I also realized that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
  9. Even without having access to all financial figures, you will learn that a small consultancy company can only spend as much as it earns. If you want to understand how business works, that’s so much easier to grasp in a small company than in a large enterprise. In a small consultancy company, you easily see where the money comes from and where it goes, whereas in a large corporation there is often a far distance between your day job and the profit of the company.
  10. Last but not least, you will work with people, not just with technology. Enough said :)