A day in the life of a UX consultant

Feb 4, 2016 · 6 min read

People are usually curious or confused by my job title and ask, “What does a UX consultant actually do?” And when I explain, they sometimes press further: “But couldn’t anybody do that? Watching people and talking to them? What particular skill are your clients paying for?” So I thought it might be interesting to open the door and let the reader step into my life on a typical working day.

That’s where I met my first obstacle: every day is different because our diverse clients’ needs vary widely. Priorities can shift quickly and the problems to be solved can require anything from common sense to painstaking research, from logical processes to lateral thinking, from thoughtful analysis to creative flair. So the requisite skill set is wide, and successful people in this line of work usually have a rich career background. In my case it’s the unlikely combination of a degree in design, experience as a researcher in federal parliament, hands-on practical training as a shoemaker and work at a successful online start up, more than my post grad studies in IT, that help me meet the challenges I face daily. All that, plus input from my colleagues: at PI we each have a distinct mix of talents and regularly work collaboratively and flexibly in order to come up with the best solutions to the problems facing our clients.

To give an insight into how this operates in practice, here’s a snapshot of one of my workdays this month:

10.30am — I arrive at the office. Last night I worked until 7pm doing interviews, and I’m doing the same tonight, so came in a little late. (I generally start at nine and finish by six, but flexibility is a key word in this job, and — depending on the project, or I’m travelling for research, or testing — my hours can vary slightly.) Today I spend the first 30 minutes working on an external project with another UX designer, as we have a big deadline coming up this weekend.

11am — I’ve been invited to a meeting to prepare for a Design Thinking event I’m helping run for Vivid Ideas in Sydney. All the advertising assets need to be done so I think about publicity, and how we can create some good photos for this. I’m running a pilot of the session in a couple of weeks, so I contact a photographer I know to ask if she can come and shoot it for me. I make a note that I’ll also need consent forms for the parents so we can use the photos.

11.30 — Today is another day of interviews. I’m currently doing some user research for a women’s motorcycle label. It’s really interesting work, and after the interviews yesterday I feel completely in the zone. The session goes well because I’m now thoroughly familiar with the discussion guide and topic so I can hone in on the important parts — validating insights that had started to form from the sessions yesterday, and uncovering new ideas that we hadn’t quite reached yet. I love this aspect of the job — how only that a few days ago I knew nothing about motorbikes, and now I could hold my own in a pretty detailed conversation. Learning about so many different industries and fields all the time is definitely one of my favourite aspects of the job.

12.30 — Our 1pm participant just cancelled. It’s a bit annoying, but not unexpected: I’ve learned to always anticipate a no-show for each project, and I use the time to work on the second project I’m running for a company related to finance. It’s (obviously) a very different topic from motorbike clothing, and a much more complicated brief and problem. I end up talking it through with a colleague and sketching a diagram to work out how some of the systems work together. It takes a concentrated effort but we crack it. I have another contextual inquiry on Thursday and need to organize how we’ll get to the client office — it’s over an hour away. It’s the last observation and the demanding task of analysing our findings will have to start immediately afterwards. I have already prepared a skeleton plan of a lot of the sections we will need to report on and how we can convey some of the information for the presentation, but there is a lot of work to be done — the insights are still foggy and scattered, asterisked throughout my notes and scrawled up margins, or tucked away in the crannies of my brain.

2.45pm — Another interview for the motorcycle label, this time with a newer rider — and new insights. Our fantastic Junior UX consultant facilitates this session and does a great job. I take notes and occasionally find it hard to keep my mouth shut, but it’s always better if the participant has one person to focus on when answering questions.

3.30pm — I get our Junior UX consultant to help me start analyzing the motorbike interview results. We go post-it crazy, starting by picking up all the ones that fell off the wall overnight — cheap post-its stuck directly to a wall are, in the words of James Joyce, as predictable as a baby’s nappy.

4pm — I walk through the city to go to see a potential new office site with Katja, our Director, our colleague Jaime, and Katja’s builder friend who would need to make some adjustments. It’s a lovely bright square office with beautiful old windows in the centre of the CBD. It has lots of walls for externalizing our thinking, and lots of potential for making it our own. I have several suggestions for the layout and listen with interest to the others’ ideas. I make my way back to the office, thinking about how useful it will be to be based so near our major clients’ offices, and how being close to a central train station will be handy for all the travelling I do for research.

5.15pm — Back in the office for another interview, by phone this time, which is definitely not quite as good as I’m unable to incorporate 3 co-design activities (where participants have to use their hands and eyes to rearrange things while they talk), so it’s impossible to get quite the depth of information as from the live interview. But it’s still very useful and interesting. This project makes me miss my old life of fashion design a bit, but at the same time I realize how much better my designs could have been if I’d had my UX skills back then, and I’m excited about how happy the client will be when we finished the project.

7pm — The last session of the day wraps up. A lot of recurring themes and some really great new ideas fill my head as I leave the office and catch the bus home. I’m excited about how I will visualize the information for the client, as that’s one of my favourite parts of the process, but I know there’s still lots to do to make my findings sing.

9.30pm — I write this blog post. I don’t often work out of hours but I’m very behind on the blog-writing calendar and need to step it up. I hope it’s interesting for aspiring UX-ers, and I’m excited about what kind of image I will design to accompany the post as soon as I finish this sentence.

So, a busy day for this small cog in the talented wheel that is Perceptive Ideas — a wheel with lots of different spokes that never stops turning so that our clients can be confident we will meet their timelines with imaginative, workable solutions. I love working here because we respect differences and value flexibility, and because we promote a rigorously informed approach to problem solving without losing sight of the lively sense of adventure that gives us our edge and keeps our clients happy.

Let us tackle your research or design problem with the skills of our multi-faceted team.

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