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I am working in a startup and plan to hire a freelance user experience consultant.

Since we don't have a background in working with user experience, we feel we need an expert for this since we are not very sure about the process methodology or the work flow or user experience process.

We aim to improve our current UX. We are just planning to let him test our whole web site or app, provide some comments regarding the research or statistics and potentially provide some inputs about tools such as eye tracking software and how they could be used.

Would a user experience consultant handle something like this ?

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A UX consultant (regardless of gender) would handle something like this but you would need to make it clear to all parties involved whether you intend this to be an ongoing process (relationship) or a one-off audit of existing functionality with a summary of suggested actions. The latter is simply one service which a UX consultant can provide, while to make better use of their services, and to make this part of a process, then you should get a UX consultant on board as early as possible, even if it's only on a part time advisory role, as they'll be able to help guide you along the way. –  Roger Attrill Aug 7 '12 at 9:29
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A problem with hiring an outside person to do UX research is suddenly they might know more about your users than you (as a company) do. It's extremely important to pick their brain as much as possible and record all findings. –  Ben Brocka Aug 7 '12 at 11:52
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

One thing it's important to do before you start is to define your goals.

You need to ask yourself why you are hiring a consultant, what you want out of the process, and how you are prepared to respond to the consultant's work or recommendations. Do you want them to critique your website? Do you want them to run user tests and report on the findings? You can of course hire them and tell them to get on with whatever it is that they do, but then you may end up in a situation where your expectations clash with the outcome.

You may want to sit down with the consultant and have a chat about what processes they expect to use and what work they are used to doing. If you can communicate your needs to them, they should be able to advise you on whether they can help. You could even have them draft up a statement of work if that suits your purposes (this may be too formal if you're a startup, but it protects both you and them).

The stuff you've described is definitely within the realms of UX, but it's worth thinking about and defining what you want from your UX person in concrete terms before you hire them.

Edit: Coincidentally, as I was reading back over old articles, there's a really interesting article on A List Apart dealing with this topic: Agreements = Expectations by Greg Hoy. In it, he talks about why setting expectations for work is important, and discusses some methods for doing so. Not all of them are ideal for a startup looking to contract a freelancer, but it's an interesting look into the process.

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Now, I am biased, but I think that decent UX can make or break a project. I've seen far too many projects fail because the UX has been 'done' by the developers as they go with no planning, knowledge or consistency.

A system, whether is be thick client, web based, a website, a till, whatever, is ALL about the UX. The system has a job to do and UX is the thing that makes it good at doing it's job. Development may make the functionality happen, UI may make it look pretty, but nobody cares how efficient the data processing is or what shade of blue you're using if they can't find the button to make it all happen!

To answer your question, if budget allows you to, yes - you SHOULD hire a UX consultant. If budget doesn't allow, like Aadaam I encourage you to read up on UX planning and process to make sure you do the best job possible.

All the best for your project.

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I'd read a book about UX/ID processes just to know what to expect.

Also, you have to keep in mind: there are two ways of UX: model based and research based.

If you hire a UX designer, but don't give him enough money and/or development resources to do user research, the only thing he could do is to say nice things to you which might or might not work.

User research can be setting up measuring technologies, which range from configuring google analytics or click heatmap tests to have two different versions of your site served for a small - let's say, 1 percent - of your audience to test if that version is better. This costs you development efforts to put the needed codes into your system, or to develop the alternatives.

User research can also be based on people, this goes from the cheap (but not free) solution of asking them online what do they think of the site, to actually bringing carefully selected people from the street into a laboratory, which has devices to watch what do they look at and how frustrated are they.

If you give money only enough for him to eat, he can bring you general ideas, perhaps some wireframes, some change recommendations.

These recommendations might or might not have some scientific merit, and they might or might not have any good effects on your product. There are good and worse UX consultants, I've seen too many of them living off by looking confident enough and tell the customer to copycat facebook/twitter/iOS, whatever was their current fad of the day, and when asked for explanation, they told to the audience, "I'm the expert, if you hired mel trust me"

So, beware or who you hire and be wise with your funds, spend them on the things which will actually do have an impact.

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