Internal User Experience Consulting

by August 1, 2004

Within a corporation, an effective balance between pattern-breakers and pattern-optimizers is necessary to continually innovate while maximizing production efficiency. The need to innovate is driven by technological advances that have drastically reduced time to market in many disciplines.

Quick-footed companies (such as start-ups) leverage new channels to market (like the Web) to get ideas out fast. Large corporations need to be able to keep up, but they still need to protect their bottom line (through increased efficiency). This often incurs a delicate balance between quantity and quality. It also requires product and process optimizers and innovators.

So what’s an interface designer to do? Recognizing that the interface design process provides lots of insights into consumer goals and behaviors, they should take the time to really understand corporate business objectives. This puts them in an excellent position for “internal consulting”: working on product and process strategies for the business units charged with increasing corporate revenue. (After all design is problem solving and the interface is essentially all about communicating with consumers.)

Though quite similar to the role of external consultants, like agencies and contractors, an internal consultant faces many challenges unique to the corporate environment. Both roles require strong engagement management skills and an ability to understand business goals and user needs, to develop a vision to meet those needs, to bind stakeholders and project teams to that vision, and ultimately to drive that vision to reality: a reality that will be measured by results.

As an external consultant, interface designers essentially have one path to buy-in and thereby project success. External consultants need to work closely with project teams and perhaps their vertical counterparts (approvers and reviewers). Internal consultants, however, often require solid horizontal support in addition to vertical buy-in. Having a “ground swell” of support before moving up the vertical chain of approval makes the process much easier. This means a lot more people need to be convinced and a lot more viewpoints need to be managed and integrated into the vision. It also provides an effective system of checks and balances that measures the effectiveness of any product or process strategy against the summation of a corporation’s business objectives.