What Does a UX Consultant Do?

Learn more about the roles, responsibilities, and salary of a UX consultant.

ux consultant

While many UX and Human Factors (HF) professionals work on single lines of products at their day job, a lot also operate as consultants. In consulting roles, they support multiple clients and product teams. These situations include agencies & consultancies, entrepreneurialism, and in-house center of excellence models where mid-sized and larger organizations define UX and HF expertise as a central resource that consults to other parts of the company.

Interestingly, and contrary to popular opinion, consulting roles are not necessarily defined by how they are compensated, as one can be paid as a W2 employee, contractor, vendor, supplier, or even partner if that’s how the business arrangement is set up.

Payment can be provided on any kind of basis ranging from the common hourly, flat rate, and retainer models to salary, stock, and/or distributions. So the myriad of employee vs. contractor designations is beyond this article’s scope.

Instead, we’ll cover what a UX consultant is by function, top advantages, and challenges, while collectively referring to UX and HF talent as “UX” for brevity.

Looking for information on how to become a UX designer? Visit our comprehensive career guide series here.

What does a UX consultant do?

To be clear, a UX consultant supports multiple product lines and clients in organizational designs such as:

  • Agencies & consultancies. UX, design, marketing, advertising, engineering, and other professional services.
  • Entrepreneurialism. Running their own business.
  • In-house center of excellence models. Mid-sized and larger organizations define UX expertise (UXHF) as a central resource that consults with other parts of the company.

Furthermore, here are three of the most common consulting arrangements in those settings:

  • W-2 contracting (most common, more risk, higher income)
  • Independent contracting or corp-to-corp (fairly common, highest risk, potentially highest income)
  • W-2 salaried (least common, lowest risk, regular income)

If this is confusing, don’t worry, as you’ll come to learn about these arrangements as you apply to jobs and pursue your career in UX.

Each person’s current stage in life, willingness to move, preferences for living and commuting, remote work, and goals are unique and determine which arrangement best suits them. Note that those who seek the advice of more experienced business professionals tend to make better decisions about this sort of thing. 

What are the advantages of being a UX consultant?

  • A higher income. Consulting in any field is usually associated with high wages. This stereotype holds true in UX as it’s easier to make more money if you can keep the work flowing. 
  • More flexibility. If you’re classified as a contractor, or non-salaried, you get more freedom with how, when, and where you do your work, and this is protected by law. 
  • Less monotony. Working with several teams, across different product lines, yields variety you’d be hard-pressed to find in other situations. 
  • More networking. Again, compared to working on one product line, you get to interact with a much wider variety of people, making connections with more teams, each of which has individuals with who you may cross paths in the future.
  • Greater experience in less time. By applying your craft as a consultant, you get to see how lots of teams approach and conduct UX. You also get to apply and modify your approaches accordingly, bringing a deeper level of understanding than you would otherwise find. 

What are the challenges of being a UX consultant?

First, the amount of tech skills that consultants need to know is greater than other UX roles. Why? Consultants deal with multiple clients and product lines at a time, as that’s what makes them consultants, so they are accountable to a wider variety of people. This brings all sorts of challenges, from learning to deal with 5x, 20x, or 100x more personalities at work, to managing several workflows simultaneously.

A second challenge in consulting is the universal tradeoffs among these three asks:

Although these tradeoffs are meant to be tongue in cheek, they represent realities that are basically impossible to avoid! The primary reasons for this lie in speed vs. accuracy tradeoffs and the fixed amount of time we all share no matter how clever you are.

A third challenge is risk. Unless you’re working salaried at a large company’s center of excellence, consulting jobs tend to be riskier than non-consulting jobs. This is because you’d often be assigned to projects and clients on W-2 hourly or independent contracting basis, which are non-permanent positions. 

Should you become a UX consultant?

Consulting isn’t for everyone. Higher risks and higher rewards are attractive to some people at certain times in their life, but few end up consulting for their entire careers. Instead, most spend at least parts of their careers on dedicated product teams in more stable work environments, such as larger companies whose products already have significant market share.

We hope you keep this in mind as you progress through your career and feel like branching out from the comfort of traditional salaried roles in pursuit of higher rewards.

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This post was written by Rylan Clark, the COO of The UXology Group, a leading UX Research firm. Rylan is also a Springboard mentor and UX subject matter expert.

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