Directive Versus Collaborative UX Consulting

by Baruch Sachs  •  September 9, 2013

“Our engagements to consistently require thought leadership around best practices for using our products. This is sometimes a new experience for our clients, who just expect us to enable them to do what they want to do rather than learning how they can do something better.”

My UX team consists of highly skilled, outgoing UX professionals who live and work all over the world and engage with a diverse set of customers—both rewarding and challenging. Generally, our consulting style is a blend of directive and collaborative consulting. By this, I mean that we provide thought leadership on how to create successful user experiences for our software products, but we do this with a customer rather than to a customer. This is a common and effective approach, blending leadership with a desire to be inclusive and get everyone on board with our ideas and see them come to fruition.

Recently, after an engagement of several months, one customer told me that one of my consultants was almost too adaptable to their needs. This struck me as a bit odd because adaptability is what we are all about in the consulting world. We lead people without commanding them. We adapt to and work within a customer’s culture, while still exposing them to new ideas and methods that will make their project a success. Since my team and I work for a software vendor and are the subject-matter experts for all things relating to the user experience of our products, I expect our engagements to consistently require thought leadership around best practices for using our products. This is sometimes a new experience for our clients, who just expect us to enable them to do what they want to do rather than learning how they can do something better.

Hearing that we need to be more forceful in applying our methodology, UX best practices, and UI design approach is not something that I’ve become accustomed to over the past few years. However, I do see a slight shift that has led me to think more deeply about directive versus collaborative consulting styles and how they relate to user experience.

Most UX engagements—and indeed, most general consulting engagements—employ a mix of both directive and collaborative styles. Very rarely, in my experience in user experience, is an engagement entirely one or the other. Given the fact that UX consulting is as much about leadership as it is about design, it is becoming more and more critical that we understand how our leadership style affects our consulting abilities. [Article]

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