Posted by: bbannan | April 13, 2011

Outsourcing and Consultants – Andrew D.

As we explore and gain a better understanding of the user experience, many of our groups have probably stumbled at times. My group (Geometry) has hit a few roadblocks and speed bumps along the way. None of our group members has complete any formal user experience research in the past. Luckily I have a co-worker who is a User Interface designer with several years of corporate UI experience (including several years at AOL) who has assisted as a UI SME during this stage of the process. We also all have academic resources at our finger tips to assist. But what if these resources are not enough? What if we are drowning a sea of user experience trepidation?

Outsourcing work and using consultants can be beneficial in many situations. Whether an organization lacks the proper professionals, is looking for outside-the-box ideas, worries of impartiality, or lacks the proper technology, there are many voids outsourced work can help fill.

Outside of the traditional reasons to outsource work (e.g. no internal know-how), my research led me to several unique ideas. Accessibility of an application could be a large challenge to many of the mobile AR apps we are producing. While most of us have a basic understanding of technology related accessibility issues, the divers and broad accessibility standards and laws are complex and confusing. If we were to sell our application to a government agency, would be meeting appropriate compliance (such as 508)? Outsourcing user experience research in the accessibility arena is not one I had previous thought about.

My user experience research also led me to unique technologies used in the user experience field. Eye tracking is a highly specialized technology that uses cameras to track eye movement on an application. This Youtube video produced by the User Experience consulting company Etre shows how the process works: .  Most small to medium companies (even ones with in-house user experience experts) do not have this type of technology, but could definitely benefit from better understanding reactions to their user interface.

Additionally, organizations might have internal politics at play. I have worked with developers who take  criticism (even very positive criticism) very personally.  Etre does an excellent job of describing the work they do in this sound-bite “internal politics often crush objectivity.” Using a consultant would help to deliver “unbiased” results free from office politics.

While outsourcing user experience work can help solve many problems, managing the work to be outsourced is extremely important. As Kuniavsky explains on page 448, consultants cannot perform miracles. Rather, timing is extremely important. Outsourcing a product before it is complete (riddled with bugs or not yet complete) could yield useless results. Try to send out a product at the last minute and will find it hard to solidify a proper understanding of the product with the consultant.     

Also we must be sure we know what we want. A consultant can help us better hone in on our needs, but  as Kuniavisky said “calling a user test a focus group is more than just a faux pa.” Confusion can reign and inadequate results can be delivered when we do not know what we want or need. 

I’m wondering what ideas other groups have regarding outsourcing their UE work. Do you think your UE findings would differ? What resources would you take advantage of that you do not have available in-house? What would some of the downfalls to outsourcing the UE work?

References and Resources:

Kuniavsky, M. (2003).  Observing The User Experience.  San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.



  1. One of the most challenging aspects of our group’s usability test is actually gathering a representative sample of our audience to participate. If I were looking to outsource our UI efforts it would probably be during the testing phase. In our case, where our audience is more of a demographic and not necessarily a specific group of people, I see the value in outsourcing to a service that can not only conduct a usability test but also provide the participants – like Etre.

  2. I definitely think that if we were to outsource our ideas for usability design and testing it would differ. First of all I highly doubt that there would be a company that would take on and idea that is not designed into an actionable prototype with as much functionality as possible. So the first thing would be that for many of our designs we would have to outsource to prototype in order to outsource to test things. This is why doing things in- house is sometimes better because you are not switching paradigms between companies. Between the main company and an outsourcer it is possible to have different design methodologies and evaluations done then the originator intended. As we have seen in the Kuniavsky and other articles usability and design research comes in many forms and sizes. In short outsourcing is ok but you have to realize that the results, expectations and evaluation methods of the outsourcing team may differ from your own way of doing things.

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