Friday, January 15, 2010

Enabling Experiences

Something great happened during my free UX Office Hours at StartPad yesterday.

Usually, I help people, then they go off and I never get to see what's happened. Occasionally, I see a product launch (like PicTranslator). The same is largely true in my consulting practice, though there have been a few notable exceptions with really big companies.

This isn't by accident. As you might expect with a UX consultant, it's by design.

I've noticed that many consultants see it as their job to make their job take longer. And many companies see consultants in that role -- they hire consultants to fill chairs. Instead, my number one goal as a consultant is to enable my client -- enable my client and then leave. We've all heard the old saw, with apologies to vegetarians, "Give someone a fish and they eat for a day; teach them to fish and they can eat for a lifetime." I want to enable my clients to build their product without me, rather than convince them that they can only build their product with me. It's probably not the business-savvy way to build a thriving consulting practice, but I sure feel better about it and I have happy clients.

Enabling is even more important when you only have an hour, which is what you can get for free in my monthly office hours. I can draw you a pretty picture or design some piece of your system, but then what?

Back to the great thing that happened yesterday.

A few months ago, somebody came in and asked me to critique the design he'd been working on. I told him to throw it out. Sounds harsh, I know, but it was completely wrong for what he wanted to do, the customers he wanted to serve, and how he hoped to enable them. I'll could go on. We spent most of the time talking about UX strategies that would work for his customers. I even drew some pictures on the whiteboard showing some examples.

Yesterday, he came back and showed me his new design. It bore almost no relationship to what he'd brought in earlier -- it was light years better. Honestly, it didn't look like the stuff I'd drawn on the whiteboard either. He learned something and then applied it, and he applied it in the way he thought made the most sense for his customers. I told him that he could ship with his design as-is and be ok. Yes, we could make it better (and we spent the hour discussing how to do that), and, yes, if he spent oodles of time on it (which I recommended against), he could make it way better, but the difference between the first and second versions was great to see, and it looks like he's on a good path.

It was one of those rare instances where I got to see what happened, and it felt pretty good.

Tomorrow, I'll write about another lesson from the same session: When is Bad Good?