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Requirements to Look For in a UX Partner

High Level Advisory
It is invaluable to have a consultancy with senior staff who can guide the development of an organization’s effort. Most importantly, there must be staff who can speak to their top management. One might have been saying the same exact thing, but managers will often listen to an outside consultant. The consultancy should partner with you in developing strategy and moving the culture.

Scope of Project Work
A UX vendor should have the ability to provide the full range of technical support. This would include high level cross-channel UX strategy, innovation projects, usability testing, expert reviews, experiments, ecosystem research (sometimes vendors call this contextual inquiry), structural design, detailed design, and continuous metrics-based usability improvements. As appropriate you will need expertise in persuasion engineering and cross cultural design.

Size
A consultancy is unlikely to reliably provide more then about 10% of their staff to one account, on an as-needed basis. So if you anticipate needing 6 people on short notice, you should find a consultancy with at least 60 UX staff.

Methods
You will want to find a UX firm that can provide you with a detailed methodology, along with associated templates (because you don’t want to have to stop and write these from scratch). It is important that the firm follows their own methods regularly.

Standards
Find a firm that has a baseline standard for browser and mobile interfaces, and has the experience of customizing those for at least a few dozen different customers. The interface standards should provide screen templates. Be skeptical of long lists of “patterns.” After some time it becomes difficult to find what you want in that long list.

Training
As you build staff you will need training. It is important that the training provided by the UX firm be consistent with the methods and standards. This is true for consistent design decisions but also for the language used.

Culture of Transfer of Technology
Many UX vendors are intent on just doing the projects. They don’t focus on helping internal staff to learn UX skills or Building a UX infrastructure for their clients. Some even try to hide their practices. Get a vendor who is on your side in building internal knowledge and capabilities. Get a vendor who will work itself out of a job.

Business Management
It is important to have a vendor that is easy to do business with. Without staff specifically working on account management, legal, and accounting issues one can be stuck trying to explain business requirements to technical specialists who don’t really understand the importance of NDAs, MSAs, reporting and other business requirements.

PET Design’ is the HFI term for Persuasion Engineering. It’s important, because some UX vendors are stuck in the 1990s. They just makes sure that the user CAN DO the task. But today we must ensure that the client is motivated to do that task. That is why we have focused on Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust.

To do this we must first do in depth research which shows us the emotional schema underlying a given decision.
For example a pregnant couple buying life insurance…

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We can then apply PET Tools, based on this analysis. Note that emotional design is NOT about having a “great feel for the customer.” There are research-based principles and methods that need to be applied. The following job aid is from the HFI basic course in PET Design.

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