So what is a user experience consultancy anyway?

April 20, 2017

The word we most often use to describe the formula and approach to our work at Crux Collaborative is “consultative.”  In the past, we’ve written about the differences between a consultancy and an agency, and it’s a popular topic. So, we thought it might be helpful to expand upon what we mean when we say “consultative”—and why taking this approach is so important for our clients.

When organizations have a fallout with an agency or vendor partner, it can be very painful.  Very rarely, has the agency/partner acted in a consultative way.  Almost always, these kinds of situations can be traced back to an unwillingness or inability to advise their client effectively.  Agency/partner fallouts tend to fit into one of two categories:

  1. Those jeans are too old and worn out
  2. Those jeans are too new and need to be broken in

In this article, we’ll walk through each of these unfortunate pitfalls—and share how our approach helps us to avoid them, and leads to strong 2-way client relationships.

Category 1: Those jeans are too old and worn out

Our clients understand the business problem they are trying to solve though the lens of the organization— a health insurer, for example, may want to reduce healthcare and operating costs (i.e., the business objective). We help them see things from the perspective of their users, who may want to find an in-network provider, understand their coverage options, or save money on their prescriptions (i.e., the user objective).

There is quite a bit of overlap between these objectives — if the organization is willing to look at it through the eyes of their customers. Taking this kind of user-centered approach to design is far more likely to result in the kinds of outcomes the organization is seeking.

It’s not uncommon for an organization to resist this shift. It’s like a bad habit. Or, like a favorite pair of old jeans— ripped at the knees and the pockets have holes. We know they need to be replaced, but something deep within us clings tightly and resists letting them go.

This leaves the agency/partner with a decision: challenge the client’s perspective, or allow them to jeopardize their own success.

Anyone who has tried to convince a friend to throw out that old pair of jeans knows that taking a stand is no easy task. Fighting the entrenched, unaware forces within an organization is a really hard thing to do. It’s much easier to simply take the bad direction being provided to you by your client than it is to actively work to help them see a new way of thinking.

Being consultative in this case means:

  • Having the expertise to recognize that the approach being suggested is likely to fail users
  • Taking the time to make the case as to why the approach is likely to fail, possessing the knowledge and experiences that give your case credibility
  • Being willing to be direct and potentially make the people who hired you feel uncomfortable


Category 2: Those jeans are too new and need to be broken in

One of the most difficult things that we deal with as consultants is clients who have significant anxiety from an experience with an agency that charged them a bunch of money for something that could not be implemented.

The scenario usually goes something like this: Client hires a digital marketing agency to take on a task-driven, behind-the-login experience. The agency goes about doing what they do to create a website. After the kickoff meeting, they spend a few weeks pulling together their initial deliverables.

They share their “vision” for the project with the client and it misses the mark— key requirements are missing, they’ve failed to consider technical constraints, they’ve violated regulatory rules. It’s a tough meeting, but the agency gets the message. Humbled, they go off again with the list of feedback, determined to get it right.

Except they don’t get it right. They spend countless hours and huge sums of money trying, but never quite succeed in developing something that satisfies business, user, and technical requirements. Digital applications more so than marketing websites require a consultative approach in order to be successful. It’s like the first few hours in a pair of new skinny jeans– they are tight, restrictive, chaffing your inner thigh, and you feel like you’ve made a terrible mistake.

After being burned like that, organizations may feel afraid to put their trust in us. They can be standoffish and convinced that nobody is capable of helping them.

Sometimes being consultative means challenging a client to change their thinking, other times it means being equipped to collaborate with them to develop a solution that works within the constraints of their technology and regulatory environments.

Being consultative in this case means:

  • Talking to and understanding the needs of the user before trying to design anything for them
  • Clearly defining, communicating, and gaining alignment on business and user objectives at the outset
  • Co-creating solutions with product owners, developers, and subject matter experts; never doing anything without involvement from key stakeholders
  • Defining the technical deliverables in collaboration with the implementation team
  • Conducting user research to identify and resolve usability issues before they are implemented and launched to users
  • Providing ongoing user experience consulting during the development to ensure the integrity of the user experience through the implementation process


We’re Crux Collaborative—a small group of UX nerds in Minneapolis, MN.  We help organizations design digital interfaces that make it possible to complete complex tasks online.

We take extra care to ensure the fit, comfort, and style of your jeans because we value strong client relationships and believe in helping our clients meet their business objectives by advocating for their users.

We’ve developed a formula for developing complex experiences within the constraints of highly regulated industries and systems. If you have a complex, transactional, behind-the-login experience that would benefit from a consultative approach, we’d love to hear from you.

By Gregg Harrison
Vice President

Gregg’s passion for all things digital started two decades ago as a project manager and has expanded over the years to include a focus on user experience consulting, client management, and operations.

View Gregg's Bio


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