Consultant Thursdays: The Pros and Cons of Being an Outie

Some of us work for in-house UX groups and others work for agencies. Having  been both an “innie” and an “outie,” I can vouch for the fact that I learned a lot more during my experience working for an agency. Here are the pros and cons.

The pros

The variety of projects makes the work interesting and keeps you on your toes. You never work on one project at one time. You juggle multiple. You learn the nuances of many different kinds of technology and use models.

  • You sharpen your ability to think strategically in your design approach as well as selling your ideas. Since you are presenting your work to new stakeholders on a regular basis, you must justify design decisions with usability goals, business objectives, and/or metric indicators. Everything you put out there has to be polished and your best work. It’s like being a new employee every couple week and you have to prove yourself to a new set of bosses.
  • You learn to work and adapt with many different organizations and teams. Every organization has a different working style and organizational structure. That affects communication and approvals. This requires that you are quick on your feet, since you’ll be constantly drilled by clients. Even when they love what you do, they still drill you.
  • You become a walking encyclopedia of the best on the web. Because of the variety of projects  you are exposed to, regular research and analysis are part of the  job, even when you are not on the job.
  • Shorter time lines  means quicker decisions and  launches. After working at an agency, I get impatient at how slow decisions are made and how long it takes in-house groups to develop.

The cons

  • Lots of pressure to always deliver the best work. When large companies pay tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, they expect you to bring your A game and think outside the box every time, so the pressure is intense.
  • A shorter time line and finite budget creates pressure to be extremely efficient. Agencies make their money by being billable, therefore most of your time should be billable. There’s little down time to try out different ideas. Also, when companies hire an agency, they need it done yesterday, so you’re expected to be super creative at breakneck speed.
  • Pay is not as good as working for a large corporation with an in-house group. I no longer work for an agency, because now I can charge more working for myself. However, I think the experience is valuable. I’m so glad that I did it. Best learning experience I ever had.

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