Four top challenges UX teams face in 2020 and how to solve them

What are the top challenges that UX professionals face in 2020 and what can we overcome them?

Over the last couple of years we’ve surveyed hundreds of people from some of the biggest companies in the world to discover the current UX landscape in enterprise organizations. The results, as featured in our 2019 State of UX in the Enterprise survey, are a revealing array of common challenges and trends.

These include:

  • ‘Integrating user research into product development’ is the number one challenge faced by 64% of our respondents, last year it was ‘securing resources and budget’
  • Centralized UX teams are decreasing as more UXers are embedded throughout the product line
  • 29% of enterprises have a VP of Design of Chief Experience Officer in 2019, up from 21% in 2018
  • 70% of CEOs now see UX and CX as a competitive differentiator, however budgets are remaining stagnant

During a recent webinar covering the survey, Kuldeep Kelkar offered his take on this data, and advised on how experience professionals can not only overcome the top challenges reported by their peers but also how to stay ahead of the emerging enterprise UX trends.

The following article highlights the four key areas to keep in mind for 2020, and features Kuldeep’s insight on how to solve them as well as advice drawn from our in-house team of experts and their experience.

Check out our free guide to running longitudinal and competitive benchmarking

What are the challenges faced by UX teams in 2019?

According to our survey, back in 2018, ‘securing resources and budget’ was the top challenge facing UX teams (60%), followed by ‘integrating UX research into design and development’ (57%), ‘getting stakeholder buy-in for user research’ (48%) and ‘sourcing the right participants’ (45%).

However there’s been a shift in the last 12 months, as ‘including research within the product development process’ is now the #1 challenge (up from #2 in 2018), followed by ‘sourcing participants’ (50%), ‘securing budget’ (49%) and ‘getting executive buy-in’ (49%).

Let’s break these challenges down one-by-one and see how they can be solved.

1) Inclusion within the product development process

Since last year, securing budgets and resources have become less of an issue (which is conceivably in-line with the significant rise in CEOs understanding the competitive value of UX from 52% to 70% in the last 12 months), but now the major concern is in the actual nitty-gritty of running research within an organization’s product development cycle.

Involving research as early as possible is integral to the success of a product, it allows user insight to guide the process before any heavy investment is made into the development of certain products or features. This should avoid any costly mistakes and ultimately save the company money, time and resources right from the discovery phase.

But how can you get research into this early stage? Our guide to democratizing UX has a few steps that may help, including sharing early research planning and communicating with colleagues what you’re planning to explore right from the start.

As Michael Mancuso, Director of UX, Digital Education at Wiley states in our guide to including user research in early product development:

“While there are likely many ways to get a product team invested in UX research early, the best way I know is to invite them to initial research and the prototype testing session based on that initial research, so they can experience the entire arc of problem to solution.”

Many UX teams aren’t facing this challenge in a silo, as there’s a good chance that if you’re experiencing one issue (integrating research into design and development) you’re also experiencing the others (sourcing the right participants, securing resources or budgets, getting executive buy-in).

Because researchers do not always know how to find the right participants to conduct research, this leads to roadblocks when integrating research into development. Which then feeds into executives not realising the value of UX, which then leads to challenges around securing resources or budget. And then you’re back to the start of your problems.

We see this day in and day out, across customers in Europe and in North America, where designers are under pressure to deliver designs in rapid Agile Sprint cycles. They’re often in catch-up mode because engineers are waiting for deliverables, and inevitably it’s user research that’s compromised or sacrificed. This is the worst thing that can happen, when you start delivering designs without necessarily knowing whether it’s the right thing you should be building for your customers.

If you are working in Agile, you should figure out how to do research, even if it’s just at a small scale. Find a way to get rapid, interactive feedback from your customers. If budgets are limited, you can still find small-scale ways to integrate user research. Even if it’s just a single round of unmoderated studies with only five participants, every insight counts and will ultimately help you deliver value.

Whether working in Agile or not, you could also run a research road mapping workshop, which brings all the stakeholders together and you try to understand all their business problems and you create a roadmap to solve them. This will help you figure out how best to integrate research into the development process.

If you plan your research activities in advance, it will be easier to figure out how to include research within the product development lifecycle.

2) Sourcing the right participants

Recruiting participants is always one of the most persistent pain points in conducting user research and usability testing. In this year’s survey, it’s the number two toughest challenge, faced by 43% of our respondents.

Why is sourcing participants such a challenge? Well you could probably find as many users as you like by spreading the net as wide as possible and offering generous incentives, but you won’t necessarily find the ‘right’ participants. These are the people who will offer you valuable, actionable and objective insight. These might be your existing customers, or if your product is new, people who might hopefully use your product.

Complexities occur however when your product or service is niche and therefore the general population just can’t offer enough of your target users.

You may also find problems if you’re a team of one, or if you’re working within Agile sprints, and you simply don’t have the bandwidth to source the right people.

The simplest route to solving this challenge is to use a platform that can source participants for you. For instance, we have more than 120 million participants spread across the globe to pick and choose from, so this can significantly scale your remote research projects.

But even with a giant pool of people to pick from, you will still need to focus on clarifying your target demographic; the so-called ‘right’ participants.

Well a good place to start is with creating an effective screener (or screener question). This is an opportunity for you to have a bit more control over who carries out your test before they begin. This will also help you filter out anybody who wouldn’t necessarily be right for it, ensuring you’re gaining insights from only the most valuable and relevant participants.

And if all this is far out of your budget, you could always try a little guerrilla testing. And this doesn’t have to mean haranguing people in Starbucks and hoping a random stranger will give you decent insight.

As Nicole Armbruster, Senior UX Researcher, suggests in our guide to finding niche participants, “Once I needed cardiologists (who do not have time and don‘t need the money) so I attended an open house day at a heart clinic and spoke to doctors and patients on campus, and this won them over to participate in my study.”

3) Securing resources or budget

The demand for UX research is outgrowing the capacity of every organization and its team of researchers. Even if your company has dedicated researchers, it’s highly likely that they don’t have enough capacity to deliver on every single question that a designer, product manager, or marketing manager has.

Of course the demand is increasing because everyone wants to do more research, not just for the sake of research, but to be customer-centric and get the best possible design out the door. Even if it’s an MVP (minimum viable product), you still want a great experience. But budgets are not matching this growth.

Most of our respondents reported that budgets have remained the same (32%), while only 13% are seeing a slight increase. However, 65% of our respondents say there has been an increase in demand for UX research. If budgets are staying static or only slightly increasing, but the demand is growing dramatically, then how can effective UX research even hope to scalable? Executives in general are expecting a lot from user research but with little additional resources.

These days, thanks to cloud-based user research platforms, you can run unmoderated research on a weekly basis at a much higher pace for less money than 5-10 years ago, so budgets can more easily stretch to meet demand.

Running basic usability testing via a cloud-based platform is the fastest way to get quick rapid insights from users. There are also templates, the ability to save screener questions, analyzing and reporting can all be automated – there are many ways you can be efficient even with the tightest resources.

Another major theme that’s been developing across the industry for the last couple of years, is one around the democratization of UX. Spreading insight, education, training and the ability to run UX research throughout an organization.

Because there aren’t enough researchers out in the field, or designers and product managers don’t have access to a full time researcher to run tactical research, we’re seeing a trend where designers and product managers are running instant research themselves. This gives researchers more time to do more upfront strategic or discovery work, to tackle research studies that are larger in scope, and take a little bit more time on tactical design validation rather than spending 100% of their time in the lab running usability tests.

4) Executive buy-in for user research

In a startling increase from 52% last year, 70% of CEOs now talking about customer experience, user experience and the experience economy as a key differentiator in their respective markets.

What software and hardware can do, in terms of features and functions, is becoming a cluttered marketplace and it’s becoming harder and harder for enterprises to compete on just the product they sell, therefore CEOs are now looking at the experience economy to set their products apart. The end-to-end experience is now what matters the most, and consumers have never had more choice.

Every executive that we have worked with has always been customer-focused and value-focused, and it’s not a surprise that they are looking at user experience and customer experience as a competitive differentiator.

But what if you’re in the 30%? What if you still need to persuade your executives about the value of UX and research?

Rima Campbell, our Senior Director, Research Partner has some great advice on engaging stakeholders:

Step 1: Identify the stakeholders in mid- and high-level C-suite positions who are critical for you to connect with.

Step 2: Divide them into two categories; primary and secondary. Primary stakeholders have authority to increase budgets, grant promotions, etc. In the secondary category, list stakeholders who manage products with the highest impact on the company ROI. The trick is to ensure that you can help the stakeholders in the secondary category achieve their business goals through UX research.

You then have to communicate your UX insights to your executives in the most effective way possible.

Unless the C-suite know what research is happening and what insights are being collected, they’re not going to know where their investments are going. They won’t be able to see the benefits of research unless we as a community are good at packaging up those insights for the right audience.

There isn’t a ‘right answer’ to how frequently you should report this insight, but monthly or quarterly is probably fine. The key is to package up your findings so you’re only revealing the most useful and informative nuggets of information, rather than presenting endless sheets of data and analytics.

A good format would be to package all the research that happened within the last 90 days and create a two page storyline to illustrate what the key insights were. How many participants did you get feedback from over those 90 days? How many methods were used? What did you learn?

Hopefully you’ll start to see an environment where the executive is ready to fund more UX initiatives, because they’re seeing the benefits of the current investment they’re making in your research.

When we run KPI and UX metrics workshops with our customers, we always try to understand who the executive is, what are the key KPIs that they are measured on, and then how do the UX metrics connect to those higher order metrics.

We would then encourage you to run some UX Benchmarking, as this is a tangible way to measure user experience over time and against competitors, that can be tied to business KPIs and ultimately prove the value of user research.

And where there is value, there are budgets.

Deliver exceptional digital experiences with UserZoom