What does the state of UX look like in 2021?

A summary of our recent UX 360 industry report, looking at the challenges and opportunities of UX in 2021.

It’ll come as no surprise to hear that nobody came out of 2020 with the same digital strategy they started with. The pandemic arrived, and the existing fast pace of digital transformation accelerated to an unprecedented speed.

Microsoft’s CEO recently said that “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” It’s also been reported that pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years.

A quarter of consumers will increase long-term use of digital channels due to the pandemic. A similar number say they’ll switch to brands that offer strong online experiences.

And for many of us, there will be no return back to normal; just 15% will return to offline channels after the pandemic.

All of this points towards our belief that every company is now a digital experience company

In our recent UX 360 industry report, we found that all business outcomes, regardless of industry and business model, are impacted by UX. Those who prioritize digital experiences report significant positive impacts on conversions, loyalty scores, retention, and cost reductions. However, there are still organizational challenges that need to be overcome.

Below is a summary of our report. It’ll prove why UX in 2021 looks extremely different from anything we’ve seen before—and why your business needs to take action now.  

UX is a team sport without a captain

Large organizations are twice as likely to have user experience ownership than smaller organizations (22% vs 11%), yet across the board, our survey shows that either everyone owns user experience, or a smattering of teams do. There is no clear-cut accountability for delivering an optimal user experience, nor evidence of top-down leadership.

Fewer than 1-in-5 respondents say that a senior UX or design leader (such as a Chief Design Officer) reports to the C-suite. They’re almost as likely to say that each business unit is responsible for UX, rather than a single 'head of' department figure.

No matter the company size, there is no clear owner of UX

Because of this executive absence, smaller companies are less likely to have dedicated user experience teams owning their activity than larger companies.

But how can you create a leading experience, if nobody is actually leading the effort within your organization? And how can you prove the value of UX, if there's nobody to report your metrics to?

Leadership teams value UX, but don't have meaningful metrics

Despite no department head reporting to leadership, having executive buy-in is essential. It secures bigger budgets to deliver better digital experiences—something more than half of professionals say is their biggest obstacle to doing UX research.

An executive team that values UX goes a long way in making digital experience professionals more comfortable in their jobs, too. Considering 22.2 million jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise why two thirds of digital experience pros wish they could prove its value. 

The problem is: while 80% of respondents believe a great user experience rewards the company, leadership teams need concrete evidence. 

There’s a mismatch between knowing the value of UX and actually proving it

The majority of companies are using indirect business-wide KPIs that can’t always be attributed to UX activities. A small number are using composite UX scores—like our own QXscore—to track UX performance and prove its value to leadership. 

This ties in with the fact almost 4-in-5 organizations want to measure the result of their UX strategy, only about 51% do. The focus is on the wrong metrics; those that can be impacted from other strategies or departments. 

Companies find it hard to isolate UX activity and report on metrics directly impacted by it. As a result, they tend to rely on indirect measures or outcomes—if they try to measure at all. 

“[We’re] not sure what metrics to use or how to convey to the business the impact the UX work is making. We measure what users think of our products qualitatively. We just don’t always have a good way to track or communicate to the business how this impacts key things like profit or retention.” 

—  Individual Contributor on a User Experience team at a Medium Organization

Embedding UX across all development stages is a competitive advantage

Two-thirds of professionals said that UX research is central to the ultimate success of digital products, services, and experiences.

Why? Because at every stage of development, companies that take a methodical approach reap the benefits. They say UX has a greater impact on business goals by wide margins.

UX research across product development

There is overwhelming agreement that UX research is vital to the ultimate success of digital products and services at every stage of development.

Unfortunately, those results are overshadowed by the fact that digital experience teams aren’t well-equipped to handle the involvement of UX. Little over half of our respondents said they have the technology needed to make design, development, and UX decisions.

All of this means that if you have the technology and knowledge to embed UX across all development stages, you have a competitive advantage—something that’s hard to come across in an era where must-try tactics and are likely already being used by your competitors.  

UX is more important than ever

An overwhelming majority of digital experience professionals say there has been increased demand for UX. 

It’s no surprise why: businesses who integrate UX into their processes, and have their entire workforce contribute to user experience, report much better performance on key business metrics.

Digital has become imperative to whether a company succeeds or fails. And with even more being done online in 2020, a great user experience is more critical than ever. That’s what will separate great digital experience companies from their competitors. 

Remember: in 2021 and beyond, every company is a digital experience company. You need to know what modern UX looks like—and more importantly, how you can figure out a strategy that positions you as the go-to digital hub for a specific thing. That’s the secret to a noticeable uplift in your business’ most important KPIs.

Start demonstrating your digital success in 2021

In our inaugural UX 360 report, you'll discover who is accountable for UX, what value it brings to businesses, how that value is measured, and what are organizations doing to ensure UX delivers on its goals.