Six UX research trends from 2021 and how they’ll impact 2022

These are the top UX research trends that will impact the way we do research and design as we move forward.

Based on our interactions with hundreds of UX teams in 2021, below are the top UX research trends  that will impact the way we do research and design as we move forward.

It's already December, 2021 and another ‘work from home’ year has gone by, fast. Even if in-person work comes back for a few days a week, distributed teams, remote collaboration, remote research is here to stay for the foreseeable future. While the pandemic changed where we work, how we work and the tools we use, the fundamentals of user experience (UX) design and research have not. Digital Transformation sped up across the board and the pace of innovation accelerated. 

What can we learn from 2021, and how will this impact our 2022? Based on our interactions with hundreds of UX teams in 2021, below are the top UX research trends  that will impact the way we do research and design as we move forward.

1. UX Designers and Researchers are in very high demand

A LinkedIn search for ‘Design’ has 1.2 million open positions in the US. More than 100,000 in the UK. And there are thousands of open positions for ‘design research’, ‘UX research’, ‘UX researcher’, ‘visual designer’ and multiple other combinations.

Meanwhile there are 18,000+ open positions for ‘VP Design’, ‘VP UX’ and other related job titles in the US alone. Most of us in the field had predicted growth of UX leadership, but NOT to this degree. It makes me happy to see such tremendous growth in design leadership, but the reality is that there is more demand than supply for UX talent.

‘UX design’ rates in the top 3, top 5 most in-demand skills across multiple reports. NNGroup predicts exponential growth decades out. 

2. With a seat at the table, ‘Go big or go home’ mindset will continue to grow

It's time for UXers to be BOLD and deliver. Several companies are hiring UX professionals at leadership positions (Directors, Senior Directors, VPs, SVP, CXO). That likely indicates an increase in UX maturity and influence on how products, web properties, web/mobile applications are designed and delivered to market. 

UX leaders will likely have influence over and be measured based on outcomes, in the same way that all executives are measured on outcomes. For higher maturity UX organizations, gone are the days of not considering design and research in the product roadmap. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but more and more organizations have design and research tightly integrated in the Product Development life cycle. Of course there is plenty of room to institutionalize UX across the organization but for those that have larger design and research teams, the challenges are to scale and grow. 

At any company with 10 or more UXers, stakeholders are consciously making a decision to invest in UX for better outcomes. These UXers within 2-3 years will become well established and well integrated in how strategy is determined, and how products are designed and launched. 

These design and research orgs will continue to be bolder and have a ‘go big or go home’ mindset. At the same time, to quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That means no excuses, hard decisions will have to be made and you must ship high quality products to market. Easy access to data becomes critical for UXers.

UX leaders understand that a robust customer feedback capability is needed to deliver great design and are investing in UX Research. That means that organizations need to establish research ops, determine operating models, scale up research and continuously improve UX research ,aturity. 

3. Need for scale is driving UX research democratization

Based on interacting with hundreds of enterprise orgs we know there are commonly 5 to 10 designers for every researcher. At some companies there might just be one product researcher for 15+ designers. 

That means a lot of designs are produced and not tested with real users OR designers find a way to get quick (and dirty) feedback from any source they can muster. At UserZoom, every week, we run ‘UX research democratization’ workshops and ‘change management’ programs. These best practices for democratizing UX insights across the organization could help. 

UX leaders realize that UX research is a craft, but for tactical design mockups and  standardized templates for screeners, usability studies, and click tests, it's better for designers to lean in and build, launch and analyze research studies of their own with guidance from researchers. Designers who don't have first hand experience running research could make some mistakes.. 

When this works, it increases the respect for ‘research as a craft’ and allows the org to scale with feedback from real users at every stage of product development across the board. It does take a few quarters to overcome challenges and scale research across design teams but the benefits outweigh the effort.

This also allows the relatively small UX research team to focus on upfront discovery research, larger UX measurement programs, increase exposure hours and make a larger impact to the organization by establishing a test and learn culture that is customer centric.

4. UXers are demanding higher confidence levels

Every UXer knows that user empathy is critical to understand the problem, in order to design and deliver solutions with amazing experiences. But when critical decisions have to be made, UX leaders also know that they need higher confidence levels, higher N sizes, feedback from different segments of customers and overall UX measurement programs have to be in place.

What sample size do I need in UX research?’ is an age-old conversation in the UX community. Leaders inherently understand that one size does not fit all. Triangulation of data and insights from multiple sources, coupled with ‘gut’ (informed by past experiences) is the reality for everyone that’s successful in the industry today. 

We absolutely see successful, UX mature organizations branching out from video only, small sample only UX research into a ‘right method, right sample size to answer the question’ mind set. 

Rich qualitative insights that generate empathy and deep understanding based on moderated live sessions or unmoderated think out loud (TOL) are here to stay. But higher maturity organizations will continue to branch out with advanced research methods, click tests, and tasks based on larger sample studies to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) like task times, error rates, satisfaction with higher sample size to drive higher confidence levels (CL) or lower margin-of-error. 

5. Demand for UX measurement programs will increase as UX maturity grows

More and more organizations are establishing UX Metrics in relationship to organization metrics using the 21st century metrics model. Concrete UX measurement frames and models like QXScore, SUS, SUPR-Q, and the Google HEART Framework are regularly used to compare  before vs. after redesign improvements as well as comparative measures across competitors. 

In fact, on the UserZoom platform alone, 90+ enterprise organizations across 10 industries have collected QXscore to establish baseline metrics, before vs after comparisons or measurements across competitors. 

I predict a rapid rise in UX Measurement programs across the industry because most (or all) executives believe ‘what cannot be measured, cannot be managed’. 

Essential guide to UX measurement

Take the invisible, and make it measureable

6. The focus is on key user journeys across touchpoints over features and function

Users experience brands across mobile, desktop, voice, chatbots, calls with support, in-store, in-person and more. If applications work differently, and are inconsistent in how they look, feel, and work, it creates cognitive dissonance. Consumers have a choice. The weakest link defines the experience. 

For enterprise applications, it's no different. Gone are the days when the CFO, CPO, CEO, CIO, or CTO alone make tech stack decisions in board rooms. Employees have high demands and expectations and gravitate towards something that is easy to get started, easy to configure, and easy to use. Software is being purchased more and more bottom up vs. being ‘pushed’ top down. End users matter a lot more than just decision makers. That means enterprise software companies have to invest in consumer grade interfaces with an enterprise grade backend. 

Well established software platforms are hard to redesign yet every company is working on redesigning large enterprise applications across mobile and desktop, and years worth of design debt needs to be paid off in the next few years.

Summary

UXers are in high demand. Consumer and employee expectations for easy to use apps, websites, and software are through the roof. Companies will have no choice but to continue to invest in user experience to differentiate. UXers are starting to get a seat at the table and with that comes a shared responsibility to deliver measurable outcomes. The stage is set at a new level and it's time for UXers to be bold and grow the ‘go big or go home’ mindset.  

As we move into 2022, I’m looking forward to what the new year brings. Feel free to add your success stories, comments, suggestions and questions below. Happy new year from myself, and UserZoom.

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