I’ve been witnessing an interesting phenomenon in the UX space around the function of the UX researcher. One of demise and rebirth.
Despite the rising dominance of user experience as a competitive differentiator and its rise in perceived value throughout the C-suite, Tesco let go of their entire UX Research team in 2018. This also happened at LexisNexis and Haymarket Media at almost the exact same time.
It could have been coincidence but I think it’s part of a cycle of natural improvement. In most cases the businesses needed to cut some budget, so they picked the group that struggled most often to show any direct link between themselves and revenue: the UX research team.
So is that the end of UX research? Is it doomed to be last picked for the team and first to be cut? Let’s look at the bigger picture, and see how UX professionals are changing the game…
Research is often the difference between commercial failure and success for new products, features, services and websites. We’ve all heard the horror stories of millions spent on a jazzy new website but the creators forgot to make sure the checkout worked so it bombed.
But what about that big story around the super smooth checkout experience? Oh you didn’t hear that one? Exactly, because part of the problem is that when things go well, research is easy to overlook.
So, in answer to the question, no – UX research is not coming to an end but it is changing.
In fact UX research is going through an accelerated evolution in enterprise business right now. UX needs to be strategically integrated, visibly impactful, broader in scale or democratised to survive and thrive.
Here’s what I mean by each of these terms:
Traditionally the Double Diamond framework has been aligned to design but Andrew has used it as a strategic map to illustrate how design, product and engineering can get the most out of each other through radical collaboration.
Sound good? You can read more about it here.
James Barley, former Head of UX at AutoTrader, is the best example I can give for making an impact. James was in love with lab testing but he knows that he needs to diversify his testing approaches to deliver value.
The lab was great for project discovery work over a series of weeks, but too slow to support his product managers or dev teams in their agile sprints. Now he satisfies both and has been toting his success all over the country.
That is an impact. Check out how James visibly made a difference at AutoTrader.
Alex Black, UX Researcher at Informa, is a one man team. Where possible he’ll travel to the events that Informa hosts and talk to real conference goers but lurking at events doesn’t give him enough.
Alex has managed to replicate himself several times over by using remote testing practices and has heard from 500 people in three months. A team of one, able to find UX answers for many stakeholders; Alex has managed to scale what he does with great success.
Kim Marchant, Design Operations Lead at Sainsbury’s, shows us how to democratize UX testing among teams. Sainsbury’s wanted to amplify their customer-centric, evidence-based approach to design by embedding research practices into the agile processes by democratizing design and upskilling the design team with the capabilities and tools to do so.
Enter Kim. Kim took on the challenge and the team went from zero to hero in a few months. The Sainsbury’s design team were the first to break the record of testing with over 1000 participants in a week. Design is now backed by statistically significant data.
Kim, James, Alex and Andrew have been the catalyst for change at their organizations and have been responsible for visibly delivering value through UX. They’ve got the tools to do the job and the vision to get it done.
We already know that UX Research takes training, expertise and practice. Great tools like ours can elevate the role of UX Researchers from builders to architects and enablers. Researchers will need to do the hard, strategic, touchy-feely stuff and enable other teams on how to run tactical tests within agile sprints. More so, researchers need to learn how to take these user insights and translate them to business values for executives and stakeholders.