As brands pursued digital transformation over the past decade, UX design has become accepted as a critical competency for any organization. The capacity to design functional and habit-forming digital platforms is recognized as a key driver not just of tactical marketing results but also of long-term business and brand growth.
However, this increased investment in UX design has not been met by a proportional increase in attention to UX research. Outside of technology companies, most companies’ approach to UX research remains out of sync with the importance of digital platforms to their brand and to their business. UX research is often understood and used narrowly as a mean to investigate major usability challenges after they arise and propose corrective measures.
This situation is due for a change. Brands and their research partners must work together to bring forth a new approach to UX research that matches the requirements of the current business environment.
The importance of UX research is a function of the scale, complexity and importance of brands’ digital platforms. Looking objectively at these criteria, UX research is now more important than ever:
From traffic acquisition to traffic conversion – in the past years, many brands focused on traffic acquisition to drive performance. In the current environment, new levers must be found to sustain growth. Many brands are switching their attention to maximizing engagement with existing users and optimizing conversion from existing channels. Both require a more proactive approach to UX research to identify optimization possibilities.
The digitization of everything – UX research was born in the age of websites and in many ways remains in this paradigm. Today, however, digital interfaces have become more varied and complex. They interact with physical spaces and objects in new ways, giving rise to new behaviors and UX challenges that require research to be met.
Experience lead brand building – studies consistently show that in the new experience economy, customers’ perception of and loyalty towards brands is influenced not by design and messaging but by experiences. Exceptional experiences that blend functionality and emotions have become the key factor behind the success of many brands. It follows that brands need to broaden their approach to UX and UX research beyond mere usability.
Emerging technologies – from generative AI to virtual reality or smart haptic surfaces, many emerging technologies are reaching maturity and offering new possibilities to product developers. However, the question remains of how to make these technologies accessible, usable, and intuitive. UX research will be key to building the next generation of digital products.
Having established the strategic importance of UX insights, how should brands evolve their approach to UX research to answer this new imperative?
The first step is to broaden the reach of UX insights within brand organizations. UX research can be used to guide the design of any platform from websites to mini-programs, #IOT objects, or even voice interactions. It is inherently agnostic in terms of business applications. While digital platforms were previously the domain of a single or select few teams; the average company now has multiple teams each with its own digital product, each in need of UX insights. From marketing to e-commerce, customer service, CRM, innovation, retail, etc. UX research must be democratized to bring all teams to the same level of UX design sophistication.
UX research methodologies must also evolve to reflect the nature and use cases of modern digital platforms. Traditional UX research focuses on investigating highly specific points of platform usage such as home page drop-off or shopping cart abandonment. This investigation is most often done through a mix of web analytics data review and lab-based testing. While valuable, both methods are disconnected from the physical environment and emotional setting in which the behaviors they seek to understand occur. Today’s digital platforms call for new methodologies that integrate context (moment, environment, and emotions) to get the full picture of users’ behavior. These approaches must blend the analytical rigor of traditional UX research with the depth and nuance of ethnography.
Finally, we believe that forward-looking brands will expand the scope of UX research projects beyond a single-platform view to a full journey, cross-platform vision. Such a vision will aim at not just optimizing conversion on a given platform but at maximizing engagement and lifetime value across the entire journey. It will enable brands to design a consistent user experience across platforms, maximizing the overall return from digital spending and opening new possibilities to surprise and delight customers.
Well-conducted UX research work will uncover opportunities for both long-term experience innovation and short-term improvement. It is amongst the rare initiatives that combine innovation foresight and immediate tactical payoff. As such we believe it should find its place on the action plan of any brand owner. As a first step, we recommend that brands clearly define ownership for UX research initiatives. This ownership can sit within the CMI team or other functional teams based on the company profile. The owner of this initiative can then take the lead in identifying resources, bringing together different product-owning teams, and ensuring consistency in approaches across projects.