The rise of UX Research: user experience as a competitive advantage

In the highly competitive context of product and service development, where consumer expectations are constantly evolving, UX Research has become a strategic point for companies seeking to differentiate themselves. This discipline, sometimes underestimated but essential, consists in understanding user needs, expectations and behaviors. The aim is to design products that meet their expectations intuitively and effectively.

UX Research is an integral part of the product development process, and uses specific, scientifically-validated methods drawn from the human sciences: interviews, field studies, tests, satisfaction scales, etc. The results of this research feed into the decision-making process throughout the design cycle. The results of this research are used to make informed decisions throughout the design cycle.

UX Research has many benefits for a company:

  • Test a product prototype before development.
  • Identify and correct errors in products and services.
  • Bring out concrete solutions that will contribute to improving product strategy.
  • Identify user practices that will guide design choices.
  • Reduce customer support costs.
  • Increase customer retention.
  • Discover new customer needs and business opportunities.
  • Offer a better experience than the competition.

Who are the UX Researchers?

UX Researchers are usually trained in Cognitive Sciences or Humanities (Psychology, Ergonomics etc.) and have in-depth knowledge of conducting research studies. In particular, they are skilled in the following actions:

  • Framing the research: Identify the objectives and stakeholders involved in carrying out the research.
  • Define the research problem (e.g. "Why do customers abandon their shopping baskets so often?").
  • Identify study participants who are representative of the target population (who share the same characteristics as this population).
  • Choosing the right methodology for the project.
  • Analyze qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Identify courses of action that can be directly used by designers and POs/PMs. (Example: offer an advanced search to help users find Products more quickly).
  • Maintain an objective, critical eye throughout the research process and avoid cognitive biases.

 

Depending on a company's needs, the position of UX Researcher can be filled by an internal employee or an external consultant. Both types of profile can follow projects from start to finish, and develop in-depth knowledge of users and their needs. Researcher consultants have a wide range of experience. They often work in multidisciplinary teams and use a variety of methods and tools. As a result, they can bring a fresh approach to the way UX Research is conducted. With a more objective view of the situation, consultants may also be able to simplify and improve certain internal organizational processes. 

When should UX Research be UX Research?

A common misconception is that UX Research is only carried out at the end of a project to validate the usability of the interface. Contrary to this view, UX Research can be carried out at any stage of a project. The earlier user research is carried out, the greater the impact the results will have on the product or service. Therefore, the best time to start UX Research on a project is...today.

Ideally, UX Research should be carried out at all stages of a project, as there is something useful to learn at every stage. But in the absence of the means to do so at every stage, most UX research should be considered at the start of a project when it will have the greatest impact, while retaining some of the budget for additional research that may prove useful at a later stage of the project.

Depending on the context and stage of the project, different methods are employed. In the discovery phase, the UX Researcher favors qualitative studies: field studies, interviews, activity analysis. In the ideation phase, the Researcher uses branstorming methods such as card sorting, mind maps, Crazy 8's and Speed Boat. Finally, during the last phase of implementation, several types of methods can be used: System Usability Scale, Net Promoter Score, CSAT (Customer Satisfaction). 

What is the economic impact of UX Research?

Over the last ten years or so, major American companies have realized that UX Research has a major impact on the sustainability of their business. The following 4 examples provide some statistical data on the impact of UX Research:

  • Forrester has shown in a report that conversion rates can be up to 400% higher on sites with an excellent user experience.
  • In 2008, Jarred Spool succeeded in increasing Amazon's revenues by $15 million in the first month after conducting UX Research that simplified the shopping experience.
  • After redesigning their site based on user feedback, HubSpot succeeded in doubling their conversion rate, reaching over 10 million visitors per month.
  • A report by Forbes shows that every dollar invested in UX Research brings in an average of $100.

 

Another report entitled " Why Software Fails " by the IEEE organization shows that 15% of IT projects worldwide are abandoned. Among the main reasons for abandoning a project, 25% are directly linked to the user experience, and are avoidable with a good UX Research method.

Another finding of the study is that developers spend 50% of their time correcting avoidable development errors. The cost of these post-development corrections is twice as high as the cost of correcting them upstream. By using UX Research early on in the design process, we can avoid some of these errors and save money.

Companies that shine in UX Research

With its motto " Focus on the user and everything else will follow ", Google puts a strong emphasis on UX Research to improve all its Products. Laura Granka, Director of UX Research at Google, explains how the number of researchers has steadily increased at Google. In 13 years, the team has grown from 3 to several hundred Researchers (in-house and contractors), an increase of over 3000%.

According to Google, UX Research represents :

1. 1/3 of Product Management: " We're all here to create great products ". All the members of a Product team contribute to its design according to their expertise and skills. Google's UX Researchers are part of the Product teams, and have in-depth knowledge of the business and business constraints. They can follow the Product throughout its design and provide user insights at every stage.

2. 1/3 Marketing: Effective communication of research results according to the saying " Seeing is believing ". User research that is not taken into account in decision-making does not add value to the project. Fostering empathy towards users within the Product team is the best way to ensure that the results of UX Research are taken into account. To do this, it's important to offer visual examples: storytelling, videos/photos from the field. The Google Research Van is another example of a tool that enables Researchers to access a wide range of user profiles and communicate about UX Research sessions carried out outside Silicon Valley.

3. 1/3 of User Research: Google initially favored recruiting PhDs in Human Computer Interactions (HCI) for the position of Researcher. Over time, the company has shown flexibility by integrating more varied profiles, such as graduates in Human and Cognitive Sciences. But also marketing graduates for a more global vision of the market and the competition.

Other major companies are also known to have strategies firmly rooted in research:

  • Apple is one of the forerunners of the in-depth UX Research used to set itself apart from other brands.
  • Amazon regularly conducts studies to improve the online shopping experience.
  • Netflix also uses UX Research to better understand its users' preferences and recommend personalized content.

 

Obviously, not every company can invest in UX Research in the same way as these technology giants. Carried out using a rigorous methodology, UX Research is an activity in its own right, requiring time and financial resources. Nevertheless, it can be carried out on a small scale by small and medium-sized companies.

Depending on internal needs, companies can recruit a UX Researcher or call on consultants for specific projects. Every investment in UX Research, no matter how small, will bring value in strategic areas. As we showed above, the cost generated by the lack of user knowledge is always higher than the cost of the research itself.

Conclusion

In conclusion, UX Research is much more than just an optional step in the product development process. It's a strategic investment that can have a significant impact on a company's economic success. By understanding users' needs and preferences, companies can design products and services that truly meet their expectations. This translates into better customer retention, higher revenues and greater overall satisfaction.

In addition, the integration of UX Research consultants can enrich internal research practices and bring objectivity to data interpretation. By proactively incorporating UX Research into their development process, companies can position their products advantageously in the market and maintain a long-term competitive edge.

Sources

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Elena Codreanu

UX Researcher Consultant

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