UX Research:
We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

 

My first experience with UX testing took place several decades ago. We recruited Cleveland-area consumers to come to our focus group facility for in-person testing of an online greeting card website. Note that at that point in time, online greeting cards were a novel, cutting-edge product. Imagine the scene—a table in an old-school focus group discussion room crowded with eight bulky desktop computers, keyboards, monitors, power strips and lots of cords. 

The moderator leading the discussion took the participants through several activities involving navigating the online greeting card website, the selection process and sending an online greeting card. During the research session, participants discussed their questions and pain points while the clients in the adjacent room craned their necks, observing from the other side of a one-way mirror. We were proud of our progressive offering (I wish I had saved that picture we took of this setup), and we attracted clients from across the country to test various online services. 

It’s an understatement to say that UX research has changed significantly. Instead of reviewing its history, I will focus on current trends and developments influencing UX research in 2024. 

 

Remote research 

Unlike our clunky in-person setup from the early 2000s, UX researchers now easily gather information without having respondents physically present. Remote research methods include virtual one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Respondents are more comfortable than ever with video conferencing and screen-sharing in a post-COVID world.  

Remote research leads to freedom from geographic restrictions. It’s commonplace to include respondents across the country or even from across the globe. Involving consumers from all parts of the US helps offset regional differences in attitudes, behaviors, and preferences. 

The same principle applies to companies with an international target market. Failing to consider cultural differences when analyzing responses can lead to faulty conclusions.  

The final reason to favor remote research is that it’s cost-effective and efficient. With all these benefits, I can’t think of many situations where in-person UX research would be preferable to remote research.   

 

Inclusivity 

For market research in general and UX research in particular, it’s critical to include participants from various backgrounds. On one level, inclusivity can mean considering standard demographic information—age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or geography, as mentioned above. Age is an essential variable because Boomers may interact with tech differently than Gen Alpha, who grew up in a fully digital world.  

However, inclusivity adds meaning to UX research. Focusing on inclusivity in UX research ensures that our designs welcome diverse users with different abilities. By identifying pain points and understanding unique needs and behaviors, UX research is essential for creating interfaces that anyone can use, including people with disabilities. 

Beyond being the right thing to do, using UX research to arrive at an inclusive design means your product will have a broad appeal, leading to higher business growth. 

 

Demand for UX Research is Increasing 

User research has shifted from solely focusing on usability or UI research to encompass creating a user-friendly online experience for products or services. This widening scope has led to an increase in demand for UX research. Companies strive to deliver an exceptional digital experience, and without a clear understanding of what’s working and what’s not, there’s no clear-cut way to fine-tune online offerings.  

Skilled UX researchers are in high demand. There’s no substitute for an experienced UX research expert. It’s often discussed how important collaboration is between product teams, designers, programmers, marketers and researchers for effective UX research. While having a culture of research collaboration is beneficial, it’s still best to have experienced UX researchers leading the research process. 

A final reason behind the increased demand for UX research is that a product or website launch isn’t the end of the UX journey and shouldn’t be the end of the UX research journey. Markets and users evolve. Thinking of UX research as one-and-done is a missed opportunity for a continuous feedback loop to help minimize risk.  

 

New technologies  

You probably saw this one coming, but a discussion of 2024 trends would be complete only if it addressed artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). 

AI is changing so many things in our world, including research. AI can generate research questions, analyze user research data and transcripts, and help with synthesis and reporting. AI excels at analyzing large data sets to detect patterns and insights. There’s a lot of discussion about how AI can free up time so that research professionals can focus on the strategic side of research. 

What does this specifically mean for UX research? UX researchers need to adapt research methods and skill sets for the future. 

Last month, our team received its first request to conduct research using avatars in a virtual reality setting. Mod Op currently uses AI to analyze text responses. Even more mind-boggling is that AI can generate synthetic users to provide opinions or answer brand-related questions, and our organization is also on top of that capability. Synthetic users are controversial—some think this concept oversteps. But like any tool, there are times when information from synthetic users serves a purpose. 

   

Where to from here? 

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, 85% of UX problems can be solved by testing with just five users. Researchers who favor large-scale studies often dismiss the idea that something is better than nothing. UX research with a few representative users can lead to significant improvements. As you think about incorporating UX research into your 2024 game plan, the realization that small-scale testing can have a big impact may change your thinking.       

 

About the Author 

Lauren Schmidt is the Senior Director of Market Research at Mod Op. She has 20+ years of quantitative research experience with clients in a wide range of industries. While Lauren has an extensive skillset, she’s most passionate about B2B and Voice of Customer (VoC) research as well as driving ROI. Lauren’s philosophy is that market research is a necessity—not a luxury.