The New Wave of User Experience Research (UXR)


This article was written by Kandrea Wade, Director, UX Research at Material.


As we exit what has been called the “Golden Age” of user experience research (UXR) and enter “Late-stage UXR,” there has been a great deal of conversation about the shifting role of UX research in an evolving, AI-powered business landscape. With companies deepening their focus on scalability and profit, infusing design processes with the latest AI tools and automations, we’ve seen new questions emerge about the value of expert-led UXR to inform design and cultivate relationships with end users. These questions are natural and to be expected as companies embrace new technologies and new ways of working. 

In fact, in a world where technological change and disruption is the norm, human-centric user experience research is more vital and necessary than ever. 

Ebbs and flows exist within all businesses and industries, and UXR is no different. What is constant, however, is the value of deeply considering the human needs, preferences and experiences of end-users, and understanding what to do with that knowledge to forge trusting, durable connections. In the context of technological transformation, UX researchers have an opportunity to pivot and redefine their partnerships with businesses seeking to successfully position for the future – a “New Wave” of UXR for a new era of industry. 

So, what do we mean by the “New Wave” of UXR? What does it look like? How do we think about it, and what can we do to make it a reality?  
The new wave of UX research

Placing the User at the Center

The New Wave of UXR must involve a refocusing of attention on the people who actually use the product. Of course, company success is the bottomline, but revenue depends on establishing and maintaining a durable relationship with end users. We can enable this “re-centering” by establishing processes that allow for direct design feedback between the user and the company. This allows the user to feel seen and heard, with the ability to influence the design and effectiveness of the products they use.   

In a consumer landscape infused with personalization, users want to be recognized and validated on a personal level, and there is no better way to do it than by reaching out and ensuring their feedback has a real influence on the final product. Designing for the user is often a top-down approach, whereas a combined approach of design by — or in collaboration with — the user can reveal new, untapped value and opportunities.  

A Multi-scale Research Approach

Many companies don’t apply the same rigor to research as they do to improving their sales structure or marketing a new product. Research is no different and no less important. Focusing on the bottom line is essential, of course, but embracing the ability to zoom in on even the smallest research issues ensures the same focus on progress and quality is applied to all areas of the company. UX researchers need the latitude to review everything involved in the end user experience. These crucial elements of success can range from working through massive infrastructural issues to the smallest bug within a platform. No matter the size, they all matter and contribute to the overall customer perspective and experience. When researchers are empowered to explore all levels of a company’s customer touchpoints, it allows the research team much greater flexibility and freedom to identify challenges and uncover opportunities that ultimately impact user experience. 

Thinking Introspectively 

Embracing an introspective focus is vital as we move into the new era of UXR technology. In the quest for growth, understanding the nuances of user needs is often one of the last business priorities, which can cause companies to lose sight of vital feedback on their products and services. Placing too much emphasis on market trends and other external factors neglects the opportunity to look inward, assess the current state of the business, zero in on what users truly need and recenter focus on how to meet those needs. And it’s not just about looking inward; organizations must then take action on what is found. The ability to be humble, admit mistakes, reassess and address UX challenges and opportunities is not something that comes naturally to most, but it is a skill that can be learned with intentionality and can have a definitive impact on a company’s relationship with its customers. 

Keeping Humans in the Loop

With the rise of AI, business processes are being automated like never before. However, keeping humans in the UXR “feedback loop” is critical, not only when designing AI systems but also in considering if those systems should be used in research and design to begin with. Our abilities to deduce, infer and empathize are still superior to those of machine learning and AI systems. Though the advancements in technology are exciting, their functions and aptness are often stunted by a lack of emotional intelligence. An overreliance on these systems can lead to new sets of bugs, introducing unregulated biases, feedback loops and other potentially negative issues into the mix. Keeping humans involved in UX research ensures that the real human needs of end users are accounted for and elevated throughout the process. After all, end users are people, not computers, and building human connections with them is paramount.      

Trusting the Science

At its core, UXR is the science of understanding how users interact with a brand or product and how well that brand or product does at meeting their needs. It’s vital to have a deep, science-based understanding of users without diluting their feedback to match what company stakeholders want to hear. Sadly, many companies make critical business decisions driven purely by historical data, executive opinions or other non-user related methodologies.  

Trusting your researchers means trusting the work they conduct, allowing the insights and recommendations to influence business decisions and inspire change without being overly filtered, watered down or distorted to align with established business practices or narratives. To sustain a thriving customer base, companies must embrace science and value user perspectives over pre-existing opinions or ideologies. 

Welcoming New Expectations and New Realities

The world is changing rapidly, and the expectations of UXR are evolving with it. It’s essential to be nimble, adaptable and open to the changes inherent in the modern business landscape. With new technologies come new expectations and new demands of UX researchers as companies seek to realize value and identify untapped potential for growth. These evolving expectations are an opportunity for the UXR community to display ingenuity and embrace innovation, while still emphasizing the vital importance of elevating the user perspective. 

At Material, we think deeply and critically about the future of UXR and how we can ensure the value and power of human-centered research is carried on into the future. Because of that, we are well equipped to be your advocates and partners for a wide array of user experience research projects and challenges, so you can continue to focus on changing the world, one user at a time. 
Interested in discussing how Material’s UXR capabilities can unlock transformational customer relationships for your organization? Reach out today.