Keep an Eye on These User Research Trends
By staying up-to-date on trends, you ensure you’re on top of best practices and continuously ready to broaden your professional skillset. As a researcher myself, I find industry trends particularly interesting; I proactively observe, discuss, and share my findings with the design community.
But research is a horizontal, not a vertical. Everyone should be involved and invested in the outputs of your research. And that means everyone needs to stay current on trends in the ever-changing research industry itself. Here are a few I’ve noticed in three key user research areas: process, people, and tools.
Trends in Research Process
Developing Operations to Support Operations: The Dawn of Research Ops
When companies run a more “cohesive” ship, they experience benefits in just about every area, from money and time to strategy and culture. Operations is now considered the potential antidote to gaps and silos. And this has given rise to all kinds of “ops,” including design ops, HR ops, marketing ops, and now, research ops.
As Kate Towsey, the research operations lead at Atlassian, explains, “Research operations is, to my mind, a series of small businesses.” The end-to-end research process is a series of vital service operations: recruitment, execution, socializing, and archiving, to name a few. At face value, these processes seem simple. However, when they’re multiplied across different initiatives and teams, the complexity becomes apparent. Research ops provides desperately-needed oversight for the complicated systems that make up user research.
Reap What You Sow: Building Feedback Hubs for Customer Feedback Data
Customer feedback SaaS tools are everywhere nowadays, and their output is rich customer feedback. But I suspect that this valuable feedback mostly lays dormant or is scattered throughout the organization. As a result of this issue, many organizations now create and maintain what is commonly known as “customer feedback hubs,” or “loops.”
Tarif Rahman writes, “Not only does a tight and continuous feedback loop ensure that your product team isn’t missing any incoming feedback, but it ensures that your customers know you’re not just talk; you really do listen and care about their opinions. Which in turn encourages more feedback and just keeps the loop going.” A well-maintained customer feedback loop is an important part of the user research ecosystem. In addition, organizations can integrate this feedback into a variety of efforts, from recruitment to prioritization of the research backlog.
When Two Become One: How Qualitative and Quantitative Research Can Complement Each Other
As product positioning consultant April Dunford wisely shared on Twitter, “Bad fit customers often muddy the waters when you get customer feedback. One reason I distrust most customer surveys is because the feedback from bad fits is all mixed in with the good fits and the results are often confusing. In a conversation, I can filter the bad ones out.” Simply put, a well-thought-out survey is a great tool. However, you need qualitative research to fill in the inevitable gaps in your survey results.
A mix of qualitative and quantitative data provides opportunities for more comprehensive insights. As Nikki Anderson from dscout writes, “Quantitative data usually tells us what is happening, but qualitative data can then tell us why. In order to truly understand our users, to create great products, and to unlock insights—we need both.”
Trends in Research Teams
The Popularity of Service Designers Is Soaring, But Why?
There’s a well-known saying in the tech world: “Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.” This quote explains the hockey stick growth of service design. John Knight says that “Today the Service Design (SD) family stands to be the biggest single design discipline on the globe and probably in history heretofore.”
Service designers are tasked with understanding just about everything about the organization as it relates to the user. This list includes inputs, outputs, touchpoints, UX, data, security, and more. Then with all of these various considerations in mind, they design a cohesive, seamless experience.
This is where, as John Knight believes, we will start to see “UX tightly coupled with customer facing operations and ‘business thinking.’ This means not just making technology usable but building value creation into all touchpoints and weaving it in as a design element.” I’m looking forward to the expansion of user-centered experiences and believe that this is a great example of the value service designers provide.
Trends in Research Tools
The Number SaaS Tools Focused on UX Research is Growing
Take a look at the “The 2019 UX Research Tools Map” compiled by userinterviews.com. The sheer number of tools in this space represents a growing demand for support for the processes required to generate value from user and customer data. Research is no longer limited to surveys and spreadsheets, and companies are recognizing this growth and building products to fill researchers’ needs.
“Conducting user research to understand the process used by user researchers who conduct research. How meta!”
Companies are Leveraging Slack Channels to Gather and Respond to Customer Feedback
As someone who grew up using AIM-style conversational tools, Slack never ceases to amaze. It began as a workplace communication tool offering 1:1 conversations to “channel” specific communication. And now, Slack’s success and product value continue to expand and even include harnessing customer and user feedback.
As the Slack team explains, “Following customer feedback from all the different inputs can be a challenge, and there are a handful of apps that can help you aggregate and send it all into Slack. From there, your team can read, respond, and keep tabs on customer happiness, all while staying aware of how customers feel about your company’s products—even when you’re not on the front lines of support.”
The Future of User Research
As organizations become more data-driven and customer-focused, I expect user research will only grow in importance. This will mean a greater variety in the process of conducting research, the teams doing the research, and the tools at their disposal. Research is a crucial part of any product team, and these trends will only make your team more strategic and valuable. Make the best use of these resources by applying current research trends to your company’s strategic initiatives.