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4 Major Questions on the Minds of UX Industry Leaders

After two days of discussion, dscout’s VP of Research shares what surfaced for the builders and scalers of UX.

Words by Julie Norvaisas, Visuals by Thumy Phan

What’s better than a bunch of research leaders gathered to share what’s on their minds? It’s not a riddle y’all, the answer is: nothing. Nothing is better.

I recently had a chance to do just that with about 80 wonderful humans in the great city of Toronto. The event was the Research Leadership Summit put on by Learners as a prelude to their upcoming UXRConf in June. Full disclosure: dscout is a proud sponsor of the UXRConf this year!

At this two-day event held in mid-April, while conference talks were being pre-recorded, the rest of us gathered in groups in a lush atrium setting to talk about a range of hefty topics: research visions, career growth, mixing methods, and growing influence. And a few things not officially on the agenda became hot topics too.

Fairly existential themes arose—many of these are not necessarily new, but the current climate of a shifting job market, shrinking budgets, compressed timelines, and laser-focus on business bottom lines render them more urgent.

It should also be noted that in many ways, these themes are actually the product of our success and our evolving maturity. We’ve come so far.

Here’s what leaders think we should be addressing on the next leg of our journey.

1. How should we frame what we do?

There was a lot of discussion, and many opinions, about what defines a UXR team in an organization—including what we are accountable for. What is our essential purpose? To create empathy, advocate for users, drive metrics, create focus, de-risk decisions, educate stakeholders, raise matters of ethics and integrity?

Whatever the answer, and wherever we sit (and it varies by organization), are we calling ourselves the right thing? Is “UXR” becoming outdated? Is it better to be literal, so the organization easily grasps our function, or aspirational to better describe our purpose?

An analog can be found in the world of market research, who in some settings have started positioning their work as insights. Something in the air suggested it may be time to adjust and adapt the way we position ourselves to the changing environment.

It’s time to shift from “how might we” to “the evidence is clear”.

2. How do we become an essential business function?

In the vast, blue ocean of UXR, we are very comfortable swimming in ambiguity and nuance. But to our stakeholders and business leaders, that feels like drowning. At this point, it’s not a matter of if we should address this, we must.

The answer “it depends” isn’t the life-preserver our stakeholders seek. For our field to make it and achieve our potential, we need to find ways to tie our gray-area humanistic work to a black-and-white context. This matters very much in how we define success for ourselves and our teams.

Whatever we decide to work on, we must build that on top of a strong understanding of exactly how the businesses we work for succeed. We need to set goals accordingly and measure them.

How does your company make money? Do you know? If you don’t, you can’t really know how your work, or your team’s work, contributes to that. It’s time to shift some focus from post-it notes to balance sheets.

3. How do we fit into a coordinated insights response?

UXR is but one function of many that generates insight, intelligence, and information about the humans who use our products and services in their social contexts. And our data is not superior. It’s complementary (or should be).

Typically we sit in design or product, sometimes marketing or engineering or even business operations, but the fact remains that market research, marketing, data science, customer service (CX), and sales work alongside us (too often with all of us in silos) to serve our businesses.

Many leaders talked about the importance of reducing noise, improving efficiency, and amplifying impact by doing a better job of coordinating and synchronizing between and across teams. The more we do this, the more we raise confidence, and can become more opinionated and direct. It’s time to shift from “how might we” to “the evidence is clear”.

4. How do we manage the (frighteningly rapid) rise of AI?

Well, we can’t ignore it. That’s established. While many felt skeptical of hot takes and a gold-rush mentality, most agreed that we can expect that AI will drastically change what we study and how we work.

It will automate research workflows and help us unlock potential (think translations, analysis, qual and quant). AI may also take on some specific research tasks that—like democratization—can help us realize even more strategic impact with our work if done right. It’s time to contribute to the shaping of this technology in our field, and in our world.

These themes hit close to home for me and my team here at dscout, and I’m betting they resonate with you too. If so, take heart! Ideas and practical tips around these topics and more are going to be covered in the talks being aired at the UXRConf in June.

The UXRConf is free. That’s right, I said free. Sign up here. I had a chance to see four of the talks as they were being recorded (Heather Breslow, Louise Beryl, Josh Williams, Savina Hawkins) and based on the quality of these talks, I can’t wait to tune in for more.

On the first day of the event, June 7, dscout will be offering free demos of how to flexibly field studies across the entire product development lifecycle (from IDIs to diary studies to quick-turn quant-qual surveys). Pre-register here to secure your spot!

Julie’s work in Design and UX Research has spanned decades, as a consultant across industries, in-house as the Head of UX Research and Content Design for LinkedIn, and now as VP of User Experience at dscout. She has cultivated a practice that centers dignity and the complexity of the human experience in product development and leadership—and a belief that it’s okay to have a little fun along the way

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