Strategic UX Research
The Future of User-Centered Design
User experience (UX) research has never been more vital. While many organizations use evaluative UX research to improve products and validate concepts, the smart players are leaning increasingly toward strategic (or generative) UX research to guide strategic direction and discover innovation opportunities. For product teams, it can mean the difference between getting the approval to move ahead with a new initiative and staying on the feature factory hamster wheel.
Strategic UX Research is a force multiplier.
Organizations get more done with the same number of people. It delivers superpowers to the senior executives, enabling their organization to be a visionary market leader because the entire team has a better picture of how their product improves people’s lives.
But what is it exactly, and why is it the next big thing in UX design?
Defining Strategic UX Research
Strategic UX Research tends to go beyond conducting surveys, usability tests, or simple interviews. It’s a more holistic approach beyond merely understanding user needs and preferences. It delves into the broader business context and organizational goals. It aims to frame the why behind what users say and do—knowing the why empowers product teams and shifts them from being reactive (the customer didn’t like x, or the CEO says we need to do y) to be more proactive (our customers are very motivated by x so we need to give them y).
Strategic UX Research methods include contextual inquiry, ethnography and diary studies. The outputs may include user experience journey maps, service design models, and systemic design maps.
The Power of Context
Because Strategic UX Research considers the bigger picture, product teams gain a deeper and broader understanding of the market, competition, and the evolving needs of users. It can also help teams better prepare for uncertainty and changing market conditions. Combined with traditional usability studies, it forms a robust foundation for strategic thinking.
Product teams are under intense pressure to deliver, maintain velocity, juggle customer requests and respond to stakeholder pressure to do more with less. Sometimes, under this kind of pressure, it feels easier to react than take on strategic UX research. But this is when costly mistakes happen:
- A competitor adds a new capability, and a senior leader in your org says, “We need that too.” So that feature gets built, and after launch, the feature doesn’t get the uptick everyone hoped for.
- A vital customer asks for a specific feature, so your organization builds it. But now the customer doesn’t use it, says it’s not really what they wanted, and other customers are not interested.
- A stakeholder hears about a trend at a conference and then spins up a project to respond without knowing how to integrate it into the existing product, let alone how it fits within the customer context. Not surprisingly, the new feature fails.
Each of these scenarios could have been a good bet, but without the data and knowledge from Strategic UX research, you don’t know and are taking a risk.
Embracing the Future
As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the importance of Strategic UX Research will only grow. Leading organizations like Atlassian, Github, Zapier, and Workday already use Strategic UX Research to drive competitive advantage. Strategic UX Research is not just the next big thing; it’s the future of UX design. It is NextGEN UX.
Seeing around corners
When executives and senior stakeholders have the Strategic UX Research they need, they no longer need to make bets based on those third-party sources. Instead, the research efforts show the need for new capabilities and approaches long before these third-party sources do. And make it easy to disqualify ideas that will fail before investing any effort to try to make them work.