There's no doubt that 2023 will be a year of challenges and opportunities for the research industry.
UX research is no longer a nice to have and many organizations see the value of research in informing product and business decisions. But in the context of all the economic uncertainty and budget cuts facing the tech industry, now is the time for UX leaders to think more strategically about how to maximize the impact of research across the organization.
As the research field continues to evolve, UX professionals that keep up with the latest industry trends will be better equipped to empower the entire organization to leverage customer insights and build products that meet customers' shifting needs over time.
In this article, we'll look at some of the most influential user research trends shaping 2023. To identify these trends, we interviewed industry experts and surveyed over 600 product professionals as part of our Continuous Research Report 2023 to learn how product teams conduct research to inform their decision-making. Here’s the trends we identified:
- Continuous research is becoming a well-established practice
- Companies are scaling research through democratization
- The UX researcher role is shifting from technical executor to educator
- Organizations are using customer insights to make informed decisions and drive business growth
- Product professionals are thinking more deeply about how to build inclusive products
- Product teams are using qualitative and quantitative research to inform decisions
- UX tools are making user research more efficient and effective
Let's unpack each one of these UX research trends one by one.
1. Continuous research is becoming a well-established practice
With the rise of product-led growth (PLG), more and more organizations understand the value of UX research and the importance of creating products for and with their customers. As our Continuous Research Report shows, 82% of product organizations have at least one dedicated UX researcher and are starting to involve customers continuously throughout the product development process.
"A few years ago, there was a lot of discussion in the industry about getting buy-in for research and involving stakeholders in the research process," says Lucy Denton, Head of Design at Dovetail. "It's great to see how far the industry has come in terms of understanding the value of research. Companies are investing more in research which means they're investing more in customer-centricity and building for the customer."
Most product professionals (83%) agree that research should be conducted at each stage of the product life cycle. Yet 60% of product teams connect with customers once per month or less—despite product decisions being made almost daily.
In practice: To ensure your product thrives in 2023, adopt continuous product discovery practices to collect frequent feedback and build products that evolve as customers' needs evolve. Learn how to get started in our guide to continuous product discovery.
2. Companies are scaling research through democratization
The appetite for user insights is growing, and companies are faced with the challenge of scaling research. 78% of the audience we surveyed believe their company could do more research—yet time, budget limitations, and access to research participants are the main challenges hindering product teams from running more studies.
Researchers can't cover all the research questions the organization has, so more and more companies are scaling the impact of research by empowering different teams to engage in the research process and get access to the insights they need to make informed decisions.
With 64% of respondents saying their organization has a democratized culture—where researchers, designers, product managers, and marketers conduct research—we believe research democratization will be key to achieving continuous product discovery and building organizations that learn.
Research is all about learning. It doesn't matter who's learning in an organization—we want to enable teams to make better decisions. It's no longer about advocating for research to take place. It's really about, 'how do we educate people to do research or learn better?' That's what's driving the shift across the industry over time.
Roberta Dombrowski, VP of User Research at User Interviews
In practice: Scaling the impact of research by empowering everyone to play a more active role in research is an ongoing process. Check out our Scaling Research Playbook to learn how to successfully democratize research with insights from over 30 UX leaders.
3. The UX researcher role is shifting from technical executor to educator
As organizations scale their research practice, the role of the user researcher becomes not only a purely technical role but a facilitation role responsible for empowering the organization in its learning.
"One of the biggest hurdles we've seen as we've tried to upscale the number of people who can do their own research and answer their questions is, 'how do we instill confidence?'", explains Rachel Ny, Senior User Researcher at Atlassian. "The goal is to upskill people to a level where they feel confident that they're making the right decisions—whether in the middle of an interview or making their research plan.”
The role of the researcher has evolved to empower product teams and other stakeholders. This is a huge shift from the original definition of a UX researcher as a detective of problems to an ally of product teams capable of enabling more research and smooth decision-making for the product.
Shrut Kirti Saksena, Senior User Experience Researcher at Adobe
In practice: Whether you're looking to advance your career as a researcher or build a UX team, research is no longer just about technical skills. As customer needs become more critical to the business strategy, UX researchers will take on new responsibilities, including running strategic research, collaborating with different teams, and becoming mentors for their organizations.
🔭 Envisioning the future of the research industry
Learn more about the findings of our Continuous Research Report and the shift happening in research today in this episode of The Optimal Path, featuring our CEO & Co-founder, Jonathan Widawski. Tune in.
4. Organizations are using customer insights to make informed decisions and drive business growth
Another key trend highlighted in the report that we'll see continuing and expanding in the near future is that research helps organizations improve decision-making and positively impacts customer satisfaction, product adoption, user activation, and revenue.
74% of respondents reported that research is effective or partially effective in determining decision-making at their organizations, and 14% said it's highly effective. In particular, product teams who conduct research more often, weekly or daily, report more effective decision-making than teams who run research less often, quarterly or yearly.
"Product and UX professionals are using research findings to inform their decisions. Once you have more information about the pros and cons of the options you're facing, there's a higher chance that the whole team has higher confidence in decision-making," says Xiangyi Tang, Head of User Research at Pitch. "Product organizations need to truly understand their customers to be competitive. With continuous research, they can constantly course-correct to work on the right problem and provide the right solution."
In practice: Continuous research will continue to be a powerful tool to inform decision-making, even more so in uncertain market conditions. Collect customer insights throughout the product development process to mitigate risk, react effectively to changes in the market, and leverage research to drive business growth.
5. Product professionals are thinking more deeply about how to build inclusive products
A UX trend that will continue in 2023 is the focus on inclusivity and accessibility. Inclusive design is the process of creating solutions and experiences that are usable and open to all—regardless of age, language, ability, or culture.
"The reason why inclusive design is necessary is starting to resonate," says Melanie Buset, User Research Manager at Spotify. "If your product is designed inclusively, more people will feel comfortable, enabled, and excited to interact with it. And if more people are satisfied with your product, that leads to more usage and profits overall."
Major tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, and Airbnb, are paving the way to inclusivity and have created their own "inclusive design manifestos" to design solutions that benefit everyone. Our industry report also shows that 29% of product teams conduct usability testing.
In practice: Create solutions that benefit more users by conducting research with a diverse user group early and often in the design process. Other inclusive design principles you can follow are hiring a diverse team and inviting experts to lead workshops and educate product teams on how to embed inclusivity in their work from day one.
If you'd like to learn more, read our guide Inclusive Design: Creating Better Experiences for All.
6. Product teams are using qualitative and quantitative research to inform decisions
So far, we’ve seen that more and more businesses see the value of engaging with their customers to understand their needs, pain points, and motivations and make the right product decisions.
To obtain customer insights throughout the product life cycle, product teams are turning to various research methods—the most frequently used being user interviews, surveys, product analytics, competitive analysis, and unmoderated usability tests.
Roberta Dombrowski, VP of User Research at User Interviews, explains, "many orgs lead with qualitative research first and 1-on-1 interviews when they're introducing research to their teams, and that's because it's easier to talk to a customer—it's something we naturally do. It's much harder to do a full product analysis with quantitative data and a card sort study."
Overall, our research shows that qualitative methods are more frequently used than quantitative methods (63% vs. 51%). Yet the best results come from a combination of these methods. While quantitative research helps you understand what your users are doing, qualitative research tells you why they’re doing it.
In practice: Incorporate mixed methods into the research process and combine qualitative and quantitative data to uncover deeper insights and ensure you're making the right product and business decisions.
7. UX tools are making research more efficient and effective
To stay ahead of the competition, product organizations need to gather high-quality insights at scale—this is where the right UX tools come in. According to our report, one main challenge for product teams conducting research is having access to the right tools.
With the global pandemic and the rise of remote research, the need for digital tools that support user research teams is higher than ever. If we look at the 2022 UX Research Tools Map or 2022 Design Tools Survey, the UX tools landscape has kept growing in the past few years, and platforms are now offering new features and functionalities to support researchers and People Who Do Research (PWDR).
At Maze, for example, we're focusing on creating an end-to-end solution for product research. Our tool offers new solutions for recruiting survey participants, product research and reporting to help teams build the habit of continuous product discovery and foster more efficient product collaboration.
In practice: The range of UX research tools is expanding, covering everything from recruiting participants to usability tests and generating reports. Check out our list of the best UX research tools for 2023 to choose the best ones for your needs.
Picturing the future of UX research
The future is customer-centric, and user research is evolving to empower anyone in the organization to connect to customers on an ongoing basis. Research is becoming a continuous function that isn't confined to one stage of the product development process but extends across it—from discovery research to post-launch reviews.
User research is a fascinating field because it constantly evolves to meet customer needs more effectively and create business value. While the last years were challenging due to the pandemic and uncertain economy, we also saw great opportunities for the UX industry. By adopting a continuous product discovery mindset, organizations can uncover customer needs and motivation and constantly improve their product as they build.
"There are lots of opportunities as we expand and grow the research craft to go beyond just the research team and implement it into every stage of the product life cycle," states Rachel Ny, Senior User Researcher at Atlassian.
I think growth will happen in terms of understanding the purpose of research, aligning around the need for it, and where we are in terms of our knowledge base. Ultimately research is a way to start building the knowledge base that allows you to make the right decisions in the product life cycle.
Rachel Ny, Senior User Researcher at Atlassian