Before we begin, let’s do some level setting … First, as I refer to User Experience (UX) throughout this article, I am NOT referring to usability. The opportunity for market researchers in UX lies in the strategic side of the practice, not the tactical side that houses usability. Second, UX is being used as a reference point in the article, but really could be interchanged with Customer Experience, User-Centered Design or derivatives of these department titles. Third, primary qualitative research is happening in UX today, but the people doing that research identify themselves as user researchers, design researchers or human-centered designers. I’ll refer to these individuals as user researchers throughout this article. And, most important to note, user researchers have very harsh biases against market researchers, most of which are ill informed. Yet, perception is reality …
You see, UX as a discipline is in its infancy. While not a UX historian, I am confident in sharing that UX’s existence as a discipline was largely influenced by Don Norman’s work and book, “The Design of Everyday Things (1988).” This work argues that designers must honor the needs of users and consider the principles of cognitive psychology in order to design things (mainly products) that are understandable, useable and enjoyable. Norman’s work represents a pivot point in the world of design. Rapid advances in technology and the growth of the web that soon followed in the 1990s, caused the principles of Norman’s book to become the foundational framework on which UX practice began and still continues today.
You’re now seeing derivatives of UX, such as Customer Experience (CX) or User-Centered Design (UCD) departments, as these teams want to break away from associations of software development, interface-related design and in many cases, usability. These slightly broader titles empower teams to reconsider what the design of everyday “things” can be, which often includes services, business models or processes, in addition to products. Regardless of title, the focus of these groups is the same — to design “things” that are usable, useful, desirable and delightful to the end-users of them.
Market researchers have long been excluded from these experience- and design-related teams. You — as a market researcher — are perceived to be one of those people who do “focus groups” (which are downright awful, because how could you ever learn anything of value without being in context?) If you’re a quant. market researcher, you’re considered to only produce numbers with no meaning. After all, numbers don’t provide inspiration, stories do, right?! Among other biases: you’re inflexible with methodology (meaning you always start broad and narrow in understanding and wouldn’t consider the alternative) and you’re uncomfortable with creative thinking and process. I know … it doesn’t feel fair. It’s not! But, this is the stigma that the “market researcher” has in the UX world today.
At this point you could say, “Well, leave it be then. I’ll stay over here in my Market Research world where I don’t have to fight unfounded perceptions about my worth and value as a professional.” While I certainly wouldn’t fault you in that decision, I do know that you’d be turning your back on a growing opportunity that you — as a market researcher — have unique and differentiated value to offer within.
The UX discipline is maturing. And with that maturation, comes a desire for senior executives within Fortune 1000 organizations to utilize their UX teams to inform strategic directions endorsed by the organization.
An adapted version of Bruce Temkin’s “Five-Stages of Experience-Based Differentiation Maturity Model” (figure 1 below) is a nice reference point to explain how UX as a discipline matures within organizations and why now is the time for market researchers to enter into UX.
At Stage 1: Unrecognized, UX (or its derivatives of experience and design) does not exist as a formal discipline in the organization. It’s likely that the leaders of the organization have very little awareness of the discipline at all.
At Stage 2: Interested, the organization has awareness of the UX discipline and is intrigued with its promise of improving end-user experiences, and thus making companies more competitive. Hence, the organization funds UX “toe-dippers.” This may include hiring one lone UXer, hiring UX consultants to support specific initiatives or a combination of the two. At Stage 3: Invested, companies become more supportive of UX as a formal discipline, resulting in internal UX teams getting more properly staffed and the department as whole having objectives that it is accountable for. In Stages 2 – 3, UX work is being used to provide directional points on strategic initiatives (that are being pushed down to them from other areas of the company). Therefore, the rigor with which this UX work is being executed — and particularly the research behind the UX design work being done — is often not questioned. Additionally, much of the work completed is still very tactical in nature.
The need for rigor and strategic thinking elevates as organizations cross into Stage 4 of the UX Maturity Model. At Stage 4: Committed, UX becomes a critical piece of the organization’s competitive strategy. The executives of the organization become actively involved in the UX team and its work. This exposure results in the team offering strategic input into the initiatives of the organization vs. tactically executing on the strategy that’s been handed to them. As an organization progresses into Stage 5: Engaged, UX is perceived to be a core tenant of the organization’s strategy. It is a formal department, equally valued and respected as any other functional role in the organization. And, finally, once an organization reaches Stage 6: Embedded, UX is no longer perceived to be a discipline or functional role on its own. Rather, UX and its user-centric philosophies is a mindset that is embodied by every employee working within the organization, irrespective of the functional role they personally perform for the organization.
What’s happening in the UX discipline right now is that Fortune 1000 companies who have embraced UX as a competitive strategy are making the leap from Stage 3: Invested to Stage 4: Committed. As that jump is occurring, the research practices of UX teams — currently owned by user researchers — are coming into question, particularly related to participant sample, participant quality and method breadth.
The knowledge and rigor that you, as a market researcher, have around participant sample, participant quality and method breadth is the value you offer to the UX field today. Your skills in these areas are in demand as companies take the leap from Stage 3: Invested to Stage 4: Committed. And this demand is only growing.
Question is … are you poised to secure a portion of this growth in your market research business? More than likely, the answer is “no.”
From my experience, I’d say that market researchers grossly underestimate the specialized skills of UX and design. There are fundamental philosophical differences in how user researchers approach their work compared to market researchers. Knowing and embodying these differences in your work approach is your entrance ticket into the UX domain. To ignore these differences is a fast track to having the door shut in your face.
Curious to learn what is takes to succeed in UX as a market researcher? I’m excited to share. Join me at the upcoming Insights Leadership Conference, September 27 in Palm Beach. Here, I’ll go into more depth about these topics and provide insight on how you, as a Market Researcher, can get in on the UX action.
Portions of this article were previously published in the Spring 2016 issue of QRCA Views.