The field of user experience (UX) research is constantly evolving, driven by the ever-changing landscape of technology and user expectations. As we approach 2024, it's crucial for UX researchers to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to emerging trends that will shape the industry.
In this article, we round up some of the current trends in UX research and explore what experts predict will be rising trends in the coming year. We talk about:
Whether to use AI
The evolution of the UX research role
Changes in approach to UX research
Tech innovation’s impact on UX research
Is remote research here to stay?
We’re starting with the big topic of the day: artificial intelligence (AI).
1. To use AI or not to use AI
AI has taken the world by storm over the past few years, and companies in various industries have found great uses for it. Research from PwC suggests the most important benefits so far (as ranked by survey respondents) are:
Managing risk, fraud, and cybersecurity threats.
Improving AI ethics, explainability, and bias detection.
Helping employees make better decisions.
Analyzing scenarios using simulation modeling.
Automating routine tasks.
Aside from managing risk, fraud, and cybersecurity threats, the remaining top uses are all relevant for UX researchers. But have researchers adopted AI as earnestly as other professionals? We asked a few experts for their opinions on the subject.
Ex-director of User Experience at Mocavo and Founder of JobLens, Brian Rhea, says the discussion itself is something he’s noticed in the UX industry:
“The biggest trend I'm seeing is the tension between folks incredibly eager to integrate AI into every layer of the research process and those who refuse to believe that AI can perform human-like tasks.
My take is that we're in a transition period where AI can do a lot, but it can't do it all. AI gives researchers superpowers in getting up to speed on a new project with lots of context in a fraction of the time.
It can help summarize interview transcripts or find pull quotes related to a finding after all the interviews are done. AI can't replace a customer interview and can't conduct the interview for you. Yet.”
It’s a hot topic in the industry; that’s a given. But what are some UX researchers using AI for right now? David Godlewski, the CEO of Intelliverse, explains how his UX team is using AI:
“We leverage AI in our UX research to analyze user behavior and create user journey maps. AI algorithms can sift through vast datasets of user interactions, identifying patterns, pain points, and moments of delight. This analysis extends beyond click tracking, including sentiment analysis, user demographics, and even the context of communication.
Machine learning makes distinguishing between intended user journeys and deviations from expected paths easier. We can generate user journey maps more efficiently and keep them continually updated, ensuring that our product evolves in lockstep with user needs.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Lead User Researcher at Bubble, Peter Leykam, suggests that while he’s open to AI, he’s not convinced of its usefulness just yet:
“I’ve recently been contacted by several developers working on AI-assisted user research tools. A chatbot that pings users of your platform, asks questions and follow-up questions, and then analyzes the answer.
That sounds like it would be useful to an extent and certainly is something I’d try out. But I’m not incredibly worried that this will make user researchers obsolete anytime soon or hopeful that this will be a magic bullet that revolutionizes my work.
As I understand it, LLMs are predictive models based on analyzing existing language use and using them to predict or draw connections on new examples. User interviews present challenges to this kind of analysis because people often give idiomatic explanations or speak in terms of specific examples, with people having the same problem with the same product giving widely different examples.
So, while I’m interested in seeing what comes up with AI-assisted research, I’m not planning on looking for a new career anytime soon.”
So, the consensus for AI use in UX research is that while it shows promise, there needs to be a few more technological advancements before it becomes an indispensable tool.
2. The evolution of the UX researcher role
Of course, AI and other technological innovations mean that the UX researcher role has also changed over time – including the tasks a researcher performs and how the role is perceived in an organization. Kasia Jordan-Kaźmierczak, a user researcher at Survicate, made the following observation:
“As a UX researcher, I find myself navigating a landscape of contrasts. On the one hand, it feels like we’re in the midst of a transition characterized by the growing UX maturity in the market, with businesses recognizing the intrinsic value that UX research brings to product development.
In the wider industry and my practice, we're shifting towards methods rooted in continuous research discovery rather than ad-hoc initiatives. This strategic pivot encourages a deeper, more sustained engagement with user needs and a culture of ongoing learning and collaboration.
On the other hand, economic challenges have resulted in layoffs of many skilled UX professionals. Yet, I remain hopeful for the future of UX research, believing in the adaptability of UX researchers to navigate this phase and return with a stronger, clearer mandate to shape user experiences.”
With so many changes in technology within the industry, the UX researcher role isn’t only about testing and improving the customer experience – it also now involves being able to keep up with these changes and continuously learning. Leizel Laron, a UX/UI designer at exaweb, made the following comment:
“As a UI/UX designer, in order to get myself up in the game, I should be able to keep up with the changes and trends of advancing technologies. I strongly see the potential of AI as a great tool for researchers and designers. It’s a big help in terms of accessibility and faster timeframe. However, it cannot replace the researchers/designers who still have a full, in-depth understanding of the behaviors of the users.”
Of course, AI is the topic many folks in the UX industry are learning about at the moment, but technological innovation is always happening. Through self-directed learning, UX researchers will be expected to stay on top of these wider industry changes.
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3. Changes in approach to UX research
While we’re seeing slow shifts in the UX research role, these shifts also impact approaches to UX research methods and research practices.
In her comment above, Kasia Jordan-Kaźmierczak mentioned a shift towards a continuous discovery approach to UX research. She’s not the only expert we spoke to who mentioned this change. Nat Miletic, owner and CEO of Clio Websites, also talked about this change:
“We adopt a continuous UXR approach at every stage of the product lifecycle. This continuous discovery enables teams to monitor potential problems proactively, even before they manifest, as we add new functions and features. We employ feedback surveys within the product to acquire valuable real-time insights, and we rotate the respondents regularly to gather diverse perspectives and experiences.
Continuous discovery is a welcome change as a UX researcher. An ongoing optimization and feedback process helps the team make smarter and quicker decisions.”
This continuous discovery approach and quick decision-making shows UX research is becoming a more holistic business function.
Gianluca Ferruggia is the General Manager of DesignRush, a B2B marketplace connecting businesses and agencies. In her role, she’s seen UX research skills in high demand across many verticals she works with, and has noticed a shift in the requirements businesses are looking for from UX agencies. She shared these insights with us:
“In my experience overseeing our UX design partners, the focus of UX research has expanded beyond usability studies on interfaces to encompass more holistic human-centered inquiry. Researchers now also immerse in contextual qualitative insights, accessibility and inclusivity considerations, and quantitative data/behavioral analytics.
This expansion stems from technology's pervasiveness, demanding deeper human understanding across all connective experiences. UX research has widened its scope, scale, and integration to provide 360-degree insight into modern user needs and behaviors.”
Moving away from a specific set of usability tests and practices towards this more holistic, user-centered approach is a development that emphasizes a deep understanding of consumer behavior.
4. Tech innovation’s impact on UX research
Research methodologies for UX research have largely been unchanging over the years – researchers have always implemented interviews and surveys in some form – but the tools available to researchers have evolved.
The latest trends and new technologies in UX research and testing show some interesting promise. Of course, some “new” technologies have been around for several years, and it’s only now that they’re starting to shine. Dmitrii Kustov, Marketing Director of Regex SEO, who oversees the company’s UX design team, has some thoughts on these developments:
“New technologies are constantly keeping us on our toes. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), voice-based interfaces, and artificial intelligence-based experiences are becoming increasingly prevalent. We are confident that in the near future, all UX researchers will need to adapt their research methods and skill sets effectively to explore and optimize these user interfaces as well."
One company that often sets consumer technology trends is, of course, Apple. Some of its latest releases include the VisionPro headset and the Apple Watch Series 9, with new single-hand gesture controls. These innovations lead to exciting user experiences and interactions that, as Dmitrii mentioned, UX researchers must consider in future projects.
Another interesting comment in this area came from John Pennypacker, VP of Sales and Marketing at Deep Cognition, who suggested UX researchers can adopt some of the innovative tools and methodologies of neuromarketing:
“In the future, research will require more than just a few instruments and surveys to comprehend human emotions effectively. Neuromarketing now makes use of electroencephalogram (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). Small electrodes placed in participants' heads are used for EEG to record brain waves.
Researchers can see the responders' brain activity when they are given a specific task to complete. Brain activity refers to feelings or the effort required to complete the task. UX designers can redo some of the design that frustrates users or requires more mental work. Though it is even more pricey, FMRI is way more relaxed. Observing how the brain responds to a task in real-time is fascinating.”
An interesting application of John’s suggestion would be to use the EEG or FMRI methods during a prototype test.
5. Is remote research here to stay?
As with many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic caused considerable shifts in how UX researchers work – chief of them being a move to remote working. However, with the change in approach towards qualitative research and holistic product design processes, is remote research here to stay?
José Moya of We Are Capicua, a UX-driven full-cycle product development company, has the following thoughts:
“There has been an increased emphasis on remote user testing and usability studies, driven by the global shift towards virtual work environments. This transition has allowed for a broader reach and more diverse participant pool, but it also necessitates adapting methodologies to ensure remote sessions are as practical as in-person ones.”
These adaptations José mentions naturally include using UX research tools designed to conduct remote user research, like the ones we offer at Lyssna.
Research from ETR suggests that 65% of employees involved in its survey are now permanently working remotely or using a hybrid model. The availability of remote research tools – and companies accepting remote working models – suggests that remote work is indeed here to stay.
Start exploring innovative UX research methods with Lyssna
If you’re a researcher, or someone who conducts research, chances are you nodded in agreement with at least a few of the trends and opinions highlighted in this article.
By embracing the potential of AI, adapting to new approaches, leveraging tech innovations, and conducting remote research, you can unlock new possibilities and deliver exceptional user experiences.
At Lyssna, we understand the importance of staying ahead in the ever-evolving field of UX research. Our platform provides powerful remote usability testing tools that enable you to gather user insights at scale.
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Alexander Boswell is the Founder/Director of SaaSOCIATE, a B2B SaaS, MarTech and eCommerce Content Marketing Service and a Business PhD candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s playing baseball and D&D.
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