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Why everyone hasn’t embraced user research—yet

| July 15, 2016
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I was chatting with a friend recently, and she mentioned how she’d thought of me while watching an episode of Silicon Valley. She described a scene in which a new product or feature was being tested with a small focus group. The feedback was bad. Really bad. She laughed and told me she actually said out loud, “They should’ve done some user testing!”

We shared a good laugh, but now, days later, I still find myself thinking about that scene. I realized that the concept of testing a product with customers early in the development process is still a concept that’s not widely adopted. Even by fancy, Silicon Valley startups.

The fact that this company (albeit, fictitious) viewed user research as more of an afterthought than a necessary part of product development made me wonder how many other companies think the same way—and why.

So let’s dig into the concept of user research and explore why it hasn’t taken off like Pokemon Go—at least not yet—and what the UX community can do to be better advocates for user research.

New things take time to catch on

Although we, as humans, have been adapting to our environments since the beginning of our existence, the concept of designing the things we use, based on the way we live, is somewhat new.

And sometimes new ideas take a while to gain critical mass. It took 46 years before just one-quarter of the American population was using electricity. Today, we almost can’t survive without it.

Learning a new language is hard

It’s difficult to rally different groups and disciplines if everyone is speaking a different ‘language.’ Marketing teams may be focused on brand awareness, while sales are zeroed in on revenue. And the UX team (if there is one) is concentrating on the user.

Aligning the goals of an entire organization to focus on the user means that everyone needs to be fluent in a common language. Marketing needs to understand how sales works and vice versa. And chances are, teams have enough on their plates already, without the added foreign language homework.

The good news is that there’s one language that’s universal: user feedback.

Although everyone has different objectives, the one constant is the user, and that translates into every group in an organization.

We don’t want to be wrong

When a team builds, develops, markets, and sells a product, they naturally want it to be amazing. No one wants to hear that the thing they’ve been designing and iterating on for the past several months isn’t useful to users. And that makes user research a scary endeavor.

But it doesn’t have to be. Challenging your assumptions allows you to let go of being right, and embrace the changes you need to make to improve your product.