Investing in UX research

Posted on May 24, 2024
9 min read


If you’re a UX practitioner, you clearly understand the value of what you do, the influence it possesses, and the limitless potential of your work in building better products. After all, it’s been found that every dollar organizations invest in UX results in a high ROI. And while your stakeholders and executives may acknowledge the importance of a great customer and user experience, they may not be fully convinced to prioritize UX research as much as you’d like, especially when they don’t sit as close to your work as you do. This scenario is especially challenging if you're fighting for more headcount and larger budgets to enhance your performance and improve outcomes. 

If you’re in an organization that doesn’t fully understand or value UX research, your ability to influence and work cross-functionally can be limited. It also makes your team vulnerable in an unsteady market that’s encouraging you to do more with less. So how do you shift this perception in your favor? Here’s everything you need to know about getting executive buy-in and proving the value of UX.  

Why you need executive buy-in

Good-natured conflict is a sign of a healthy team and can indicate an organization that’s diverse in backgrounds and opinions—which is a great thing! Differing opinions are also crucial for building high-quality products. But when conflicts or debates go on for too long, it can result in wasted time, energy, budget, and a failed product. Perhaps worst of all, it can result in one individual or team taking complete control over the product and making decisions that aren’t in the best interest of the customer or the organization. 

By getting stakeholders on your side, you’ll be: 

  • Feeling a greater sense of confidence in your work and ideas 
  • Fostering better collaboration for your current project and beyond 
  • Paving the road for greater investment in research, which can be in the form of a larger team or budget 
  • Encouraging a two-way foundation of trust 

6 ways to think like a partner that stakeholders want to collaborate with 

If you want people to value what you're doing, you need to be able to tie it to the issues that they care about most. This step may sound like a huge task, but it's relatively straightforward. Start by finding out what the business drivers are and what issues your executives care about. Think about: 

  • What are their big goals for the year? 
  • Where do our goals or projects align? 
  • What are the barriers to success? 
  • Am I directly affecting the initiatives they care about? If not, how can I help?

Here are the next steps:

1. Prioritize business implications over findings 

The UX research report is key in communicating the value of your work. When reporting your findings, relate them to key business decisions. Don't just report data; report business implications. Sam Shi, Research Manager at Equinox, gives her take, “Your job is to identify better business decisions and advantageous opportunity areas based on research. If this was your business and your money, what would you need to know to be convinced?” 

Your presentation and reports should include the following: 

  1. Findings: The most relevant pieces of customer information you've gathered—just the facts, laid out cleanly
  2. Insights: Your interpretations of what those facts mean, i.e., here are the conclusions to draw
  3. Implications: The actions the company should take based on how insights align with the organization's big initiatives

Gathering implications can be uncomfortable for most people who do any research. You might view your role as gathering data and maybe judiciously talking about insights—but getting into what the organization should do about it isn’t your realm. Or, you may assume that the implications are intuitively obvious and therefore don’t need to be mentioned.

However, not everyone may make those obvious intuitive connections. Your teammates have lengthy to-do lists and likely have spent less time than you marinating in the data. To be a valued business partner, step up and help them connect those dots. 

Shi continues, “It’s not enough to identify pain points and make recommendations for how to solve a user need. You must also guide ideation and help prioritize user needs relative to business goals. The solution then also needs to be technically feasible.”

2. Get in the loop early on 

You should prioritize your research questions to align with your organization's strategic goals. Tying your work to the organization's overall direction is the key to driving not only value but the perception of value. Getting into the loop early and armed with new ideas and initiatives can help guide the direction. This can mean partnering with whichever part of the organization that's doing strategic planning. Maybe there's a strategy group, or perhaps it's the product managers or the marketing team. 

Share information with the right teams at the right time, ideally as early as possible. During the formative stage of planning, it's much easier to influence at this time. You can also ensure that the business is going in the right direction from the start rather than struggling to make corrections later.

And since the early research stages may involve some negotiation and fine-tuning, remember not to take negative research feedback too personally. It’s easy to get attached to your work as you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into the ideas and workflow, and a disagreeing stakeholder can slow down the process or get in the way of the outcome you want. 

Kate Thacker, Principal Product Designer at USA TODAY, recommends, “Remember to take a deep breath and not to take negative responses to unexpected feedback personally. In a corporate environment, everyone has deadlines, KPIs, and goals they’re trying to meet. Sometimes we feel like we’re under the most pressure because our work is highly visible, but other people feel that pressure too! Start by pushing for the smallest change that feedback indicates will lead to the biggest impact and build from there.” 

3. Consider the entire marketplace 

It's also helpful to mix competitive information into your insights. Remember, your organization doesn't want to understand customers just for the sake of understanding customers. Your brand wants to understand customers to predict how the marketplace will change and, therefore, how to get ahead of their shifting expectations. 

Competitors are an important puzzle piece of how the marketplace is evolving. If you can bring that competitive perspective into your analysis, for example, by running some tests on competitive products or customers, it'll make the findings of your research a lot richer. If you can help your organization see how customer and competitive trends are combining to evolve the market and what to do about it, you’ll become even more valuable. For targeted help, consider the UserTesting competitor evaluation template. With sample questions you can borrow or customize, you’ll learn who your competitors are and how to test experiences other than your own. 

4. Marry quantitative and qualitative data

Qualitative testing is paramount, but combining it with quantitative data, especially analytics and surveys, is even better. If the quantitative data is not being produced within your team, find the people doing it and find ways to pair up with them. This collaboration may look like taking the reports they've made and then ensuring that your findings align (or suggesting improvements if they don't). You can do the same thing with third-party quantitative reports as well.

You don't have to choose between quantitative and qualitative data. Instead, they should sync harmoniously. By combining the two types of data, you'll merge numbers and emotions, therefore telling a more complete story. 

5. The most important information should come first 

When presenting your work to executives, you want them to get the maximum value with the minimum amount of reading. Don’t start your slide deck with your methodology; what your audience cares about most is the business implications. Follow that up with insights, and then you can delve into the methodology and all of the supporting evidence. That way, you’ll have positioned yourself as someone who knows what’s important to the business. Jerica Copeny, Senior UX Design Researcher at Microsoft, offers her two cents, “First, understand the stakeholders’ goals to have context with balancing feedback you discover in the research and feedback that relates to what stakeholders want to learn.”

Finally, think of the extra details, like being deliberate with how you format your findings. Copeny says, “One thing that's underestimated is the importance of understanding how your stakeholders prefer to receive information. Knowing, for example, that they like short, poignant decks will help inform how you present your feedback.” 

6. Don’t just tell, show

When you’re presenting research, it can be convenient to show written quotes from the participants over videos. Editing clips can be time-consuming, and in a digital space where things needed to be done yesterday, you evidently want to move fast. However, as humans, we tend to respond emotionally to other human beings, and videos speak directly to that instinctive response. Thacker sheds light on her process when interacting with stakeholders, “Include direct quotes and videos of users giving feedback because it’s more powerful when it’s not coming from you directly. Be clear about what you know and what you don’t know. If an insight is directional rather than conclusive, say so.”

With the UserTesting platform, you can take videos a step further by leveraging highlight reels. These are known as a curated selection of video clips from your usability test that can be rearranged to your liking and grouped together—from positive to negative responses. Prioritize creating great video clips, share them around your organization, and use them shamelessly to get people to pay attention to user feedback. This step helps drive decisions and communicates the value that you (and your team) provide.

Thacker also offers an important reminder before you get too tempted to share with a larger group immediately, “Discuss your findings with a teammate to ensure they’re clear to someone who doesn’t have the context you have. Consider what additional testing is needed and your next steps before you share feedback more widely.”

It's more than proving ROI; it's about proving the strategic value of UX research 

When it comes to budget talk, most executives love to see hard numbers on return on investment. That makes a budget decision a no-brainer for them. There are cases where you can prove the ROI of a UX change—like when you've done a project driving a shopping cart change that created $10 million in new revenue. While we may wish we could have a success story like this every time, these cases are rare. 

Sometimes, the most straightforward ROI you can measure is saving research costs (for example, swapping out in-person interviews for remote studies). While this works, it could understate your value. And it won't help you defend your team when the organization is tight on budget. 

In most organizations, the most significant benefit of a UX team is that you're providing an ongoing flow of insights that make the company more self-aware and user-friendly in limitless ways. Putting a numerical value on having a more intuitive organization is almost impossible. Therefore, document the financials when you can, but avoid focusing only on ROI. 

For most successful outcomes, you’ll need stakeholders on your side. Make it easier for them by prioritizing business impact, keeping a competitive lens, and merging multiple data types. By doing all of the above, you'll reiterate your value to executives and lay the foundation for more seamless projects and collaborations down the line. 

For more on achieving executive commitment, watch our free, on-demand webinar

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