Research Gets Consumed
A great indication of the uptake of UX research is that stakeholders follow your research recommendations—especially the most important ones. For example, research consumption occurs when a problem that you discovered during a research activity gets solved as a result. If stakeholders choose to fix only problems that are easy to solve, that’s one thing. A better indication of consumption is when they fix the big problems that you identified during your research. When a product team makes significant changes to a product’s design following UX research, that’s a great sign of research consumption.
Another sign of the consumption of UX research—which though less meaningful, is still favorable—is when a company’s salespeople use the company’s investment in UX research as part of their sales pitch. When they show heat maps from your recent eyetracking study to potential customers, it’s a sign that the company wants to show that it is serious about UX design. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that is really the case, but it is a positive indication that stakeholders perceive UX research as a unique selling proposition.
If people are touting UX research to tell customers what a good job the company is doing on user experience, when, in reality, stakeholders aren’t following your research recommendations, that stinks. In such cases, these stakeholders see UX research as a way of duping customers. If this happens to you a lot, I suggest that you consider whether your best recourse is to fight or flee, as I described in my UXmatters article “Dealing with Difficult People, Teams, and Organizations: A UX Research Maturity Model.”
In an interview that I conducted with Giles Colborne, author of Simple and Usable, for my book It’s Our Research, which you can view in Figure 1, Giles argued that UX research is successful if it shifts people’s point of view toward customers and how they use products.
Budget Gets Allocated for More Research
Typically, success means that stakeholders or clients who have experienced and benefited from UX research allocate more funding for research. This is a great sign when it comes from people, teams, and organizations with whom you have worked before—and even more so when it comes from people who are new to UX research. The latter means that rumors about UX research are spreading, which is definitely a good sign.
In my interview with Kim Goodwin, author of Designing for the Digital Age, which you can watch in Figure 2, Kim told me that, when stakeholders budget for more research, that’s the best sign that they have bought into UX research.
Findings Have Long-Lasting Usefulness
Because of the nature of generative UX research, study results have a long shelf life. These studies usually have goals such as identifying user needs or discovering who users are. Chances are good that the findings from such studies will remain valid and true for long periods of time. When I reflect on generative studies that I have conducted in the past, I see that they have had shelf lives of at least a few years. The reason for this is that such findings emerge from types of research that relate more to human behavior and human nature, which tend not to change very often.
I remember a study that I conducted a few years ago, whose goal was to identify who the users of a product the company wanted to develop would be and what their needs were. Findings from this study lasted and were still in use more than two years after we completed the study because the basic needs of users in that domain had not changed and probably would not change dramatically in the future.
When stakeholders use and consume study results for a long time after you’ve completed a study, that is a good indicator of success. When this does not happen, this might mean that something has gone wrong with planning, collaboration, or communication. But it might just as likely mean stakeholders have internalized your study findings so completely that they now think what they learned from your research was something they had always known.
Trust Becomes Established
One of the most frustrating things that can happen to a UX researcher is realizing that stakeholders do not trust his or her work. However, it is probably pretty rare for stakeholders to tell UX researchers to their face that they don’t trust their findings. On the other hand, one of the most encouraging things a UX researcher can experience is when they know they’ve established trust with stakeholders. In companies where people frequently move on to other positions, you may face having to establish trust all over again with new stakeholders. There are two clear signs that you’ve earned stakeholders’ trust. It is important for me to emphasize that the absence of these signs does not mean your stakeholders do not trust you. It might, but there is not a single sign of trust. The two signs:
- UX researchers get invited to important discussions. When people want to hear what you have to say, it is usually a good sign that you’ve established trust. When you get a seat at the table where stakeholders are making important decisions, that’s a great sign. I realize that UX researchers rarely get invited to this table. But—and this is a big but—more and more companies now realize that they need to make the table bigger to include UX people.
- Teams want to work with researchers. When UX research is having an impact, people talk with each other about it. It is not uncommon to see new business arriving at the doorsteps of UX researchers who have made an impact. This could start with an email message, an instant message, or a hallway conversation—or show up as a formal request for additional UX research staff members—whether resource allocation is temporary or permanent. When more teams want to work with UX researchers, that’s usually a good sign that there’s buy-in for research. Whether you should respond positively to these requests is another matter.