10 User Research Trends in 2020

Here we are in 2020, well underway in the new decade, and tons of organizations are picking up steam around the practice of user research. We wanted to share some of the most important trends we’re seeing in this area to help you build out and develop the maturity of user research in your own organization.

1. Using insights to build fewer but better features

Many software tools are winning with fewer features than their competitors by providing much better user experiences. Maybe that means it’s easier to get started or the workflows don’t allow for as many exceptions but are faster for performing various tasks. Fewer buttons addressing weird use cases might allow an app to be easier to learn. Great user experience is achieved by researching what to build before it’s built, and more organizations than ever are taking advantage of the insights from research to drive priorities.

2. Stop duplicating effort

Of course, we want to make use of existing research rather than doing the same research over again (and again and again). To do so, we need to be able to easily reference findings so that teams can dig in as needed. Robust research repositories are an essential way that organizations are creating visibility around existing research and reducing duplication of effort.

3. Differentiating roles and responsibilities

Research-Ops is emerging in a big way. Organizations are growing and maturing, taking control of their practices to be able to scale effectively and provide value to their respective businesses. Systematizing the logistical aspects of user research give those doing research more time to do better research faster.

4. Recruiting for Research-Ops

As the playbooks for Research-Ops solidify, organizations will be doing more recruiting to fill these roles. Just as Design-Ops drew talent from diverse backgrounds, Research-Ops groups will be composed of people with a broad array of skills and experiences. Keep an eye on those listings to see how different organizations are framing roles and the problems that new recruits will be taking on.

5. Marketing your department

From internal newsletters to regularly scheduled insight readouts with popcorn, teams are finding clever ways to socialize their work and show the value of user research. Doing so isn’t just about communicating out. It also opens the door for other parts of the organization to reach out and get connected with people doing research. Finding opportunities to publish content externally can also be a great way to brand teams as world class, create buzz, and bolster recruitment.

6. Reining in costs

Turns out that we’ve got a lot of tools these days. Many teams have three or four wire framing tools, mind mapping software, flowcharting tools, work tracking portals, design portals, research repositories, translation services, surveying websites, prototyping tools, traditional graphic design tools, and probably a slide rule lurking behind our monitors. New teams looking for their footing are often allowed to increase budgets for tooling, but as the team grows, so grows the spend on those tools. To combat this trend, lots of teams are looking for ways to combine functionality and streamline costs in their toolsets.

7. The UX Writer

As industries expand and evolve, new specialties form. One role we’re seeing more is the UX writer. Technical writers tend to help explain features and write documentation. Copywriters tend to work with marketing. The UX writer is all about crafting the microcopy found throughout a product. They help identify the need for and write the words that show up on buttons, in helpful messages, and inside menus. A dedicated digital bard can be invaluable for a team ready to make that jump, especially one with the research skills to test and refine their work. They ensure that the product is designed with a clear and consistent content strategy.

8. Democratizing access to research findings

Teams are finding creative ways to build capacity for user research in their organization. More and more people across different types of roles are getting involved in and doing research themselves. And teams are sharing the findings from research with as wide an audience as possible, even going global across organizations when possible. For more on this topic, check out our recent post on democratizing research in your organization.

9. Connecting the dots

Researchers are great at producing insights. What’s harder is triangulating between insights across different studies, across time, and across teams. Lots of organizations are figuring out creative ways to synthesize disparate insights to reveal new knowledge. One key starting point: centralize all the research.

10. Broadening the impact of user research in more industries

There are a lot of players in industries that have yet to leverage user research as much as they could. Think insurance, logistics, or any of the hundreds of industries where a coherent, integrated customer experience wasn’t always considered a key driver of success. That is changing, especially as software continues to eat the world. And those companies are going to need pretty rad people. Like you.

We’re excited to be a part of such an amazing community of user research leaders and practitioners. We see an amazing year ahead and hope to share it with as many of you as possible.

Handrail helps teams get organized and succeed with research at scale. To stay up to date, sign up for our newsletter. To see Handrail for yourself, sign up for a free trial or demo today.

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