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Making UX Research Essential to Your Company's Success

In the face of UX research’s “reckoning,” leaders see opportunity and share tips for creating long-term value.

The UX community faces change across many fronts. Job loss, budget cuts, reorganizations. These ongoing and industry-wide developments have led some in the field to call this moment “a reckoning.

So what comes next?  The magnifying glass appears to be firmly on the work of user researchers and its function within a company. Specifically, there’s an increased focus on how we can reframe our practices to better reflect the needs, goals, and priorities of the business ecosystem in which so many of us operate.

One way this might manifest itself: linking research to revenue and creating a research strategy clearly tied to business impact. More on this below. The speakers at UXRConf added to this discussion in two ways.

Editor’s note: This the first of two summaries from the UXRConf event in June 2024. Part two, which explores how UX must build cross-functional partnerships, is coming soon.

Listen to Judd Antin's predictions for the future of UX research.

First, remember why UX research exists

Maria Sbrocca, UX leader for Google’s Gemini AI product, invited us to re-remember why this innovative and dynamic discipline was founded. For Sbrocca, there are two reasons:

  1. To help companies make better decisions
  2. To measure company-wide progress

The first is about mitigating risk and highlighting opportunities. This, she maintains, requires that our curiosity and systematic observational skills be used to assess how the business works, the market in which it operates, and how stakeholder problems contribute to the goals of the business. Familiarity with this context, she claims, will only help us as research partners.


First, we can better identify when and why research will help, and when it won’t. Sbrocca thinks the best researchers know when not doing any research at all is the best choice for the company's needs. Second, with context, our research designs earn clarity and sharpness. Too much UX research is overly complex, when a simpler approach—something like usability testing—would help answer questions, solve problems, and move the business forward. A context-aware UXR never opts for complexity unless it’s warranted by the problem or opportunity, Sbrocca says.

The second reason UX exists—to measure company-wide progress—requires researchers to invest in articulating how your work impacted that of others’,  their decisions, the actions they took, and what it meant for the business. For Sbrocca, UXRs need to invest in following up, what she calls “landing it.” This includes chasing down how—or if—your insights and recommendations were used by stakeholders, and to what effect. This offers us a chance to situate UX research within the wider business and clearly point to its impact and effects.

Remembering why UX exists can help fight burnout, says Sbrocca, by reminding us that “utility beats volume every time.” When we focus on the right thing for the business, we spend less time second guessing our work and more time enacting changes we want to see for the user.

Second, create a practice of strategic foresight

Sam Ladner, Senior Principal Researcher at Workday, challenges UX professionals to leverage the context described by Sbrocca and extend it forward. Specifically, she believes that in order for UX to grow its image as a partner for business, we need to engage in strategic foresight.

For Ladner, strategic foresight is a specific way of thinking about the future. One where researchers observe and note change—usually at the margins, where the signal is still faint—and adds intentionality to it. In other words, describing potential futures and advocating for how our teams, products, and company would “show up” in that future. “Planning for the future with purpose,” Ladner summarizes.

bubble chart showing the strategic foresight process
A foresight framework organized by questions to ask.

Intentional future-casting turns UX into a valued and trusted advisor to the company. We might advise on an untapped opportunity space or a unique value proposition, and outline sustainable advantages to the business. This is more than simply creating a research strategy; instead, we widen the inputs of our processes. Ladner says we can do this by introducing small practices into our workflows.

Accept that uncertainty is inherent in prediction

Predictions, which are core to strategic foresight, require an acceptance of uncertainty. After all, the future is unknown. Ladner frames foresight as making educated “bets” on what will matter to customers in the future and how that affects what a company makes.

Ladner shares three best practices for managing uncertainty, based on poker champion Annie Duke.

  1. Avoid “resulting”: Focus on rigorous and repeatable processes. Make sure that the results you produce—whether it’s a usability test or a strategic prediction—are based on sound and valid steps.
  2. Strive for objectivity: Biases surround many steps of the UX research process. Ladner counsels us to reflect on what biases might be driving our research in the first place. Are we leading ourselves toward a result that might—in fact—not be useful or relevant to the business?
  3. Seek feedback: Although UXRs get lots of feedback, triangulation is key. Repeat (and satisfied) customers are a gold mine, as are those who have churned and are no longer customers. Feedback from a diverse sample helps you make better decision, especially in the face of  will help you weigh uncertainty.
Learn how to create continuous customer feedback surveys.

Scan new domains for a fuller picture

Ladner suggests using the STEEP method for folding in other types of information to make the most educated, relevant, and useful prediction about the future. STEEP stands for: Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political. When we look beyond our product category or industry, we start to uncover developments that might help our near-term project work and influence the recommendations we make about the future.

A productive scanning practice using STEEP creates what Ladner calls “knowledge baskets,” or repositories of information and insight that might be useful in making a strategic foresight. This could be as low-fi as a text document or as robust as a Notion space. Whatever you choose, make sure you can tag, code, or organize the information gleaned from scanning in a way that makes it easy to recall.

By accepting that there will always be uncertainty and employing scanning practices, we’ll be better prepared to capitalize on an emergent opportunity, linking its potential impact for our products and customers. In this way, UX professionals can use their inherent  curiosity and mindset to help the business “see around corners” for years to come.

Stream the entire UXRConf event for free.

More resources on making your research strategic

Ben Wiedmaier
Senior Content Marketing Manager
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