In the context of the modern tech sector, user experience (UX) researchers, UX research (UXR) approaches, and methods can greatly improve business strategy.  Though UXR is commonly employed in designing software or devices or as part of the service design process, this practice can also provide essential insight and expertise in formulating business strategy.  UXR leverages a powerful mindset and methodological toolkit to ground strategy in the actual needs of customers or the workforce charged with fulfilling customer needs in UXR oriented toward enterprise software or other technology.  Incorporating UXR as a component of business strategy is analogous to making a roadmap from the deep knowledge of the land rather than a cursory survey or guessing based on a few opinions.

The Value Add of UXR in Business Strategy: Beyond Apps

While the most well-known role for a UXR practitioner is to be embedded and work closely with a design or design and development team, the capability these professionals bring to an enterprise extends far beyond the proximate level of product design.  UXR adds value to business strategy because of the broad knowledge base, varied experiences, and can-do mindset of these experts.

For example, UXR is essential to an adaptation of the design thinking process to service design.  Service design applies design thinking to optimize service by directly improving an employee’s user experience of workflows or processes and indirectly improving customer experience.  Service design may be a strategy component, especially when there is a need to pivot or change the business culture to adapt to changing circumstances or customer needs.

Another vital element UXR perspectives can offer to business strategy is an ethical framework based on a deep empathy for the constituents of a business, be they external customers or internal stakeholders.  For instance, social scientists with long careers in UXR, such as Ken Anderson (Intel) and Sam Ladner (Workday), have been instrumental in ensuring that scientifically based ethical considerations are surfaced in strategy sessions with key corporate leaders.

UXR in discovery research and exploratory research can be crucial in knowing when to adopt an initiative or product a bit, pivot, or scrap an idea entirely in the startup world.  In my previous work in startups, there was one case where I used the research method of netnography, a modified approach to ethnography focused heavily on online interaction. It helped guide the design of a property tech application whose purpose was to help people get to know their neighbors more readily in dense, urban settings.  This study surfaced themes of buying and selling goods, leisure, and real estate on Facebook interest groups geared toward the target market.  These insights helped target the UX design of the application and informed the launch strategy.  Alternatively, I led an exploratory research project that triggered the indefinite parking of an application that a CEO thought was a great idea but about which a sample of people in the target demographic was decidedly unfavorable.  This decision was demotivating in the short term but saved the startup time and money to focus on more important initiatives in the long term.

Incorporating UXR into strategic decision-making enables companies to form a complete picture of the current state of affairs, discern how well a current initiative does or meets user needs, or spot emergent opportunities.  For instance, discovery research is a highly effective way to map out what sort of initiative to embark upon or what product to build.  Similarly, ethnographic research as part of a mixed-methods approach that incorporates quantitative trend data can yield insight into the lived experience of workers or potential customers that can surface blue ocean opportunities.

UXR Approaches to Business Strategy

Two UXR-related approaches positively impact business strategy; these approaches are research strategy and strategic research.  While research strategy is the process of formulating and executing a grand vision of how the research will ensure and amplify enterprise success, strategic research is research conducted to set direction, map out strategic initiatives, or surface new opportunities.  Research strategy and strategic research are complementary modalities of crafting a business strategy that is attuned to the needs of internal and external stakeholders and maximally effective in achieving business goals.

In practice, an effective research strategy entails having a UXR or other type of research practitioner with enough access to senior leadership and decision-making authority to determine the direction and execution of UXR or other types of research that benefit an enterprise.  Areas of responsibility for a research strategist should include:

  • overall vision and mission for the research group or function;
  • research topics;
  • research project plans including, goal, design, and methodology;
  • research team organization and deployment;
  • personnel allocation to projects;
  • training;
  • and having a voice in research budgets.

All of these aspects of research strategy must tie in directly to business goals and objectives.

For strategic research, key considerations involve researching early enough in strategic initiative formulation to positively impact selecting initiatives that balance innovation and business goals with the reality, needs, and pain points of the people who would execute or benefit from said initiatives.  Discovery research is a strong approach to strategic research because it takes place before formulating an initiative or design of a product.  Examples of strategic discovery research include Facebook’s pathfinding program or an ethnography of the “day in the life” of a potential customer base that yields insight and recommendations for a new service or product line.  Strategic research is a key feature in building or doing what has the most value for the enterprise and impact for its customers.

Businesses would employ UXR in research strategy, strategic research, or research strategy and strategic research done in concert in the tech spaces.

Wrapping Up

UXR is a transformative value-add for business strategy and can be employed comprehensively and flexibly to realize the grand vision and achieve business goals.

Radiant Digital’s growing UXR practice is ready to transform your business strategy with keen insights and a deep understanding of people.  We are committed to guiding a winning corporate strategy in the ever-changing digital economy.