User experience now top of mind, even before software is conceived

Survey on UX attitudes finds 'shift toward getting user insights earlier and more frequently during development.'

User experience (UX) -- once an afterthought to technology implementations, and a lonely outpost of pursuit in the tech food chain -- is suddenly red hot. More corporate attention, money and resources are flowing to upgrading and enhancing it. UX -- and its fraternal twin, customer experience (CX) -- are now top of mind for everyone, from product designers to marketers to senior executives.

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Photo: HubSpot

That's the key takeaway from the latest survey of 2,200 managers and professionals published by UserTesting, which finds increased interest in the UX ethic, in efforts to better understand customer behavior and attitudes. Thirty-six percent have increased their UX research budgets, versus only four percent cutting back.

A majority of managers, 51%, expect to see artificial intelligence playing a greater role in enhancing their UX over the next five years. Multi-device interaction is also expected to greatly enhance UX.

Companies are now conducting UX research in the earliest stages of product development, the survey also finds. A majority, 72%, report that UX research takes place before beginning any design or development of software. Another 76% also report UX research continues through the design and prototyping phase. In the past, the report's authors observe, the procedure has been to conduct in-person interviews and focus groups prior to the design phase, and then run usability tests immediately before or after launch. "These days, however, there's a shift toward getting user insights earlier and more frequently during development."

An Agile approach -- close work with users or customers with continuously improving multiple iterations -- has taken over. And as any long-time Agile advocate would agree, "continuous user feedback during the prototyping phase helps refine concepts quickly before investing in development," the report's authors explain. "This ultimately saves the time, cost, and hassle of doing rework--and helps to ensure product adoption."

Twenty-four percent run usability tests on a weekly basis or more frequently, while 26% run tests on a monthly basis. A majority, 53%, report that their degree of testing has increased over the past year. An even larger percentage, 73%, expect to be increasing the frequency of their usability testing.

Forty percent of the companies in the survey have dedicated teams dedicated to UX research. A majority have between two to 10 employees that focus on UX on at least a part-time basis. About one-third report that their UX staff is also directly involved in delivering customer experience.

Participants for UX research come from a number of places: 65% go to their current user bases, while 40% employ usability testing services. Twenty-four percent conduct "guerrilla testing," while 23% tap social media. While focus groups and the like are still employed, a least 44% indicate that the majority of their UX testing is conducted remotely or online.

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