Where do I (read we) go from here?

UX Research is undervalued, underappreciated, and possibly in danger.

I’m sure that anybody reading this is aware of the dark clouds hanging over the field of UX research. The tech industry and UXR’s in particular have been disproportionately impacted by a months long series of layoffs. Every week it feels like there is a new swath of people making posts about how 10%, 20% or entire teams are being laid off.

As one of these people who’ve been laid off, I’ll be honest, it’s been tough on me. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that it isn’t your fault. You feel like an imposter. Underqualified. Anxious about what the future holds. I’ve had conversations with multiple people concerned about what the future holds. Depending on the day I’ll continue to feel this way, but this too shall pass.

Recently Judd Antin wrote a thought provoking article about the current state of UX research. I had my initial impression of this article, as did others, and that has changed as time has gone on.

Allow me to provide my takeaway as I’ve had more time to process. For me, Judd’s primary point was that for better or for worse many of these tech and tech-adjacent companies came to conclusion that their current rosters of UXR’s didn’t justify the current cost. That’s a complex issue and I don’t want to get lost in the weeds. What is important to me is that when money needed to be saved there was a clear perception that researchers weren’t absolutely necessary. You can be in the camp that researchers need to provide more, or you can be in the camp that the powers that be need to listen to researchers more. UXR’s categorically do provide value. Each camp wholeheartedly believes that. The former believes that we need to change our delivery or how we provide those insights to better align with what the head honcho’s want. The latter camp believes that we need to be put in the drivers seat, or at the very least be given more of a seat at the table.

No matter what your interpretation is we can all agree that we do provide value. As the tech industry has begun downsizing and moving away from some of their UX teams I’d like to think that other sectors will soak up the research talent. Those organizations may have a lower UX maturity and will subsequently suffer growing pains, but I’m hopeful. It takes time to spin up new teams. I know I’ve seen plenty of director, principal, and other senior level UX positions being posted (although still not enough to soak up the influx of talented mid to late career UXers). My interpretation is that some of these people will help to build new teams and that as time goes on our field will begin to balance itself out.

AI is going to take UX research jobs.

I’ve seen the sentiment in a few places that AI will make UXR obsolete. I’m not going to lie here, I don’t see it at all. If anything AI should compliment researchers and make us even better at our jobs, not take them away.

AI has become extremely powerful in a short amount of time, but AI is only as good as the data it pulls from. AI is susceptible to the same biases that humans are but by nature is less flexible and necessarily less self aware than a human. With a background in Cognitive Psychology I can attest to how frighteningly powerful and ethereal the human brain is. There is so much that we don’t understand about how our brain functions. It’s ability to feel and perceive, be creative, and find solutions. For fear of being cheesy the “je ne sais quoi” or secret sauce of being human is something that I don’t think will ever be replicated in AI.

A skilled researcher will be augmented by AI to do their work faster and at a greater scale, thereby providing even more value. One of the biggest roadblocks to UX research is that we’re told that we don’t have the time to do the research that we want to do. With the help of AI we can speed up that process. AI will help to reduce the time that some of the most time consuming aspects of our job take. Freeing researchers up to provide what makes them different from an AI. Human insight, strategy, and innovation.

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