Why Senior Product Leaders Can't Afford to Ignore UX Research

Senior product leaders discussing ideas together
Damian Headshot
Damian Rees
June 6, 2023
5 min. read
UX Research
Product Leadership
Product Innovation

Being a product leader in the tech industry can sometimes feel like being on a runaway train. Customers' demands are relentless, the pressure to innovate is overwhelming, and the challenges of building a cohesive team are all-consuming. 

As a product leader, your team look to you to make the right decisions that echo throughout every aspect of the product. So every choice must be considered and based on as much evidence as possible. That's where UX research steps in, an essential component of product delivery that is often overlooked.

As a product leader, you guide your team through the complexity of product development, making pivotal decisions that echo throughout the product. Your instincts and experience are essential, meaning you may over-rely on them in favour of seeking more evidence. UX research is an invaluable tool that brings clarity to your decisions. 

Research won't replace your leadership skills but strengthens your decision-making process by providing user-centred insights. UX research is about merging instinct with evidence, enhancing your innate understanding of your product and its users. The blend of your intuition and research-based evidence leads to decisions that resonate powerfully with your users, paving the way for product success.

UX Research - A Key to Innovation

Instagram started as a location-based check-in app named Burbn, similar to Foursquare. However, during their initial user research, the founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger observed that users were more interested in the photo-sharing feature of the app rather than checking in. Users loved the app's photo filters feature, which was unique at that time.

Instead of sticking to their initial idea, they decided to pivot based on these user insights. They stripped down Burbn, refocused it entirely around photo-sharing, and renamed it Instagram. The rest, as we know, is history. Today, Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms globally, with over a billion active users.

This story is a brilliant example of how UX research can lead to product innovation by helping understand users' needs and behaviours better, thus guiding product leaders towards successful decision-making.

Key takeaway

UX research is a driving force for innovation, leading to revolutionary products.

The Cost of Ignoring UX Research

Think about what would happen if a chef didn't taste their dishes before serving. Relying on chance would undoubtedly lead to uninspiring meals being sent out of the kitchen, and ultimately, the restaurant would decline in popularity. Similarly, when product leaders ignore UX research, the results can be devastating. Google Glass is a prominent example of a product failure due to the need for proper UX research.

Google Glass was a wearable computer with a head-mounted display, introduced in 2013 with much fanfare. It was designed to display information in a smartphone-like, hands-free format that could interact with the Internet via voice commands.

However, Google failed to take into account many user experience issues. Privacy concerns were one of the most severe oversights, with people feeling uncomfortable around wearers due to the device's camera and recording capabilities. Moreover, the high price, limited battery life, lack of clear value proposition, and aesthetic design were significant factors in its failure.

Many of these issues could have been identified and addressed had Google conducted comprehensive UX research with real users in real-world scenarios before launch. Google Glass is a potent reminder of the potential consequences of overlooking user needs and expectations.

The product was officially discontinued for consumers in 2015. While Google attempted to pivot Glass towards professional use cases (like manufacturing and healthcare), its initial launch is widely regarded as a failure. This example emphasises the importance of UX research in aligning a product's design and functionality with user expectations and needs.

Key takeaway

Ignoring UX research can lead to product failures, impacting a company's reputation and bottom line.

The Benefits of UX Research for Your Product Team

Let's look at how UX research can support your product team better.

Designers: Avoiding Rework with UX Research

Product Designers shape the product experience, moulding it into something visually engaging and easy to use. However, with proper UX research, they can explore more options, argue for their opinions (instead of relying on research data), and redo their work when the customers react negatively. This can be frustrating and inefficient for them, and with regular UX research in place, their design decisions become data-driven, cutting down unnecessary iterations and guesswork. 

Key takeaway

Proper user research prevents designers from unnecessary iterations and strengthens their design decisions with solid data.

Engineers: No more Coding in the Dark

Without UX research, engineers are building based on assumptions. They write code for features that might not be necessary, argue over the definition of "done," and redo their work when customers say it's not meeting their needs. However, when the features are planned with evidence from UX research, they know exactly what features to build and how to fine-tune them to users' needs.

Key takeaway

UX research illuminates the path for engineers, ensuring they build features that meet user needs and save time.

Product Managers: Avoiding Crisis Mode

Without UX research, product managers can feel like they're navigating uncharted waters. They may prioritise the wrong features, force teams to do more work than necessary and spend too much time in "crisis mode" when customers are unhappy with the results. UX research provides clarity and confidence, avoiding unnecessary crises and keeping the product on track.

Key takeaway

UX research provides the roadmap for product managers, allowing them to prioritise effectively and avoid unnecessary crises.

Practical Steps for Incorporating UX Research

Incorporating UX research doesn't have to be complicated. Here are three simple steps:

1/ Start with empathy

Focus your research on understanding your users' needs, wants, and pain points.

2/ Evaluate their current experience

Learn how users interact with your product and competitors and isolate some critical aspects of the experience that need improvement.

3/ Ideate and Prototype

Build your ideas into a prototype and get it into the hands of users. Gather feedback and make improvements.

4/ Iterate

Repeat the process, continually refining your product based on user feedback.

For instance, Spotify continuously uses these steps to refine its app, leading to a platform millions of users love daily.

Key takeaway

With steps like empathy, prototyping, and iteration, UX research can be easily incorporated into the product development process.

The Non-Negotiable Role of UX Research

To wrap it up, UX research can be essential in more effective and efficient product development. It eliminates guesswork, aids decision-making, and helps create products that users love. For product leaders, it's not a nice-to-have; it's a must-have. Research provides a deeper understanding of your users, driving innovation and ultimately ensuring the success of your product. Combined with your experience and intuition, user research allows you to be more confident and effective as a leader.

If you're interested in how to incorporate UX research into your next product development cycle to experience the transformation it brings. Get in touch. We can provide user research or guide you and your team to do it yourselves.

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