Uncertainty and UX Research

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It is now quite commonplace to affirm that experimentation and risk-taking are two ingredients needed for innovation; and not simply yet another ingredient, but essential steps in the process of innovation, to the extent that no novelty can emerge without stages of erring and learning.

Experimentation, as it is said, involves dealing with uncertainty...

That is, opening the door to the opportunities for the unknown to step in. This means that it’s important not to lose sight of the productive potential of uncertainty for innovation. Companies that want to be at the front line of technological development should be able, not merely to tolerate uncertainty, but to actively fuel it to a certain extent within their business models. Thus, companies and businesses are increasingly urged to make room for uncertainty.

However it is also true that there is a limit to the capacity of companies to take these risks, no matter how good press it has and how appealing its promises are, especially when big investments are involved. And of course there are many strong reasons for a profit-driven enterprise not willing to follow unknown pathways and rather stay with the known and safe options.

So the real challenge is how to minimize the risks associated with embracing uncertainty. Or put in other words, how to build on the positive effects while reducing the negative impacts that it might have.

There are many different ways in which organizations can deal with this challenge.

UX research is certainly one set of tools for approaching this challenge. UX research, along with its corollary user-centred design aims to understand people’s desires, attitudes and experiences in order to be able to identify their needs and incorporate that knowledge into the design and development process. In doing so, it helps to the bridge the gap between companies’ stakeholders, which usually operate in the realm of metrics, indicators and business goals, and their target users, whose goals and definitions of “good”, “usefulness” or “success” are not necessarily aligned nor related with those of stakeholders.

In this regard, it’s been a while already since companies started to look at research and its tools of description and qualitative knowledge as a valuable way of leveraging product development. Of course, UX research is not a panacea and does not serve to answer all types of questions.

Product and product services are the result of complex processes, in which many different and sometimes opposing forces are in place. But having said this, the benefits of UX research as a tool to deal with uncertainty cannot be ignored.

Benefits of UX Research as a tool to deal with uncertainty

We would like to mention at least three of them:

  • First, by building solutions based on an understanding of the user’s wants and needs and asking for feedback and validation directly from them, the degree of risk involved in any business decision is reduced. There are a number of different techniques that can be used for this, depending on the type of questions that we are willing to answer. User testing, design sprints or card sorting are just some of the examples of methodologies within UX research that can help companies take bold step forwards with confidence.
  • Second, as the researcher frequently acts as a mediator between different actors and has to bring together disparate inputs (client interests, market insights, user views, etc.) it facilitates cross-team communication, thus reduces the chances of misalignment throughout the process.
  • And last, but not least, it puts forward a motto drawn from the world of free software: fail often, fail fast. Because UX research helps to focus the attention around a clear-cut challenge and obtain a clear vision of the problems upfront, reducing the costs of failure in the long run.

With this article we wanted to put our two cents to the argument of the productive contribution that working with and through risk and uncertainty can have in our companies and how UX research can be a good ally for that.

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