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User and customer research: What’ll be big in 2017?

Sean Owner 15th Dec, 2016

Image is taken from 'The Car Built For Homer' (Simpsonphile on YouTube)

As we come to the end of the year, our thoughts naturally turn to reflecting on 2016 and the year that is to come. There are already more posts out there on 2017 UX trends and predictions than you could poke a stick at, so nobody needs another post like that from me.  However… you don’t get off scot-free. I am going to share my thoughts on some aspects of what is shaping to be big in 2017 and how it relates to user and customer research.

Artificial Intelligence (hopefully not like in Westworld)

In poking around the internet to see what others are predicting for 2017, the thing that most caught my eye are the references to natural interfaces and Artificial Intelligence. Think Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, Dolores and Maeve from Westworld… I would certainly think twice before allowing Dolores or Maeve into my life, but Siri and Alexa on the other hand are far less lethal and actually really helpful. The benefit delivered by Siri, Alexa and Cortana can go beyond helping you organise your life and household, not to mention winning pub trivia competitions. 

The application of anthropology in experience design research

As researchers, at U1 Group we are always advocating investment in understanding your audience, with the ultimate goal of delivering products and services that people actually need. This is in contrast to what customers might ask for (think the Homer Car or Henry Ford’s faster horse). The reality is that whilst our customers are not necessarily able to articulate what they need, we can achieve this understanding by getting to know them and listening to them. This is why we are seeing a rise in the popularity of anthropology in experience design research, in particular the use of ethnographic techniques where we spend time directly observing the audience of interest within their own environment. Some define anthropology as a discipline that serves to advance knowledge of who we are, how we came to be that way—and where we may go in the future. Sounds like what we are all trying to achieve within user and customer experience to me.

More sense-making when it comes to data and user needs

So what does this all have to do with digital personal assistants like Siri and Alexa? I can’t help but see these technologies as passive ethnographers. They are embedded within the everyday lives of individuals and households, actively listening to us and responding to our requests for information. They come to know what is important to us, making suggestions or even pre-empting our requests. All privacy concerns aside (a post for another time), organisations that provide this type of service and understand how to use the data that it generates, are extremely well placed to deliver products and services that meet an actual need and therefore deliver value that is to the benefit of all parties.

The challenge is making sense of all of the data that they are collecting. So when it comes to 2017, at U1 Group we are looking forward to observing and being involved in the roll-out of new products and services that benefit from being based upon a deeper understanding of customers and using data to make product design decisions.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I’d also like to take this opportunity on behalf of U1 Group to wish everyone all of the best for the coming Christmas period and for 2017.


About The Author

Sean Owner

Sean joined U1 Group back in 2010 as a Senior Consultant and since then his role has evolved going on to become Managing Director and now Owner of the business. Sean has been involved in experience research and strategy for over 20 years. With a background in Psychology and a keen interest in technology, Sean is passionate about the use of research to inform experience design decisions. He firmly believes that the best experiences are those which recognise the human that resides at the centre of all interactions.

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