Stakeholders, value of research, ROI

Convincing stakeholders of the value of user research

"Half of the money I spend on advertising is waste, and the problem is I do not know which half." - Henry Ford

Good news! You don’t have that problem with user research. None of your money is wasted (unless you ignore the research's outcome). However, this probably isn’t good enough to convince your gatekeepers to invest in user research.

The problem of determining the value of user research is as old as the discipline itself. What is the research worth and how can I understand which investment creates which benefit? Searching Google for "UX ROI" you get more than 6 million answers, and without having read them all, I am confident you won't find a lot of satisfying answers. The model I still like best is Lohmeyer's calculation of labor costs for product development including and excluding UX work, with the conclusion that research costs are easily covered by saving working hours for bug fixing, maintenance and complaint management.

In the course of several years, and with the power of a large market research organization, we developed another model that is based on the correlation of market share and active brand equity, as well as the correlation of brand equity drivers with UX KPIs, statistically based on structural equation modelling.

 

Structural equation model showing the impact of UX on brand memorability and brand experience, ultimately (but indirectly) correlating with brand equity.

The real problem with these calculations is that they all refer to particular scenarios, conditions, and assumptions that cannot be used as a blueprint for just any product or service. On top of that, its operationalization is probably more expensive than the grand total you spend on UX per year.

But most of all: It is useless and a waste of time. We live in such a complex environment that is influenced by so many factors that it is simply impossible to calculate the effect of one influencing factor. Instead, I recommend having a look at the bigger picture. This shows us a general increase in digitalization (starting with working from home in industries where this was never thought possible), new self-confidence of new employee generations entering the market, having high expectations towards their (digital) work environment, as well as rapid iterations of new devices trying to be better than what is already on the market.

But what can you do if your boss still has a mental model from the last century, or your company's still lasting success illudes that this status will remain forever?

 

Here are some tips:

  • Do not even try to go the ROI route, this is an uphill battle.
  • Confront your decision makers with other immaterial values they pay attention to, such as "quality" or "good working atmosphere". I am curious to learn how they quantify this.
  • Make clear that User Experience is not a niche product anymore but has turned into a key argument for the quality of a product in advertisement (i.e. Mercedes Benz' MBUX).
  • Even if you do not have budget, run and record a do-it-yourself mini test and confront your bosses with videos of participants freaking out over your products. If this does not work, rent an aging suit (available from 300€ per day), put your boss into it and let her/him experience that their own perception may not be true for your users.

 

Automotive researcher wearing aging suit to understand impact of physical limitations on car operation.

Author

Wolfgang Waxenberger

Wolfgang started working as a UX professional in 2004 after completing his MA in Political Science and Sociology. For 10 years he led SirValUse Consulting and GfK's UX department before founding uintent. Wolfgang's focus is on automotive and healthcare research.

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