UX in a Recession: How To Conduct User Research During a Recession (or any budget cutbacks)
User Experience, UXResearch

UX in a Recession: How To Conduct User Research During a Recession (or any budget cutbacks)

During a recession, researchers may be asked to limit their scope and get the work done with less money and fewer people, but the information needed is more urgent than ever.

When people watch a movie on the big screen, they enjoy a film that has undergone immense cuts and edits. Many scenes end up on the cutting room floor.

They were deemed non-essential.

Similarly, anyone whose budget and/or responsibilities are cut during a recession probably feels the same as any actor who’s scenes didn’t make the cut. Obviously, everyone thinks they’re essential!  

That is especially true for UX professionals, because their work becomes much more important when tough economic times make it increasingly challenging to connect with users.

But the fact is: At times UXrs need to find ways to remain effective even when they’re asked to do their jobs with less – because pieces of their budgets end up on the cutting room floor.

For researchers it may look or sound like:

  • Having to choose inappropriate research methods because they are less expensive
  • Cuts in research budgets (headcount, tools, etc.)
  • Cuts in participant recruiting spend or the ability to connect with actual end-users

If that sounds like a recipe for incomplete findings, pulled from inadequate sources and put together by an overworked exhausted team, welcome to the (all-too-frequent) reality of research during a recession.

Yet during a recession, research is more critical than ever.  If no one is doing UX research to develop insights to gauge if and how things are changing for consumers, the company is going to be far less successful at fighting through the recession.

This is quite the Catch 22. Researchers are asked to limit their scope and get the work done with less money and fewer people, but the information needed is more urgent than ever.

How to Gather User Insights During a Recession

Step 1: Double Check the Vision and Roadmap

Before anything else, UX Research & Design should review the Product(s) Roadmaps and vision to identify what information is needed to achieve business goals despite the recession. Think big picture. The goal being, we want to identify the types of research that can be applied across multiple products, business units, experiences.

Step 2: Prioritize Research Initiative Goals & Questions

Using the higher-level business goals as a guide, prioritize research efforts, by focusing on topics, questions, and end-users that will have the most impact. If you get too granular, you risk not making a big enough impact to justify the value of your work.

Step 3: Execute & Expand Your Reach

How you gather information during a recession can vary greatly, but here are some resources you may not have considered.

  • Option #1: Your company repository. Often times, really good research has been forgotten and lost in our internal systems. Maybe a few keywords could unlock gold. Or maybe not, but it’s worth a try, right? You could also ask your colleagues. Maybe they have related projects or insights you could use to answer questions.
  • Option #2: Do it yourself (with or without tools). We’ve come a long way in user research tools, but they aren’t a necessity. We can still get a lot of things done without fancy technology.
  • Option #3: Find secondary sources to inform designs, development, or to make really good guesses about user behavior. Be sure to follow up and test the hypotheses later when there is more funding for research.   
  • Option #4: Partner with a research firm that can recruit and conduct research on your behalf. Such companies are usually all-inclusive (recruiting, scheduling, facility, moderating, analysis, presentation) and often work on a per-project basis. This gives you more control over costs and protects your head count and HR related expenditures.

Recession or not, experience doesn’t stop, so neither should UX

In the midst of all this – difficult as it may be – it’s best for a company is to keep running UX research so it can continue to help product owners and UX designers build out and modify the user experience, and quickly shift if and when economic pressure begins to impact them.

Keep in mind some very famous actors ended up on that cutting room floor and went on to great careers. Companies and researchers who remain every bit as resourceful in this field can have the same successful outcome.