A review of the last 10 years of UX Research

By Hannah Greene, Senior Researcher


  • There are beautiful, intuitive tools for research today
  • The community has blossomed, allowing for 10x the amount of resources available
  • UX Research is an in-demand field, as companies are realizing its value
  • There is a right time for research


So long, Post-its.

ZoCo has been in business for 10 years, which has me reminiscing about how far the UX Research industry has come during that time. Inevitably, there are some cringe moments. I think about handwriting interview notes, my Post-it distillation falling off the whiteboard overnight, and the awkwardness of our first few remote workshops.


The Office GIF


But let’s be honest: those cringe moments existed because UX Research is an emerging industry. The amount of effort and attention UX Research is given has changed. Now, when I tell people I work in UX, 10% of them know what it is (as opposed to 1%).

So, what’s changed in research?

There are tools and services designed for UX Research. And they’re not super clunky, academic tools, but beautiful, intuitive tools.

I used to say I was obsessed with Post-its. Like, my professional bio on LinkedIn talked about how much I loved them. I would tell you about the tactile nature and the experience of being surrounded by their walls [pictures for proof!]. Then came Dovetail and Miro, and I haven’t looked back.

Image of Josh Walz, Associate Director of UX, writing on a white-board

There are also more self-service recruitment tools than ever before. Recruiting costs that were once barriers are things of the past. And specialized B2B recruitment partners like OpenQ and NewtonX are able to find ultra-niche audiences. This makes research more accessible to businesses of all sizes and industries.

I love looking at the UserInterviews Research Tools Map every year. It becomes more robust and complex over time—and I’m here for it.


The community has blossomed.

Ten years ago there were conferences and UX Research groups. But some of the most valuable communities I’ve been part of are over Slack (specifically ResearchOps and Dovetail). These communities are constantly adding more and more people—the growth is astonishing. Having the ability to ask questions or look at past discussions on a topic has been immensely helpful for us as an ever-evolving company.

The number of blogs and newsletters that consistently put out well-informed content also grows. I’m a big advocate of People Nerds, UX Tools, Loop11, UserInterviews, and Dovetail. There’s almost too much to keep up with, but I’m rarely disappointed. I’ve heard of another newsletter worth digging into comes from ZoCo Design 👀

If a rising tide lifts all boats—maybe us researchers are the ones to thank for the growth in our field. Well done, us! *glasses clink*


Wedding Crashers movie GIF where they cheers


It’s an in-demand field.

If you asked me ten years ago, I would say that in most cases you have to fight for research. Or that research was reserved for the big, hairy innovations. Or that it was a small, half-assed part of the process. Now, we see job posting after job posting for dedicated UX Researchers. Companies understand the value of knowing their customers, and are actively looking for ways to reach them.

We’re also hearing more about this trend called the“Democratization of Research” — I think because the demand is so high for this work. Basically, it’s the idea that anyone in an organization can and should be empowered to do UX Research. There are people on both sides of the argument. All in all, I view it as a net-positive for our practice. Our role in this world transitions from an individual contributor to a mentor and collaborator. Inevitably, our well-intentioned coworkers will learn they have bit off more than they can chew, but when someone is able to see the value of talking to their customers firsthand (and how much work it can be), they become an advocate.

research illustration

What still needs to change in research?

Sometimes, research isn’t the answer.

Every year, we get less and less pushback on research initiatives. In fact, we’ve actually had to push back on research requests. There is a right time for research, but it’s not any time you have a question. Sometimes, looking up industry best practices, looking at past research, or talking to other departments is enough (a form of lean research). Time and time again, we see stakeholders gather in a room and realize that Joe in HR is doing the thing that Sally from Marketing wants to do.

This is where I get excited about the potential of research repositories. Why shouldn’t my question about our customers be as easy to find as a Google search? You learn more in one round of interviews than you can hope to execute on—Share the love. Or in this case, share the knowledge. Research repositories should become as commonplace for good companies as brand standards and a design system.

Research is damn hard to get into.

A quick Google search shows several bootcamps and consolidated courses. But as for degree programs, you’re still looking at things like Graphic & Industrial Design, Anthropology, Psychology, Statistics, Computer Science, and Human-Computer Interaction. Research feels like it’s been demoted to an elective. I fell into research by way of industrial design by way of marketing by way of engineering. Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned on the job. I’ve chatted with many others who have similar stories.

Everyone is hiring Senior UX Researchers but there seems to be a lack of Junior roles. Is it that the demand on the field is so high, we feel like we don’t have time for a more junior role? Is it because there’s no direct Bachelor’s degree correlation? How can we create better pipelines for research candidates? I don’t know the answer, I’m asking. There are more researchers out there. We just have to find them.

Someone breaking down a door GIF

Now, I should state that I’m an optimistic realist when it comes to the future. I’m not one for fairy tales. HOWEVER, I think there’s nothing but good things coming for the UX Research field. I’m excited about the people and tools. I’m excited about new ways to gather information. I’m excited by the demand in the field. I’m excited that I no longer get hand cramps from writing 500 Post-its. And I’m definitely excited that you made it to the end of this article. Cheers to 10 years of fabulous research and here’s to what’s next!

ZoCo Design 10 years of human-centered design

What’s next?

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Eric Trimble