The Rise of UX

Summary: Tune in to the webinar The Rise of UX (user experience) to learn about the past and present relationship between Market Research and UX Research, their differences and similarities and where they are heading.

57 minute video. By author Michaela Mora on June 11, 2023
Topics: Business Strategy, Market Research, UX Research

The rise of UX has taken many market researchers by surprise. Since UX teams often sit within product teams or close to them, market research thought that UX research used unique methodologies that required special design or software development training.

For a long time, these two groups have worked in silos in many companies, not knowing what the other was doing.

When market researchers recently discovered that UX research includes similar approaches to what market researchers have used in product research for decades, there’s a heated debate in the market research/insights community about whether UX is part of market research, whether the two co-exist within the same function, or are entirely different disciplines.

One thing is sure: as more audiences engage with brands digitally, experience research (whether user, customer, human, employee, or patient) is not a trend that will go away.

I had the opportunity to discuss this and other topics in the webinar “The Rise of UX. UX, CX, HX, EX… WTFX are they” on April 21st, 2023, with Jamin Brazil from Voxpopme and Scott Garrison, from Garrison Consulting, and co-hosted by Savanta‘s EVP of Innovation & Strategy Nikki Lavoie and Director of UX Research Meaghan Willis.

Witnessing the Rise of UX as a Market Researcher

The rise of UX started in the tech industry in the early 2000s after the publication of the Agile Manifesto. This document was a declaration recognizing the need to incorporate customer feedback earlier and more often in product development.

The concept of moving fast and breaking things behind the agile methodologies gained popularity. It has expanded to other industries beyond tech for a decade as more companies invested in their digital transformations.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased interest in user research as more people engaged with brands digitally and expected good online experiences. The shift to online spending during the pandemic further emphasized the importance of digital user experiences.

Research has shown that improved user experience often leads to higher return on investment (ROI), higher conversions, and positive brand perception. A single negative experience can drive customers away. Companies investing in user experience have outperformed the market, while those neglecting UX underperform significantly.

Although the founders of the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), who coined the term “user experience,” didn’t mean it to be narrowly defined, UX research has become more focused on digital experiences, primarily due to the growth in tech companies and the influence of agile methodologies. 

My fellow panelists, who started their careers in market research, discovered earlier in this evolution that the methodologies used in user research were similar to those used in market research to study physical products and services.

Are Market Research and UX Research Getting Closer or Moving Further Apart?

Before the mid-90s, market research was the primary method to understand customers, while UX research as a separate discipline did not yet exist. We did product research that would be classified now as UX research.

As a research manager and director for and Blockbuster Online, I set up usability labs in both companies. In collaboration with external research partners, I was involved in all the steps needed to conduct this type of research, from research design to implementation, interviewing, analysis, and reporting.

As new qualitative and quantitative online tools became available, consumer insights became more accessible to professionals outside traditional market research, such as product managers and designers, who don’t always have proper training or understanding of research fundamentals.

The relationship between market research and UX research varies depending on the organizational structure. Still, a growing trend toward building holistic research teams is bringing these disciplines closer together.

Similarities between Market Researchers and UX Researchers


  • Connection to marketing: Market researchers view product development as a crucial marketing pillar, emphasizing product and marketing integration. UX research may separate product and marketing and focus on product-user interactions.
  • Business outcomes: Market researchers understand that improving the user experience should lead to desired business outcomes. UX researchers, on the other hand, maybe less inclined to discuss the financial impact of their research, even though it is essential for their roles to remain relevant.
  • Prevalence of Do-it-Yourself research: While both market research and UX teams may engage in do-it-yourself research, it is more common among UX teams. In some organizations, UX research handles internal research operations (ResearchOps), such as recruitment, incentives, user testing, and interview coordination.
  • Terminology: New terminology has flourished in UX research to relabel established market research methods, creating barriers to collaboration. Currently, UX research relies heavily on qualitative research methods and survey methodology for exploratory and evaluation purposes. Based on terminology alone, each research team believes the other is doing something different.


  • Research methods: Both market researchers and UX researchers utilize qualitative and quantitative research methods, though there may be differences in emphasis and terminology. There is a misconception among UX researchers that market researchers don’t conduct qualitative research. However, market researchers have used focus groups and in-depth interviews for many years. The term “user interview” is based on the target audience, not methodological differences. User interviews are the same as in-depth interviews.
  • Design thinking: Design thinking, which involves gathering information, creating hypotheses, and testing them with users, is used by market researchers and UX researchers, although market researchers never used this label. Design thinking is another label for the scientific method applied to solve business problems, such as innovation. In market research, we call it product research, which includes different approaches selected depending on the stage of the product development process.
  • Focus on customer needs and behaviors: Both market researchers and UX researchers share the goal of understanding and addressing customer needs. We are part of the broader insights discipline, focusing on gathering information about human behavior and preferences to inform decision-making.

Collaboration Between Market and UX Researchers

Collaboration between market researchers and UX researchers and integrating these two research groups can yield more comprehensive insights. Combining their perspectives and expertise can provide a deeper understanding of customers and contribute to successful product launches.

It is essential to bridge the gap between market and UX researchers by aligning terminology and understanding each other’s methodologies. Both disciplines can learn from each other and work together as a holistic research function.

Rather than segregating roles and responsibilities, researchers from both disciplines should strive for a holistic research approach. By pooling resources and knowledge, they can provide more comprehensive insights and better outcomes.

Artificial Intelligence in Market and UX Research

The role and concerns about applications of AI in market and UX research

The excitement around AI in market research and UX is connected to the potential to save time and increase efficiencies. The reality is that companies are willing to invest in tools that offer faster and cheaper solutions.

Some panelists predict this will keep eroding expectations about the quality of research and exacerbate the low demand for experienced researchers and high-quality analysis.

Concerns exist about creating synthetic users based on large language models to replace humans in research. These may provide a potential solution to mitigate the problem of respondent fraud that is plaguing the industry. However, biases and the loss of nuances in human experiences are potential risks.

Researchers must be vigilant in using AI tools wisely, considering biases, and balancing the crowd’s wisdom with AI’s capabilities.

We agreed that AI should be seen as another tool in the research arsenal, not a panacea. Integrating AI into research requires embracing and learning how to use it effectively.

Final Thoughts

The rise of UX has increased awareness about the need for customer research as the experience economy grew. From an initial integration with market research, UX research rose through a divergent path driven by industry forces. However, as of 2023, UX research and market research seem to be converging as the research function matures in many companies.

Innovative companies realize now that customer experience management needs the integration of research disciplines. Without insights triangulation across data sources and research approaches, companies cannot fully understand their customers and create sustainable customer experiences that yield business outcomes.