Posted by Jennifer Bohmbach on Feb 9, 2021

With the digital landscape always shifting with new user needs, technological advances, and changing priorities, UX teams are constantly trying to stay on top of new emerging technologies and how they can improve the user experience. Emerging tech includes technologies that have not yet been fully developed, applied, or are largely unrealized, encompassing any type of new technology in any industry or field. They tend to be “radically novel, are fast growing, have a prominent impact and are ambiguous and uncertain.” Some you might have heard of include, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, or wearables.

Many of our clients, across industries and products, have come to us with questions about their emerging tech capabilities, and we’d like to share a few trends and lessons we’re seeing in our research to help you inform your research and product roadmap.

1. Chatbots and conversational interfaces streamline online retail interactions.

Many consumers rely on digital channels to interact with the brands they love, especially in the retail space. As stores began closing during the pandemic, consumers moved online to shop safely, causing a massive change in how we think about the retail space. This year, AnswerLab worked with a number of clients to help navigate this shift and understand how chatbots, personalization, and voice assistants could make those online shopping experiences more seamless. Using these technologies can help make these digital interactions feel more like a physical retail shopping experience.

Smart Speaker

2. Early and often research can improve business and product impact.

Every company needs to drive innovation faster to compete in today’s environment. It can be tempting to ‘just start building’ a product if you have the technological capability to keep things moving. However, when working with emerging tech experiences, it’s critical to plan and execute research early and often instead of making assumptions about users’ wants and needs. Any product must solve a need to achieve success and if the technology is brand new, that need might not be entirely clear right off the bat. Especially with emerging tech, we’ve seen early exploratory research make a significant impact on our clients’ product development plans. Emerging technologies usually have an adoption curve which can impact when and how these innovations might be relevant. 

Research might seem like a barrier to getting to the goal quickly, but it’s a critical tool in your building box. Research insights help inform the product vision and communicate that vision within the company. Not only can it help you understand how the product fits into people’s lives, it can help your team discover a new behavior or use case the technology might enable as well.

3. Virtual reality helps users get their social fix during the pandemic.

With so many of us staying at home this past year, we’ve discovered that engaging with AR/VR experiences is one of the many ways users are getting their social fix and connecting with friends and loved ones. With this renewed focus on the platform, we’re seeing more interest from brands who want to understand how they can benefit from adding VR experiences to their business toolkit. We’ve collaborated with our clients to identify ways to conduct AR/VR research remotely, including defining ways to share participants' screens and establishing research methods to make data collection easier. In a few of our projects, we’ve even used the technology to “meet up” in VR with participants and conduct research within the interface itself.


4. Researching hardware remotely is tricky, but can be done with intentional preparation.

Historically, most hardware research has been conducted in-person for device security and confidentiality, as well as ease of prototyping and observation. Now, with in-person research being unsafe due to the pandemic, we’ve seen more openness to researching hardware remotely, causing the industry to innovate on how hardware research is done. In our experience, we’ve discovered a few strategies and approaches that can aid remote hardware research. First, testing earlier in the production cycle with lower fidelity or even no prototypes works best for remote hardware testing. Early testing can help you identify critical insights before heading too far down the development process and reduces the complex logistics of getting hardware into participants’ hands. Second, try dividing your research strategy into smaller, bite-sized studies, only researching one part of the final product at a time. This keeps things simpler and enables you to build on previous work more easily.

5. Interest in configuring a “smart home” is surging.

With so many of us working from home, home upgrades and renovations are on the rise. One of the many home improvements customers are making is creating a “smart home” with a variety of IoT devices. These devices are being used for a variety of tasks including household reminders, communication with family members, automation, and creating homeschooling routines for young kids. However, a big struggle for many brands is creating fully connected cross-device experiences. 

Our team has seen two challenging cross-device IoT trends arise in the last year. First, connecting devices that belong to the same brand is currently easier for customers, but still a disjointed experience. We’ve found that not all product teams within a company actively collaborate, meaning their experiences are less likely to connect seamlessly. Make sure you’re conducting research on these cross-device experience points. Your users will expect your various products and experiences to line up seamlessly. The second challenge is finding cross-device connections between brands (e.g., wanting my Google TV to talk to my Alexa device and play my Apple Music). This presents an even larger challenge that’s still being solved for. A number of companies have promised to come out with an “Open Source Smart Home Standard” this year, which will hopefully enable better connected experiences across the board.

“Get out of the building. Talk to customers and users.”

Regardless of which technology you’re exploring, make sure you’re reaping the benefits of user research. You’ll better understand your users, minimize high spending on products likely to fail in the market, and prevent losing trust with products users struggle to understand. 

In a year of constant change and a new reliance on digital experiences, research can help you identify ways emerging technology can give your brand a new edge and create better, seamless experiences for your customers.

Get in touch with us to hear how AnswerLab can help with your emerging tech needs.

Written by

Jennifer Bohmbach

Jennifer Bohmbach is a Sr. UX Researcher at AnswerLab with over two decades of experience in User Experience practice, management and leadership, marketing, and product development, working with software, hardware, and emerging technology products and services. Several of those years were spent working in the digital advertising space. She draws on her past work to lead research with clients that draws out clear, meaningful and actionable insights.

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