In the last few decades, we’ve witnessed several prominent shifts in how we build products. One of the most impactful ones—the rise of design thinking and design-led organizations—has paved the way for leveraging research in product development and introduced the notion of user-centric products built on customer empathy and rooted in user needs.
With the rise of AI (artificial intelligence), we’re witnessing another major transformation in how we build products. From research to design to development—every stage is being revolutionized dramatically.
In this article, I want to look closer at how AI is revolutionizing the way we build and giving way to an organizational shift similar to the rise of design-led organizations around a decade ago. Let’s start with a trip down memory lane.
Part I: The rise of design-led organizations
In the early 2000s, one of the most popular phrases in venture-backed startups was the notion of ‘move fast and break things’ coined by Facebook as their company motto at the time. That philosophy became so prevalent that it brought forth a wave of startups and product teams that rushed to get MVPs to market and place their products in the hands of their customers. Building fast was the order of the day, and speed and agility its indicators of success.
In that environment, research was rarely—if ever—a priority. Getting to market fast was that era’s main advantage, but its disadvantage came from the same source. Building fast meant that companies more often than not forwent investigating the viability of the solution and the market, testing for errors in production, and ultimately placed building at the expense of strategic planning.
Slowly, that mentality started to change—first, with the rise of design thinking, which brought forth the need for building for the end-user, and second with the rise of design-led organizations, which introduced the industry to the notion of experience—and how it built customer loyalty and retention.
That’s also when and why Maze was born. We recognized the importance of learning early and often, and dedicated ourselves to empowering product teams with the tools and knowledge they needed to get user insights at the earliest stages of product development and make them part of their organization’s driving force.
Historically, research during the product development process has been constrained by three major challenges: time, resources, and know-how. With Maze, our mission has always been to solve these three main challenges for product teams. Over the past few years, we’ve introduced functionality to accelerate access to insights, provided free resources, and opened up research to everyone on the product team.
With new developments in AI, I believe we can solve these challenges faster than ever before. Here’s how.
A leveled playing field fueled by AI
The first way AI is changing how we build is at the tactical level. Until now, only the largest and most resourced product teams had the ‘luxury’ to run in-depth studies. Now, AI is bringing research up to the speed of product development. From data collection to data analysis, AI can act as a micro-expert at every stage of the development process, helping product teams conduct research faster than ever before.
With only 3% of organizations leveraging research at the highest level, there’s a new opportunity for businesses to increase their organizational research maturity by making use of the new development of AI research tools. With AI-enhanced features, product teams are now more empowered to take the reins on the tactical aspects of research, requiring fewer specialized skills to get started.
This means AI is leveling the playing field for all organizations, regardless of size or resources, and enabling everyone in a product team to run research, thus accelerating the democratization of research across companies.
As a result, businesses can leverage research at scale and infuse product development with user insights—more than ever before.
But what does that mean for product organizations going forward?
Time-to-right has always been what mattered. The way to do that used to be through iterative development from an MVP. Then it was design thinking. Now it's AI-assisted research.
The current AI revolution is changing the game for how we’ll build products and who will win in an AI-fueled world. In this landscape, design and development will become AI-assisted, making it easier than ever for anyone to build an effective product, no matter their resources or experience. With automation powering most of these tactical aspects, a company’s ability to build products fast is no longer a differentiating factor. Instead, what matters most is a company’s ability to adapt to changing user needs on an almost continuous basis, or what I call the ‘time-to-right’.
Time-to-right is not about going to market fast, but about going to market with the right product faster than your competitors. Time-to-right has always been what mattered. The way to do that used to be through iterative development from an MVP. Then it was design thinking. Now it's AI-assisted research. At the heart of getting it right is the question: ‘How can we identify and solve our customers’ needs faster than competitors?’ This is where your North Star lies. And this is what research can help you solve.
Part II: The rise of user-led organizations
This fundamental shift powered by AI propels us into a new era of product development—one where user insights are a company’s most valuable asset.
According to our Research Maturity Report, businesses that leverage research at their highest potential get 2.3x better business results, such as increased revenue and improved brand perception. Undeniably, research is the most critical part of product development—making user-led organizations the winners of tomorrow.
This is how organizations remain competitive and defensible against competitors, major economic shifts, and large-scale change—by harnessing the voice of the user at scale.
AI is poised to shift how fast and how often we get access to user insights, but it’s not changing the indisputable value of research: an intimate understanding of users and their needs, and the continuous learning and re-learning of those ever-evolving needs. These strategic aspects of research are not automatable because, irrespective of tactics, its essence has always been about solving human pains. There’s no taking the human out of the process.
Research can provide the right insights at the right time and drive conversations around what to build, who to target, and how to win as a business. This is how organizations remain competitive and defensible against competitors, major economic shifts, and large-scale change—by harnessing the voice of the user at scale.
How Maze is building for the future
At Maze, our vision has always been to live in a world where experiences are shaped by the people who engage with them. We’re hard at work building the first AI-powered continuous discovery platform to serve the organizations embracing this shift and placing research at the heart of their product development.
I’m incredibly excited about these advancements toward our vision, which are now more critical than ever before. We are dedicated to helping organizations accelerate their time-to-right, by building tools that harness the power of AI to democratize access to user insights and advanced research methods.
The future of product development lies in the confluence of AI and user research. This new era is a great opportunity for all product teams to embrace bringing the user closer to the product, ultimately powering a world of products shaped by the user.