Excited concert-goers with hands raised in the air.
By Caelan Trodden

The Taylor Swift effect: lessons for UX researchers

October 17th, 2023
4 min read

Taylor Swift’s impact on consumer behaviour, known as the “Taylor Effect,” provides intriguing insights into the dynamics of influence.

While Taylor’s popularity undoubtedly plays a role, scholarly research reveals that influence is not solely determined by the individual but by a mass of receptive individuals. This concept has significant implications for UX research, emphasising the importance of understanding collective behaviour and the power of communities in shaping user experiences.

Paul Lazerfield and Elihu Katz’s seminal study highlighted the role of mass media in influencing opinion leaders who, in turn, influence others. This “Two-Step Flow of Communication” suggests that influential figures serve as intermediaries, amplifying messages to a wider audience. In UX research, this underscores the need to identify and engage with key stakeholders who can champion user-centered design principles within a team or organisation. This not only helps with implementation of a service once our work is done, but throughout a project these influential figures can act as vessels to communicate UX to those less savvy.

It’s a love story, just say yes, to my design recommendations.

Duncan Watts and Peter Dobbs’ research, ‘Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation’, challenges the notion that celebrity influencers hold omnipotent power over consumer behaviour.  Instead, they posit that influence is derived from a collective receptiveness, a critical mass of individuals who are open to new ideas. Here, storytelling takes centre stage. UX research findings should be presented as stories that resonate with team members, stakeholders, and end-users alike. Narratives are as old as time, they humanise the data, making it relatable and more likely that stakeholders will act on your recommendations.

The surge in Travis Kelce jersey sales following Taylor’s appearance at the Kansas City Chief’s American football game demonstrates the power of ‘social contagion’—a social psychology theory that human’s behaviour is ignited by observation and imitation. Storytelling in UX research serves a similar purpose. Instead of presenting raw data, UX researchers should craft stories that vividly illustrate how their users experience interacting with their product and where there are frustrations. These narratives are powerful, not only make the findings more relatable, but also provide a clear context for design decisions.

Taylor Swift’s success isn’t just about her music—it’s about the genuine connections she’s fostered with her devoted fan base, known as ‘Swifties’. Taylor Swift’s ability to create music that speaks to a wide range of listeners is a testament to her mastery of storytelling. In our domain, a similar diversity exists within our multidisciplinary teams. Involving both internal teams and stakeholders in the research process and valuing their input creates a shared narrative. This narrative of collaboration and co-creation can lead to a stronger sense of ownership, commitment, and ultimately, better design outcomes.

Taylor’s fans look to guidance on other things beyond music, but for cues on identity, entertainment choices, and even political voter registration, Taylor used Instagram to urge her 272 million followers to register to vote through nonpartisan non-profit Vote.org. The push resulted in more than 35,000 registrations. In UX research, creating a sense of community among team members and stakeholders allows for the co-creation of narratives. Through collaborative storytelling, a collective understanding of user needs through activities such as workshops, and desire emerges, guiding the design process towards more meaningful outcomes.

Be a little more Taylor

Ultimately, for UX Researchers the Taylor Swift Effect serves as a reminder of our potential to shape collective behaviour through strategic storytelling. We elevate our role from data presenter to strategic communicators.  Just as Taylor Invests in her community, we too invest in our stakeholders – that act as the co-authors of the narrative behind designing optimal user experiences.

Caelan Trodden.
Caelan Trodden

UX Researcher

Caelan excels in user-centered data research, drawing from a Sociology background with a focus on qualitative methods. He applies insights to client experience design projects, particularly in social and health markets.