UX Researcher Career Guide
User Experience (UX) researchers engage in meticulous study of intended users, gathering and analyzing data to shape product design, ensuring user needs are fulfilled, and providing delight along the way.
Recognizing who your users are and understanding their requirements is the bedrock of UX research. This discipline involves studying users, garnering insights that inform product design. This article delves into the essence of UX research, its methodologies, and how to forge a successful career in this sought-after field.
UX Research – What is it?
When embarking on a new product design or enhancing an existing one, it’s crucial to understand your users – their demographics, needs, aspirations, and how your product can fulfill their desires. As a UX researcher, your role is to unveil these aspects. Rather than making assumptions based on personal experiences, you’ll formulate a research strategy rooted in data, effectively becoming a spokesperson for your users and incorporating their voice into product development.
UX Research Types
As a UX researcher, you’ll deal with two primary types of research – qualitative and quantitative. Let’s quickly unpack each and their relevance.
Quantitative research emphasizes numbers and statistics. In usability terms, it could involve measuring average time taken by a user to accomplish a task, success rate, error occurrence, etc. These statistics are beneficial when compared to a past design or a rival’s product.
Qualitative research focuses on non-numerical data like reasons for users’ difficulties or their emotional responses while interacting with a product. If quantitative research tells us the ‘what,’ qualitative research uncovers the ‘why.’
UX Research Methods
Part of your duty as a UX researcher involves selecting the correct research method to answer specific questions. The UX research toolkit comprises several tools to glean user information.
- Card sorting: Participants categorize topics into meaningful groups and label them. This data allows designers to build more intuitive, navigable apps and websites.
- Usability testing: Observing participants as they attempt to complete a task with your product. It provides a measure of task completion success, speed, encountered problems, and user satisfaction.
- A/B testing: Comparing two product versions to determine the audience’s preference. It can be done live, showcasing different webpage versions to various visitors, or by sending differing versions of emails to separate mailing lists.
- User interviews: Face-to-face interviews (online or in-person) provide a simple way to understand user expectations or gather qualitative data on an existing product. Group interviews are commonly known as focus groups.
- Surveys and questionnaires: These can provide both qualitative and quantitative data. Regular surveys with identical questions can track a product’s evolution throughout its lifecycle.
- Diary studies: Participants maintain a record of daily activities over a pre-defined period, providing insights into real-world behaviors and experiences.
- Contextual observation: Observing users in their natural setting while posing questions to better comprehend their actions.
- First click testing: Analyzes what a user first clicks on when trying to complete a task on a website or app.
Daily tasks and responsibilities of a UX Reasearcher
A UX researcher’s daily tasks vary according to the project or the organization. However, common duties include:
- Collaborating with designers and stakeholders to understand research needs
- Defining research questions and selecting suitable data collection methods
- Formulating budgets and timelines for research projects
- Recruiting research study participants
- Conducting design research studies and analyzing the data
- Translating findings into digestible insights
- Sharing findings with designers, developers, and stakeholders
UX Researcher Key Skills and Tools
Competent UX researchers develop a skill set to effectively understand their users. If you’re aspiring to become a UX researcher, you can begin honing these skills:
- Communication: Significant part of the job involves interaction with the design team and research participants.
- Empathy: Understanding users’ expectations, frustrations, goals, and thought process enables you to devise solutions to real user needs.
- Design thinking: Each phase of design thinking – empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test – offers learning opportunities about your users.
- Problem solving: Critical thinking about your research questions can guide you to choose the right methodology.
- Curiosity: An inquisitive nature encourages you to ask pertinent questions and discover insightful answers. • Collaboration: As a UX researcher, you’ll collaborate with developers, designers, product managers, and stakeholders to deliver the best product.
UX Researcher Salary (US)
As of June 2023, the average salary for a UX Researcher is $118,634 according to Indeed. The lower end of the salary range is set at $78,569, while the higher end can reach up to $179,130.
Paving the Path to a UX Researcher Career
As UX research is a nascent role within the UI/UX design domain, there is no universally accepted pathway. While some professionals are self-taught, others transition from different industries. Here are some useful tips to shape your unique journey.
Seek a Degree in Technology or Behavioral Science
A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for most UX research positions, although the field of study needn’t be exclusively UX-related. A degree in technology or the behavioral and social sciences might prove advantageous. You might want to explore:
- Human-computer interaction
- Psychology • Applied statistics
- Computer science
- Information systems
Although this list seems extensive, UX researchers spring from a broad array of academic disciplines. If you’ve already graduated in an unrelated field, fret not. There are ample avenues to cultivate UX skills.
Foster Your UX Researcher Skills
You can cultivate your UX research skills and familiarize yourself with industry tools and techniques through several learning pathways, tailored to your style:
- Enroll in the Google UX Design Professional Certificate course on Coursera, covering the entire design process, with a dedicated module on user research.
- Garner hands-on experience designing an A/B test for a webpage, analyzing UX survey data, or expressing research findings via empathy maps.
- Leverage free resources like blogs and podcasts to grasp industry lingo and stay updated on recent trends.
- Opt for courses, UX bootcamps, or even certificates or specializations in UX research offered by various universities for non-degree-seeking students.
Accumulate UX Research Experience
While examining job descriptions for UX researcher roles, you’ll often find related work experience listed as a criterion. Fortunately, you can gain practical experience even before landing a job. Offer your UX research services voluntarily to local small businesses or non-profits.
Construct Your Portfolio
Your portfolio, a reflection of your skill set and experience, is an essential part of your job application. Document your academic and voluntary projects and include your best and most recent ones in your portfolio.
Host your portfolio on your website or leverage free platforms like LinkedIn or a GitHub repository. To supplement your skills or portfolio, consider the Guided Project on using Google Forms to analyze user research data from Coursera Project Network.
Expand Your Network
Cultivate relationships with people in the UX industry – current colleagues, UX research organizations, or online UX communities. Networking can be a powerful tool to uncover new opportunities and connect with potential employers.