Love all things analytics? Love human psychology? Love working with people? A job in UX research could be right for you. Today, we’re exploring the UX Researcher skills needed to thrive in this role.
Quality user experience (UX) design is born out of quality user research. UX researchers are responsible for conducting that research so designers can go into the ideation process with a full understanding of the people (or users) they are trying to serve.
These are the questions we’ll dive into:
- What does a UX Researcher do?
- What skills do I need to become a UX researcher?
- Are UX Researchers in demand?
- Is UX Research dying?
- How can I become a UX Researcher?
What does a UX Researcher do?
UX Researchers are responsible for conducting all of the user, market, and product research on a product design team. Their goal is to make a product, app, or website more intuitive and satisfying for the end user. They use qualitative and quantitative methods to conduct comprehensive research, from which they will share insights with a UX Designer. These researchers work specifically to make the overall designing process more productive and smooth.
UX Researchers are similar to Data Scientists who use scientific methods to extract insights from data. But, instead of just working with data, UX Researchers are responsible for getting to know and understanding the users/people who use their products.
It’s important to note that a researcher isn’t simply there to do all of the front end work and then hand off information to a designer. They work together with the designer throughout the entire process of design and iteration.
According to technology consulting firm AltexSoft, you could categorize the UX workflow into several phases including discovery, ideation/elaboration, design and prototyping, development, and maintenance and growth. A UX Researcher works alongside a UX Designer throughout all of these phases.
A User Experience Researcher’s main responsibilities will include:
Collaborating with stakeholders and design team members
A UX Researcher typically begins a project by meeting with key stakeholders, product managers, and other design team members to get a clear understanding of what research needs are. They will likely discuss expectations for the user experience of the product, website, or application being developed.
Choosing a method and overseeing research
The methods a researcher uses will vary depending on where they are in the product development process. In the discovery phase, they’ll conduct user interviews, gather information via surveys, and do field and competitor research. In the ideation phase, a researcher will work on tasks like creating user personas, tree testing (a usability technique that evaluates the “findability” of topics on a website), and card sorting. They’ll conduct usability and accessibility testing during the design and prototyping stage, while they’d use A/B testing in both that phase and the maintenance phase. They’ll also direct user interviews and analytics research in this final phase.
During this phase, a researcher will take all of the gathered data and analyze it. In their analysis, they’ll get a better understanding of the information architecture and user flow. This is how content should be structured and how a person will move through the website or application.
Discovering action steps and insights to share with designers
Following their analysis, a researcher will work with the design team on how to best implement their findings in the continued development and improvement of the product, app, or website.
What skills do I need to become a UX Researcher?
Many UX Researchers have backgrounds in other industries and bring transferable skills to the role. These competencies include a mix of creative thinking, knowledge of the various research methods, and soft skills. Here are some of the skills to learn if you want a job in this field:
UX research requires the ability to read user and market research findings using logical and scientific reasoning, so you’ll need to know how to think analytically.
UX design is largely focused on solving user problems. A researcher’s role is to figure out what those problems are directly from the user. They’ll need to recognize potential user problems in their research findings and brainstorm action steps a designer could take to solve them.
UX design is a team effort. Team members can include UX Designers, UX Researchers, Product Managers, and UI Designers. Researchers also work with stakeholders and end users. Therefore, a researcher should be comfortable working with other people and know how to communicate efficiently and effectively with them.
Research, especially in UX, is done best when the researcher is deeply interested in their work. A curious mind will know the right questions to ask and be invested in getting the answers. They’ll also enjoy learning about the perspectives of other people in the field.
Having previous experience conducting some form of research will be incredibly useful in a user experience role. Many UX Researchers come to the field with other types of research experience. They may have done behavioral research, scientific research, academic research, or research in other fields.
Attention to detail
While researchers need to be comfortable iterating quickly, they still need to be detail-oriented as they’ll work closely with data.
Time management skills
UX research requires an ability to iterate quickly, so a researcher will need to manage their time well and be comfortable working in a fast-paced environment.
Are UX Researchers in demand?
They sure are! This role comes in at No. 39 on CNN Money’s 100 Best Jobs in America list. The study claims researchers will see a 19% 10-year job growth rate. Not only are these jobs in demand, but according to CNN, the people in them are satisfied and don’t experience much stress in their roles. Currently, there are over 6,000 UX research roles listed on Indeed in the United States. And, according to Glassdoor, the average salary for a User Experience Researcher is $94,765 in the United States, with average pay ranging from $68,000 to $127,000.
Is UX research dying?
Nope. Not sure where you heard that one but it’s definitely not the case. UX research and design are growing fields that will likely be around for a long time. As customer-facing industries move towards creating products that prioritize customer needs, user experience becomes more and more important to a company’s bottom line.
When we’re considering a new field, our most pressing question is, “Will this be around in X years?” It’s not for nothing either. We want some sort of guarantee that we’ll be able to grow our careers in our chosen field and make enough money to survive and thrive.
When it comes to UX, you’ll often hear things like “UX is new” or “UX is dead.” Neither of these statements are true. UX design has been around for centuries, but the name has changed as the industry continues to evolve. Previously it was called product design, and we’ll likely hear it called something else in the next 50 years. This Medium post from Stew Dean sums it up pretty well.
So while UX research isn’t dying, it will likely evolve along with our ever-changing technology. As with any industry, practitioners will need to stay up to date with what’s happening in the field. Being adaptable and open to learning new UX best practices and research methods will keep you hireable as the industry evolves and technology changes.
How can I become a UX Researcher?
Many UX research professionals leverage previous work experience in fields like psychology, sociology, communications, marketing, information science, economics, anthropology, or other behavioral fields. So it’s safe to say making a career switch into UX research is totally possible for anyone willing to study hard and make it happen.
A great way to gain the knowledge you need to become a UX Researcher is to sign up for a UX program or bootcamp. Kenzie Academy offers a 6-month part-time UX Design Career program perfect for career changers and tech professionals who want additional UX training. Our program comes with a job guarantee so you can rest assured that we’ll do our best to help you land your first UX research or design role.
In just 6 months, you’ll graduate with the user experience and career readiness skills needed to score a researcher role. In the program, you’ll be immersed in our project-based curriculum, graduating with a UX portfolio to show off to potential employers. Kenzie covers the fundamentals of both user experience and user interface (UI) design. Conducting user research and testing, you’ll learn how to translate and iterate your ideas and findings into beautiful websites and applications.
Here’s a sneak peek of the syllabus:
- Design Thinking Workshop: Go through a Google Ventures-style design sprint to get a taste of the overall user-centered design process.
- UI Design Workshop: Learn UI design with Figma.
- Design Systems Project: Work individually to apply the Material Design design system to a 2-week UI design project. Get exposed to the realistic scenario of ramping up on a new team with an existing design system.
- Collaboration Project: A final project that will be presented at the end of the UX Design track.
- Foundation Project: You will work solo designing a mobile app based on a given problem statement. Every lesson will have an application activity that relates back to this mobile app.
- Discovery: Research your users, conduct interviews, and gain insights.
- Synthesizing: Take what you learn from your research and translate it into some common artifacts.
- Wireframing: Begin initial designs on your screens. Learn to identify patterns, and learn UX concepts that focus on user interactions within your designs.
- Details: Focus on small details within each screen. Pixels matter.
- Hierarchy: Learn how to visually prioritize your screen content and features.
- Usability Testing: Test your designs in front of real users.
- Foundation Conclusion: Turn your foundation project into a case study and write about your first UX project.