How to Become a UX Researcher

Every website has a personality. You probably don’t think about this, but it’s true. Sites and other digital products like mobile apps don’t only satisfy specific needs, but also connote a certain tone and vibe based off of the visuals, text and user experience. These elements don’t come together by accident. The sleek and intuitive experience of using products from Google, Apple, TikTok and more all derived from human-centered insights discovered by a User Experience (UX) Researcher. 

The UX Researcher role is in high demand across all sectors of the tech industry, as businesses scale up their online presence and put out increasingly competitive and complex versions of their products. The individual in this role must have a comprehensive understanding of a wide variety of data collection methods, in order to inform the product design process. They also collaborate with designers, product managers and other stakeholders to oversee the transformation and application of their insights into a beautiful end product. 

Interested in taking on this ambitious, but rewarding role? Here are 5 concrete steps you can take towards a UX Researcher career:

  1. Build your Tech and Behavioral Science Credentials
  2. Obtain Foundational Research and Design Thinking Skills
  3. Gain Industry Experience 
  4. Craft a Winning Portfolio
  5. Find a Mentor and Build Your Network

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the multitude of ways you can become a UX Researcher!

 

What is the Job Description for a UX Researcher?

When companies design or update their products, they start with the user in mind. The UX Researcher examines all the factors that might come into play when a user interacts with their product, including but not limited to performance, design, accessibility, comfort and utility. Essentially, their role is to answer the multi-pronged question: “what drives people to think, act and feel the way they do when using our products?”

These answers are not derived from gut instinct alone. Far from it, in fact. As the name implies, UX Researchers must master a wide variety of scientific research methods that run the gamut from an initial online survey to full-scale prototypes and product testing. In the information-gathering stage of the process, they might use quantitative (A/B or first click testing) or qualitative (focus groups, surveys) research methods to collect data-driven insights. Analysis tools are then used to craft those insights into actionable recommendations, as the process is repeated for new product iterations. Oftentimes, as the team dives deeper into the research and development phase, the UX research creates Personas, reflecting the wants, needs and attitudes of the average user, and providing context on the specifics of who the company’s client base really are. They also might create journey or UX maps, in order to identify site touchpoints and customer decision branches.

As you can clearly see, the UX Researcher plays a pivotal role throughout the entire product lifecycle process. This cross-functional role requires deep collaboration with team members in design, marketing and development. They also must work outside the office (virtual or not), recruiting candidates for research studies and representing the company to the general public. Finally, the individual in this role should be comfortable transforming data into easily understood insights that can be presented out to stakeholders within an organization.

What is the difference between UX and UI Jobs?

You might notice the terms “User Interface” (UI) and “User Experience” (UX) used interchangeably, but that is not the case. While one can learn the basic tenets of both disciplines in a single bootcamp, and might even find themselves in both types of roles throughout their career, they refer to similar but related parts of the product creation process. UX creates products that focus on effectiveness for the user while UI focuses on making an easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing digital interface. Because of this, UX is the area that encompasses the research, product strategy, testing and iteration phases, while UI is where branding, graphic development and aesthetics are decided upon. As you can see, both of these roles almost always work in tandem. For more information, you can visit our career pages on Graphic Design or UX/UI Design.

UX Researcher Qualifications

First and foremost, a UX researcher must be able to execute Quantitative and Qualitative research methods

  • Quantitative Research refers to any method of data collection involving numbers and statistics. This might mean monitoring how long or what percentage of users completed a task or asking users to indicate satisfaction on a numerical 1-5 scale. This type of testing is helpful for comparison purposes, either to past product versions or a competitor
  • Qualitative Research is just the opposite; any type of non-numerical insight would fall into this category. Under this umbrella falls activities like focus groups, surveys that ask users to respond in paragraphs or persona creation. Some methods, like surveys or usability testing might fall under both categories, as insights might be statistics-driven and also measure attitudes towards a product.

Another distinction when it comes to research methods, are Attitudinal vs Behavioral research.

  • Attitudinal Research is the measure of a user’s feelings toward an experience. Are they satisfied and delighted with their product experience? Or maybe frustrated by its lack of intuitive elements? Enough data in the latter category could indicate that it’s time to go back to the drawing board
  • Behavioral Research looks at the actual actions users take. What navigational direction do they set out on? What elements draw the eye and are clicked or tapped on first? Sometimes, the answers here surprise designers and researchers, as users diverge from their intended path.

Other critical hard and soft skills for UX researchers include:

  • Defining research questions and choosing appropriate data collection methods
  • Owning budgets and timelines for research projects and development
  • Recruiting research participants and conducting a wide range of studies
  • Understanding and applying Design Thinking and User-Centered Design principles
  • Working with industry-standard prototyping and wireframing tools like InVision and the Adobe Creative Suite
  • Ability to present to stakeholders and work alongside cross-functional teams

 

UX Researcher Education Requirements

UX Researchers typically possess a bachelor’s degree, but are granted a wide degree of flexibility when it comes to the subject area. Popular majors consist of those within the behavioral or cognitive sciences, like psychology, tech-focused subjects, like computer science, or even business or marketing.

As UX is a constantly evolving field, a great way to stay afloat of industry trends and prepare yourself for this type of role, is a UX/UI bootcamp. Offered in part and full-time and fully online capacities, bootcamps are 8 week – 6 months programs that provide students with a primer on important topic areas like design thinking, beginner front-end coding, user research and analytics and more. Participants typically graduate from these programs with a portfolio of projects, and solid job prospects, as many providers offer career services and networking opportunities. These programs are valued by recruiters for their emphasis on practical skills, and problems you’ll encounter on the job.

 

How Long Does it Take to Become a UX Researcher?

There is no singular path towards becoming a UX Researcher. It is possible to land a junior role directly out of University, while others might find their passion for this position after testing out the waters in the graphic design or psychology fields. Ultimately, the career journey of a UX researcher provides ample entry points and opportunities to advance, as these professionals perfect the products of the future!

How to Become a UX Researcher

1.Build your Tech and Behavioral Science Credentials – A majority of UX Researchers are going to enter the role with a Bachelor’s degree, but the field itself is less important. UX researchers come from a huge variety of backgrounds, with some entering from a behavioral science or psychology background, and others coming into the field with a tech-centric degree in information systems, computer science or statistics. This is excellent news for those looking to make a career pivot or who might have not even been aware of UX type roles until after graduating. Either way, you might want to consider brushing up on any areas you don’t have a formal education in. For example, a psychology major could consider training in design thinking and tools, while a computer scientist could dive into the world of research methods and human-centered design principles.

 

2. Obtain Foundational Research and Design Thinking Skills – Before entering the industry, you’ll want to understand the fundamentals that encompass the research and design process used by companies of all shapes and sizes. A low-commitment way to explore this area is to enroll in free online courses, such as Google’s UX Design Professional Certificate or a Massive Online Open Course from a provider like EdX. You can also explore books, blogs and podcasts on the subject to stay aware of industry trends and terminology, like UX Planet and Inside Design.If you’re ready to take a more time-intensive step, UX/UI Bootcamps are great programs to turn to to deepen your education.

 

3. Gain Industry Experience – Finding hand-on experience opportunities as a beginner is easier said than done. But, there are a few good places you can start your search. Tech incubators and nonprofits like UX Rescue are good places where you can put your skills to the test and be matched with those looking for outside expertise. You could also become a member of a hackathon team, and advance your skills in a setting that’s more informal, but still filled with industry professionals. If you lack the ability to connect with these networks, build your own project! Take an existing product and write a case study on ways in which it succeeds or fails in delighting its users, or prototype out your own website from scratch. In this instance, the final product matters less than the fact that recruiters will have an ability to see your knowledge in action and will definitely be impressed by your autonomy and work ethic.

 

4. Craft a Winning Portfolio – A critical part of the hiring process for almost any tech profession, a portfolio is a personal website that acts as an online home for all your past projects, skills and personal passions. Your portfolio is an opportunity for the information on your resume to jump right off the page and for you to differentiate yourself from other professionals in the page. The UX research role is less visual, so you’ll want to highlight some of your former experiences in the form of case studies, in which you illustrate in detail your success, challenges and thinking process. Creating your portfolio can be a major undertaking, which is why we’ve crafted a complete guide to the process, specifically for UX/UI professionals!

 

5. Find a Mentor and Build Your Network – It’s a tried and true method, but it works. There’s no better way to break into the industry, than by having people who have already done it by your side. Start with coworkers at your current organization, if you know any with applicable experience. From there, look to communities on Facebook, like UX Crunch or Useful Usability, or reach out on LinkedIn to people who are currently working in your dream role. Other resources to turn to include message boards like r/userexperience on Reddit and specialty sites like UXStackExchange. Not only can you solicit feedback on your portfolio and work, but you never know where your next professional opportunity may come from!

Explore schools offering UX Researcher Bootcamps.

Job Outlook for a UX Researcher

The UX Researcher role is expected to remain in high demand, within the industry.. CNNMoney listed the position among it’s 100 Best Jobs in America list, with a predicted 19 percent growth rate by the year 2027. In addition, the role made Onward Search’s “Top 20 for 2020” most in-demand digital creative talent. With the rise in mobile app and website viewing, and as companies chart new paths in user experience using virtual and augmented reality tech and artificial intelligence, it’s clear that the UX Researcher role will only increase in relevance and prominence within the industry.

 

Best jobs for a UX Researcher

UX Researcher is in and of itself a speciality within the UX/UI field, so individuals might find themselves entering the industry with either more of a design/graphic design or technical background. Options exist to specialize even further in larger companies. Some might focus solely on research, while another member of the team, the UX Writer, is responsible for creating all the copy for the product.

UX Researchers might start out in a junior position before advancing to senior leadership, where they would take on more responsibility or even lead a product or product lines development. They may also get promoted to Product Manager, who takes on a holistic role in leading the entire product life cycle from start to finish.

UX Researcher Salary

The high-demand and highly skilled nature of the UX Researcher role is reflected by competitive salary rates across the country.  The average salary of a UX Research in the United States is $139,431, according to Indeed. This amount will depend upon the company, geographic location and years of experience. Below, we’ve broken down the average salary for a UX Researcher in five of the top metropolitan areas in the U.S.

 
CityAverage UX Researcher Salary
Austin$113,002
Boston$102,494
Chicago$73,844
New York City$145,962
San Francisco$165,610

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