UX/UI Careers Series: UX ResearchNov 17, 2021
Did you know that the field of user experience (UX) is not limited to UX design roles? UX/UI work spans many different unique career paths, including UX writing, UX strategy, and interaction design.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at one very important UX specialization: UX research. UX researchers are at the helm of UX. Their essential work kicks off the design process and helps later stages stay user-centric and data-driven. By collecting and interpreting information about users and products, UX researchers provide the framework for nearly every decision throughout a UX project.
If you’re interested in exploring UX/UI careers, read on. We’ll provide an overview of what it’s like to be a UX researcher and how you can embark on this exciting career path.
UX Research Overview
To get started, let’s discuss what you can expect from a UX research career.
How Much Do UX Researchers Make?
UX researchers enjoy a comfortable salary, even at the entry-level. The average base salary for a UX researcher in the United States is about $87,000. According to PayScale, researchers with less than 12 months of experience still make about $70,000 a year. That’s a great place to start! With experience and dedication, UX researchers can go on to make six figures or more in their first decade of work.
UX Research Demand
Although there are more job openings for general UX/UI professionals, there are also many open opportunities for this UX specialization. At the time of writing, there were over 2,200 UX research positions listed on Indeed and another 3,700 on LinkedIn.
Demand for UX research is on the rise. These days, every website and app collects a hefty amount of data about its users. UX researchers are among the many people who help put that data to good use, analyzing trends and error reports to create better products.
As such, more and more companies are seeing the value of UX research. In 2017, CNN Money listed UX research among the 100 best jobs in the US and predicted 19% job growth over the next 10 years. It’s a great time to join this blossoming field!
So, What Does a UX Researcher Do?
It’s pretty self-explanatory — UX researchers conduct UX research! These professionals are responsible for collecting and analyzing data to guide a UX design project. They work to understand users’ attitudes, behaviors, characteristics, and environments to help build a user-centered product.
Let’s dive into what UX research entails.
Before kicking off a project, UX researchers usually build a research plan to share with stakeholders and their team. A UX research plan determines the objectives of the research, answering questions like:
- What are we trying to find out?
- What research methods will we use?
- How will we gather participants?
- When will the research take place?
Determining these factors upfront helps UX researchers keep projects on track and provides transparency for the rest of the team.
After a plan is in place, UX researchers set it in motion by collecting data. Depending on the project, UX researchers may try to learn more about the product, the product market, its user base, or all of the above. They may gather quantitative data using surveys or qualitative data using interviews. Researchers may also collect data through moderated and unmoderated usability studies to learn more about a product’s strengths and weaknesses.
Common UX research methods include:
- Card sorting
- A/B testing
- Focus groups
- Eyetracking studies
- Clickstream analysis
- Moderated and unmoderated usability testing
Next, UX researchers analyze the data they have gathered, often with the help of a team. They take the information collected and begin looking for patterns.
For interview data, this analysis might involve writing participants’ statements on sticky notes, and then grouping the ideas along common themes. For quantitative data, UX researchers might use web analytic tools to reveal large trends, such as correlations between user demographics and shopping habits.
The analysis phase condenses large quantities of data into smaller, more meaningful findings. These findings are used to guide decisions throughout the rest of the project.
Presentation & Consultation
Finally, UX researchers are responsible for presenting data to their team and other stakeholders so it can be put to good use. They often craft documents to communicate their findings, creating visual representations like user personas and journey maps to summarize their analyses.
A UX researcher’s role doesn’t end there. As the UX design project continues, the research team advocates for their findings and consults with the team, reminding everyone to keep their design decisions data-driven. By keeping the research at the top of the team’s mind, UX researchers help products become more user-centric and effective.
Should I Become a UX Researcher?
UX research can seem more technical and less creative than other UX/UI careers. At first glance, some people assume they wouldn’t enjoy this pragmatic, data-heavy role. However, research can be one of the most rewarding parts of the UX design process.
UX researchers get to work directly with users, communicating with them through interviews and focus groups and digging into their feelings about a product. As such, researchers feel very connected to their user base and often become personally invested in building exceptional design solutions.
UX research can also be fascinating. Researchers get to ask lots of questions and do detective-like work to understand a user’s mental models. Anyone interested in psychology and the human mind may be surprised by how much they enjoy working as a UX researcher!
What Skills Do I Need to Be a UX Researcher?
Anyone can become a UX researcher. There are no special educational or work requirements to land a role. Newcomers simply need to learn UX research techniques and build up a portfolio to start working in this field.
However, there are a few characteristics and soft skills that can set you up for success as a UX researcher. You’ll probably thrive in this role if you possess the following qualities:
- Natural curiosity: If you love solving mysteries or Googling every question that crosses your mind, you’ll love the investigative process of UX research.
- Empathy: UX researchers are motivated by understanding what users need and helping them through good design.
- Communication skills: UX researchers need to feel comfortable speaking with strangers for participant research, and they also need to effectively communicate findings with their teams.
- Problem-solving: UX research can be tricky. You’ll thrive in this role if you enjoy using critical thinking and logic to untangle complex information into useful insights.
- Creativity: Solving problems requires thinking outside of the box. Creative thinking will also help you bridge the gap between research and design, so you can use your findings to make product recommendations.
How to Become a UX Researcher
Like any UX career, transitioning to this field requires both learning and doing. You’ll need to study UX research concepts and complete practice projects to get started.
To begin building your UX research knowledge, start exploring books and free online learning courses. After getting a solid understanding, you can begin completing activities to get a sense of what UX research is in practice.
At this stage, you may want to invest in more formal, paid learning opportunities. A UX bootcamp or even university coursework will provide structure and depth to your knowledge. It also helps to have guidance from a mentor or professor.
However, as we mentioned above, there are no formal requirements to become a UX researcher. With patience and dedication, you could teach yourself UX research by pursuing the vast quantities of free learning material online.
To learn more about strategies for transitioning to the UX field, check out our article about UX learning pathways.
Build Your Portfolio
After studying and completing practice projects, you’ll need to add work to your UX portfolio. Your portfolio showcases your past projects and works alongside your resume to help potential employers make hiring decisions.
You don’t need experience in a formal UX role to start building your portfolio. You can create your own practice projects, volunteer to do UX research for a local nonprofit, or find a UX research internship. Every solid, polished project you complete can be added to your portfolio, but be sure to get feedback from a mentor to ensure it’s up to scratch!
Apply to Jobs
Once you have three or more projects in your portfolio, you’re ready to start applying to UX research jobs! At Avocademy, we’ve found that it takes at least 200 job applications and a few months of steady applying to start landing interviews. With perseverance, you’ll be on track to starting an exciting and rewarding UX research career.
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Schedule a free UX mentorship call today! We’ll talk with you about different UX career paths to help you find a role you love.
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