What Does a UX Researcher Do?
User Experience researchers take on the task of pinpointing who a target audience is, what they want, what they need, how they think, and even how they feel. UX researchers mash together psychology along with an understanding of what kind of information is needed to create good design. It requires soft skills such as curiosity, effective communication, idealism, open-mindedness, empathy, friendliness, perceptiveness, adaptability and more.
While User Experience Design as a whole can require a creative flair for problem-solving and pleasing aesthetics, all of that designing must be built on a strong foundation of data. In order for a design to best serve its intended users, you need to know a lot of things about those users – and that requires user experience research.
UX Researchers in the Workplace
The UX researcher is likely to interact more with users than others in the UX design process may, and they are often referred to as bridging the gap between people and technology.
“Those with a UX researcher role are likely to have fewer responsibilities than designers, focusing on UX research, as opposed to information architecture, content strategy, or any kind of design work. Researchers tend to have fairly strong communication skills, used for either writing or public speaking — much more so than designers,” is the description of a UX researcher given by the Nielsen Norman Group in its second edition of “User Experience Careers: What a Career in UX Looks Like Today.”
User Experience Researchers aren’t all about Numbers
UX researchers aren’t all about hard numbers, either. While there’s a lot of information that can be extracted from quantitative data – such as how long it takes for a user to complete a task in a system, or how many times various users ran into the exact same navigation issue – qualitative data is considered just as valuable.
“There are, in actuality, many factors to take into account — defining the right research questions, selecting the most appropriate method(s), defining and recruiting the right participants, listening without asking leading questions and acknowledging our own biases, and analyzing the results,” states Nancy Drew in “The evolution of UX Research: a job posting analysis.”
Another unique task often done by a UX researcher is creating “personas” based on the demographic data collected, alongside qualitative data that explains user motivations and expectations. These are fleshed out examples of fictitious users, with names, photos and details about their lives and an explanation of how and why they would use the system being designed. Rather than design for a faceless “end user” – or even worse, the designer makes up a user in their mind that isn’t based on data – personas give a design team realistic people with actual problems and goals to keep in mind as they design a system. (Platt, 2016)
Contributions to UX Design Process
The UX researcher is involved throughout the UX Design process, not just at the beginning. Taking the time to do research at different stages throughout the process may seem like it extends it, but in the long-run it saves a lot of time and headaches by helping teams to deliver a product that is better suited to their target audience’s needs.
“Companies expect those [UX researcher] professionals to conduct foundational research activities and inform product development from the onset as well as directional research to guide everyday product development tasks,” states Drew in her analysis.
“Businesses have discovered that investing in UX saves time and money in the future by creating products based on research and evidence, rather than speculation.”
While UX researchers are still a growing part of the UX Design field, they are becoming more integral and desired as part of the designing process. Businesses have discovered that investing in UX saves time and money in the future by creating products based on research and evidence, rather than speculation.
What’s the Job Market Like for UX Researchers?
If you’re curious to see what kinds of jobs are available as a UX researcher, some of the job titles listed that include this type of work are: user researcher, senior user experience researcher, quantitative user experience researcher, senior quantitative researcher, design research engineer, UX designer researcher, and customer research engineer. (Rosala and Krause, 2019)
According to User Interviews, which interviewed 300 UX researchers in 2020 to learn more about how much they are earning, 53 percent of respondents said they earned between $75,000 and $150,000 annually, and 39 percent earned $50,000 or less, with the remaining 7 percent reporting a salary of $150,000 or more. User Interviews stated its findings lined up closely with UX researcher salaries reported on sites such as Glassdoor and Payscale.
How Can You Become a UX Researcher?
There are multiple graduate, undergraduate, and certificate options to become a UX Researcher. The online Master of Science in Information Sciences program provides students who are on the UX Pathway with opportunities to learn fundamental UX researcher skills in online, synchronous classes. Classes such as INSC 586: Usability Testing and Evaluation, and INSC 588: Human Computer Interaction both teach students how to conduct user research, and require them to use those skills for class projects. For these projects, students gather data with various research methods they’ve learned about in class – perhaps by doing in-person or remote user interviews, conducting a user survey, or even by using the User eXperience Lab (UXL) in the College of Communication and Information, which has eye tracking software that informs researchers where users are looking on a page.
Similarly, the Bachelor of Science in Information Sciences program has a User Experience concentration that includes classes such as:
- INSC 430 – User Experience Foundations
- INSC 435 – Usability Testing and Methods
- INSC 436 – Analytics and Metrics for User Experience
- INSC 439 – Interfaces and Interaction Design
BSIS students also have the opportunity to work with the User eXperience Lab, and both the undergraduate and graduate programs aim to offer opportunities for hands-on experience through practicums, internships, or special topic courses. The BSIS program offers some classes online but does require certain courses to be taken at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus.
Whether you have an undergraduate or graduate degree, you may benefit from additional certifications in UX design, including:
- Nielsen Norman Group UX Master Certification (In-Person)
- Human Factors International UX Certification (In-Person)
- Udemy UX Certification (Online)
- Interaction Design Institute – User Experience: The Beginners Guide (Online)
- Bentley University UX Certificate (In-Person or Online)
References not linked:
Platt, David (2016). The Joy of UX: User Experience and Interactive Design for Developers. Addison-Wesley Professional.