What is UX Research?

At a high level, user experience (UX) refers to the experiences, feelings, and perceptions that one has when interacting with a company’s products, services, and engagement channels (e.g., website, kiosk, customer service). UX encompasses usability, design, marketing, accessibility, performance, comfort, utility, and other related dynamics.

UX research refers to the process of studying and understanding how users interact with a product, service, or engagement channel in order to design experiences that are people-focused. It can help a company understand their target audience and how they think, allowing them to gain valuable insights into the wants and needs of the customer base.

In this guide, we’ll discuss some important questions related to UX research:

What Does a UX Researcher Do?

UX researchers build research methods and use those methods to study consumer behavior and preferences. They analyze the data generated from their research and report their findings to a broader design team.

UX research generates a range of numerical and non-numerical (quantitative vs. qualitative) data. This could be attitudinal (focused on a consumer’s attitudes or feelings) or behavioral (focused on a consumer’s actions) — having a variety of data sources can help a UX researcher gain an accurate view of an organization’s customers.

Why Is UX Research Important?

UX research provides a foundation for design decisions. UX researchers are in high demand because of the value they bring to organizations. They can provide actionable insights to a business in order to improve the services they offer. These insights allow a team to make research-backed decisions instead of making guesses and operating in the dark.

What Research Methods Do UX Researchers Use?

Now that we’ve discussed UX researchers and their role as research designers, let’s take a look at some of the methods utilized in UX research.

Interviews

Interviews are a great way for UX researchers to gather insights about their users. Talking directly to customers can help a business gather qualitative information that other numbers-focused methods might miss. Interviews can be structured (with a pre-written set of questions), semi-structured (with some pre-written questions and room to explore topics as they come up), or unstructured (involving a free-form discussion).

A/B Testing

A/B testing is used frequently across marketing, advertising, and UX research. This is usually implemented to help UX researchers identify the differences between two elements. This could be two styles of buttons, the overall design of a homepage, or two different ways of laying out content. The two competing options will be shown to a random set of users. This generates behavioral data that shows which option was more effective. A/B testing is a great way to test assumptions or check the redesign efficacy of a website or service.

Usability Testing

Usability testing is a great method for conducting UX research. This method uses a data-collection platform to record a user’s screen while they interact with a company’s product or service. This is often accompanied by a recorded narration of a user’s thoughts that come to mind while using the product. Usability testing can help a company understand how users experience and perceive a product’s user flow.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires are lists of questions used to collect data from target users. They’re another great way for a company to get feedback like opinions, experiences, and other thoughts about a product or service. Questionnaires can generate a mix of qualitative data and quantitative data, making them valuable for discovering insights about a product or service.

Concept Testing

UX research can involve determining if a potential, not yet launched product or service will be valuable to a consumer. In concept testing, a researcher shares the value proposition of a new concept, service, or product with users to see if it meets their needs as the target audience.

What is the Difference Between UI and UX?

UX and user interface (UI) design are often confused or used incorrectly. The user interface is an important part of a product’s UX, but UX includes a broader set of ideas to consider.

User Interface (UI) refers to anything that a user interacts with while using a product or service; including physical interaction items like a mouse, screen, or keyboard, as well as the design of the buttons, sliders, or other interactable items.

User experience, on the other hand, involves all parts of a user’s interactions with a product or service encompassing the entire user journey — how a user might find information about a company, the user experience when interacting with the company’s engagement channels, how the user experiences the company’s products or services, user feedback loops to the company, and the user’s feelings throughout the entire process.

How is the UX Researcher Role different From a UX Designer?

There are some key differences between UX researchers and UX designers to consider. UX researchers focus on understanding the motivations of people in a target market. How will this product improve their lives? How does it make them feel? The role of a UX researcher is research-driven, and they work to discover insights that are then turned over to a design team.

UX designers create user-friendly products using UX best practices and insights gained from UX research. See our guide on how to become a UX designer if you’re interested in learning more.

The Skills Needed to Become a UX Researcher

Some UX researchers have backgrounds in other areas and bring valuable skills to their job. These skills usually involve a mix of analytical and creative thinking. Here are a few valuable UX researcher skills to consider if you’re interested in the field.

Research Design

We’ve discussed some of the ways that UX researchers collect data — interviews, surveys, and user testing, to name a few. Managers report that understanding research methods and using these methods to support the design process is one of the most important skills for a UX researcher. There’s a lot of knowledge involved with building these research instruments to make sure the data isn’t biased. For example, a face-to-face interview with a user should showcase how the user feels without introducing bias from the interviewer.

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People Skills

Understanding how to collect and interpret data is critical for any UX researcher, but being able to understand and interact with people is also important. At the end of the day, UX research is about understanding the desires and needs of people, so empathy and perceptiveness are incredibly important. Keeping an open mind about what your users want will allow you to discover actionable insights more easily and interpret them accurately.

Design Skills

Understanding good design is an important skill for any UX researcher. Most UX researchers will collaborate with a broader design and product development team that may include web designers, UI designers, UX designers, and product managers. Understanding the overall design process can help a UX designer make recommendations and test viable design changes.

Analytical Skills

UX researchers gather a lot of quantitative and qualitative data through their work. Knowing the best ways to collect data is critical, but UX researchers must also know how to interpret the data they collect. Analyzing UX data allows a researcher to find patterns and trends that can be shared with the design team to recommend changes and refinements.

Creating Personas

UX researchers frequently use personas in their work — a persona is a profile of an archetypical user who represents the needs, wants, and goals of a larger group of users. These profiles are often built using research and information collected from customers. For example, a persona for a coffee shop could include a customer’s desired drink types and the type of coffee shop atmosphere they prefer. Understanding the target persona can help UX researchers and UX designers better identify and understand the wants and needs of their customers.

How to Break Into The UX Research Field

There are several viable paths to forge proper UX researcher qualifications. Having experience in a behavioral science like sociology, communications, economics, or anthropology is one option. Another great option is a UX bootcamp or traditional degree.

UX Bootcamp vs. Degree — Which Is Better?

Depending on personal learning preferences, UX bootcamps and traditional degrees can be effective ways for anyone to get started in UX research.

UX bootcamps are a consistently ideal pathway for aspiring UX researchers, as they allow anyone interested in the field to gain applicable skills in UX research, UX design, and UI design. Bootcamps are generally quick, yet intensive in their curricula, offering a comprehensive, in-depth look at UX industry skillbuilding via practical instruction. Students are able to learn in a hands-on manner, simulating real-world experience so they can hit the ground running when starting a new career.

Traditional degrees, on the other hand, can prepare students for a wide range of career paths in UX design and UX research over the course of a few years. They can provide the time to develop a skill set and understand what interests you about the field. While specific UX degrees generally do not exist, such skills can be gained through applicable major programs like Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Interaction Design (ID), and Information Architecture (IA).

Are UX Bootcamps Worth It?

UX bootcamps are great for anyone who wants to get started in UX research or UI/UX design. These programs are tailored for people in many different situations, from beginners to people with a design or marketing background looking to upskill, or those who are generally interested in technology and how it impacts people.

Another great aspect of UX bootcamps is it lets people gain experience quickly. Columbia Engineering’s UI/UX bootcamp, for instance, is a 24-week program providing hands-on experience from the beginning.


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Frequently Asked Questions About UX Research

Here are some frequently asked questions from people who are interested in how to become a UX researcher:

How can you get started with UX research?
Some of the most common ways to get started in UX research include traditional degrees and UX bootcamps. The best option for you depends on your current lifestyle and life stage, including how much time you feel you can commit to educational activities each week and your desired timeline to complete your education. Traditional degrees can take a few years depending on how many classes you take at once. A UX bootcamp, on the other hand, generally takes around 12-24 weeks to complete.

Are UX researchers in demand?
Market research analysts are in high demand, which in turn creates an equally high demand for those with vast UX research skills. In fact, according to a 100-year view of UX by the Nielsen Norman Group, the profession is projected to grow from the current 1 million people worldwide to about 100 million people by 2050.

a chart highlighting projected job growth for UX researchers.

Is UX research a good career?
UX research is a great field for people interested in technology and design. UX designers work on solving interesting challenges and their work has a major impact on the success seen by a business’s products. UX researchers are usually very satisfied with their careers and tend to stay in the field.

How much do UX researchers make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay for people in the market research analyst industry (which includes the UX research profession) was $65,810 per year — which is significantly higher than the median annual wage in the U.S. The highest 10 percent of these professionals earned over $127,410 dollars per year. The Nielsen Norman Group found that entry-level salaries for UX professionals averaged about $67K in 2019, with a $6K/year experience premium during the first 5 years of their career.

Should you become a UX researcher/designer?
Working in either UX research or design can be a great path for anyone looking for a fulfilling career, but choosing one over the other will largely depend on your personal preferences and professional aspirations. Generally speaking, UX researchers will spend much of their time researching and analyzing user demand and behavior, leveraging these findings to inform a stronger usability design process. Designers, on the other hand, oversee the actual creation of a digital entity’s user interface, tapping into key research data to produce an experience that is navigable, easy to interpret, and ultimately in line with a user’s goals and expectations. Aspiring professionals in both fields should be prepared to bring a blend of empathy, critical thinking, and organization to their daily responsibilities.

Do you need a master’s for UX research?
Having a master’s degree can help some people get started in UX research — especially if the degree is in social or behavioral science that focuses on behavioral research design. However, a master’s degree is not required for people wanting to work in UX research.

Can you get a UX job with no experience?
Having some experience in UX research can help you land a job in an applicable field. However, there are paths for people to start in other ways. Some UX researchers start as freelancers and use those projects for their portfolio. It’s also possible to start doing UX-related tasks at your current organization and build up a skillset to transfer departments. Having some hands-on experience can help you build UX researcher skills and command a higher salary.

Is it hard to get a UX research job?
UX research is a growing field where employers value transferable skills, but people of all experience levels can theoretically pursue a job in the field. Those looking to enter the field with no prior experience, for instance, can attend a UX bootcamp to study at a flexible pace via practical instruction.

Resources for Further Learning About UX Research

Are you interested in becoming a UX researcher? Here are a few resources that will help you learn more about UX research and the skills needed to work in the field.

Empathy in UX Design

This resource from UX Planet discusses empathy and how it’s applicable to the field of UX research. This article covers the definition of empathy and how UX researchers and designers can harness empathy in their work. It discusses how to be a good listener, observer, and people-focused researcher.

How To Conduct UX Research For Maximum Value

This resource from UsabilityGeek goes over the basics of the UX research process, outlining what you’ll need to develop a strong research plan. The article discusses planning research, defining goals, choosing methods, and reporting out on findings.

Why is Usability Important?

This article from Granicus goes over a case study that shows why usability is important for products and services. Usability is a critical part of UX design — you’ll learn about the importance of usability, what drives usability for a site or service, and how to apply scientific principles to determine usability.

Creating a User-Centered Approach in Government

Usability.gov provides a helpful guide for anyone looking to learn about user-centered design and best practices. This article discusses how organizations can create a user-focused culture in order to develop experiences that keep the user in mind.

How Companies Can Improve Their Digital User Experience

This page from UserZoom discusses the importance of user experience in the context of utility companies. This is a great case study that shows how organizations in a specific field can understand what’s important to their customers. It also shows examples of user-focused design that illustrate how design impacts a customer’s experience with a service.

Related Careers

Are you interested in technology? Check out our list of career guides for other technology-related fields

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