Digital and design trends adapt and change as fast as consumers’ needs. Especially as the pandemic moved our entire collective worlds online, it’s become even more important to keep websites and apps adaptive and user friendly. Enter the rise of User Experience (UX) Researchers.
UX researchers are responsible for investigating how consumers think, behave and act on their needs. Then, using their data, they help create the most effective UX Design. Because of their methodical, inquisitive skill set, you could say they’re like the psychologists of the user experience world. Apart from the product, there are clear benefits to having strong UX Researchers on your team; they’re the ones who will make UX Design approaches more efficient and thereby improve the ongoing quality of products and services.
UX Research: a super brief history
User experience research has always been tied up in UX Design, from the development of Feng Shui in 4000 BC China to Walt Disney’s methodology in his theme park development. But there’s a difference between the two roles. While UX Design focuses on the look, feel and output of the overall product, UX Research focuses on investigating human behavior in order to improve UX Design. So how did UX Research break away from UX Design and become its own role? That’s somewhat of a newer trend.
Prior to the 2010s, researchers came from all different fields but were not explicitly using the title of UX Researcher. In 2017, CNN polled the best jobs and UX Researcher came in at 39 with a median yearly salary of 106k. So where did these gifted people come from? The answer is: everywhere! Customer support, customer service, academia, marketing strategy, product design—if a person has experience in gathering info on customers or a background in human behavior science, chances are they already have experience in UX Research. Until a recent rise in UX Research degrees, there have been no set career paths and very few curriculums dedicated specifically to UX Research. But with the rise in need for data analysis and synthesis, businesses are looking for more of these specialists to create the best in user experience...and get paid the big bucks.
What qualities make a great UX researcher?
Part of the beauty of becoming a UX Researcher right now is that different companies might be looking for different research skills. But according to our research, there are some key factors that stand out:
- Empathetic: You’re comfortable with strangers and great at getting to the bottom of their needs, behaviors, and motivations.
- Organized: You know which questions to ask and have an array of research styles up your sleeve.
- Critical thinker: You are familiar with the design world and are able to provide pointed feedback that reflects the research you’ve done.
The more experience you get, the more you’ll learn about what research techniques to use and when. Though there’s no set career path, you can start by reading about and getting familiar with the field. From there, network as much as possible with others in the field until you’re brought on board for a project—either personal or professional, every bit of experience helps. As you work on projects, start gathering your case studies and create a portfolio. Before you know it, you’ll be a full-fledged UX Researcher. Yay!
What types of skills do you need to become a UX Researcher?
It depends on the specific company, but some employers may seek out candidates with a degree in a human behavior-related field. They’ll want to see how great you are with people and how you’ve used your research skills in cultivating and synthesizing user data on various projects. You’ll also want to show how you work well with designers, providing them with the support and strategy they need at every stage of the process. In this field, teamwork truly makes the dreamwork.
How do you gather these skills? There are lots of books on the topic, so you might want to start here or here. For real world experience, try asking your current employer for any research-related opportunities. Who knows, you may be able to create your own UX Researcher position at your current company. If that’s not a thing, you can seek out volunteer opportunities or create your own personal project.
For employers: Do I need to hire a UX Researcher?
The answer to this question really depends on your company. Some companies with a more lax schedule might do just fine with a talented UX Designer who has experience incorporating research into their timeline. But in this fast-paced world, more companies will want to bring on a dedicated UX Researcher early on to make sure they’re making the right decisions based on strong data. Whatever you do, you owe it to your future UX team to have clear expectations of individuals’ responsibilities instead of asking one designer to do it all. That’s just a recipe for burnout.
When writing your UX Researcher job description, be clear on the stage of your current product offering and your UX team’s needs. Are you a new startup looking to build multiple products? Or are you a large corporation looking for ongoing development for one product? Figure out if you’ll need a few junior researchers or maybe just one with lots of experience. Side note, some people might use the terms “user researcher” and “design researcher” interchangeably with UX Research, so include those search terms in your description, too.
As we mentioned earlier, candidates might come from all walks of life, which means you’ll have a super-wide net of people to choose from. Try narrowing your search based on your own company’s product needs and the person’s portfolio. Say you’re creating a new live-streaming app but your target audience is in the health and wellness industry. You might choose to look for someone with an academic background in entertainment and/or music therapy. It’s really all up to you to know what you want your product to achieve and to find a researcher who has their finger on the pulse of your target customer.
And here, at Artisan, we might happen to know the perfect candidate...