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Career Path: How to Become a UX Researcher

When companies need to have a thorough understanding of how to design products that will appeal to their targeted end-user, they rely on the skills of UX (user experience) Researchers. This is an in-demand profession that shows little sign of slowing down, as these UX Researchers engage in methodical research and analysis that inform the entire design process of a product. The work of a UX Researcher can make a company more successful, something that cannot be overstated in this highly-competitive, tech-driven world.

Getting Through the Door

UX Researchers come ...more

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Career Path: How to Become a UX Researcher

When companies need to have a thorough understanding of how to design products that will appeal to their targeted end-user, they rely on the skills of UX (user experience) Researchers. This is an in-demand profession that shows little sign of slowing down, as these UX Researchers engage in methodical research and analysis that inform the entire design process of a product. The work of a UX Researcher can make a company more successful, something that cannot be overstated in this highly-competitive, tech-driven world.

Getting Through the Door

UX Researchers come from many different backgrounds, many of which helped gear them towards UX Research itself. Many have a degree in computer science, marketing, graphic design, or related fields, with many hiring managers keen on hiring an entry-level UX Researcher with a certain level of experience, some of which may include:

  • Is familiar with the practices used in quality assurance work.
  • Understands business process modeling.
  • Experience with application development and interaction design.
  • Has engaged in market research using various mediums.
  • Adept with collecting and analyzing data.

Employers look for UX Researchers who have started a UX portfolio and can demonstrate they have these or like traits from projects they have worked on in the early stages of their professional career.

Degrees and Experience

Most UX Researchers have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related fields, with many having earned certification in UX Research or taking online courses to hone their educational experience. Though the precise educational requirements needed always depends on the company you are looking to join, it doesn’t hurt to earn a bachelor’s and look into additional online training courses and certification programs to better your chances of being hired.

UX Researchers often gain initial experience for the role through coursework as well as in internships and even as a freelancer for design and tech positions. UX Research is a complex field, which luckily means there are several avenues to follow that will help you frame your experiences so that they fit genuine UX Researcher processes. An example of this is if you have gained experience working as a frontend engineer, then you already understand software development and the importance of being user-focused when designing content.

Working as a Junior Level UX Researcher

UX Researchers at the junior level have demonstrated their ability to optimize the user experience of a product or service through systematic research and analysis. They have honed their research skills and have a better understanding of the best methods of obtaining user input. They are becoming more fluent in analyzing the applied research and data they follow and uncover useful information that helps in different aspects of the design process. Junior level UX Researchers likely have had at least a couple years in this position and have learned how best to balance their scientific and artistic sensibilities.

Moving up the Ranks

UX Research is an evolving field but there are still plenty of ways to ensure you move up the career ladder. Thriving in your assigned duties and taking on additional responsibilities is a great way to stand out to your managers. Being proactive and a problem-solver is another.

For example, perhaps you are working on a mobile application design project and are at the evaluative stage. You discover that earlier assumptions and initial research aren’t quite panning out and that users interviewed about a testing version of the application are not impressed with the interface. Don’t panic! By quickly sorting through the pluses and minuses the users noted about the interface and creating a quick sketch to pass on to the product designers for them to use to modify the existing test product can end up saving your company valuable time and money. Doing your work while also proving your worth will show your employers you are indispensable and worthy of moving up in the UX Research ranks.

Advance Your Career: How to Become a Senior UX Researcher

After several years in the field and demonstrating your immense skills and knowledge with UX Research, many UX Researchers can attain a senior level. UX Researchers who intend to reach senior status are likely to have also acquired sharpened soft skills, like being excellent collaborators and managing their time well. They will often take the extra step of helping their colleagues when needed. So while it is important to ensure you are mastering the art of UX Research and have given your company much-valuable insights into the needs and requirements of their customers, taking care to be considerate and generous with your interactions with colleagues is also beneficial to rising up the ranks.

Study the Core Fields

There are several parallels and intersecting fields associated with UX Research. Understanding all of these and how they play a part in your duties is key to honing your skills and better defining your role. These fields include ideation - that is, brainstorming how to begin the research for the intended product and its likely audience; research – investigate methods for engaging in meaningful research; design – understanding the aesthetics that go into achieving the desired effect; and validation and testing – investigate ways to check your own research and resulting design by studying how specific audiences react to mock-ups. These are just a few of the main fields associated with UX Research, the mastery of which will make you a more effective UX Researcher.

Invest in Yourself

UX Research is both complex and ever-evolving, meaning you are not only in a competitive field but also capable of setting trends that can impact the future of UX Research. Taking the initiative to invest in your skillsets and expand your knowledge will make you a UX Researcher to be reckoned with. For example, try attending seminars and conferences about UX Research and its subcategories, such as design in IT, marketing, data analytics, etc., to continuously enhance your technical skills and keep an eye on industry advancements. This is also an excellent opportunity to network and make acquaintances in like-fields who may help further your career down the road.

Don’t Stop at UX Research

Helping understand the roles of those around you can help inform your duties as well as make you an all-around better collaborator. Beyond other UX Researchers, you likely work with interaction designers, who design devices while focusing on how the user will respond to it; frontend web developers, who code all the elements a user interacts with when encountering an application and design the specifications with the user in mind; and information architects, who determine how a product’s features should be organized to better suit the user. By thoroughly understanding the duties and goals of these similar roles, you can better understand yours as UX Researcher.

UX Researcher Job Description

UX Researchers are responsible for engaging in the systematic exploration of target product end-users and their requirements to add insight into the design process for the product. They empathize with the user, researching their needs and motivations through methods that include interviewing, card sorting, contextual inquiries and usability testing, to gain a precise picture of what a product should look like and how it should feel.

What We Need Your Help With

  • Researching and identifying user needs and motivations through targeted and methodical means.
  • Collaborating with design teams to ensure their prototypes meet your findings.
  • Entering projects with an open mind and letting the research guide your conclusions.
  • Testing the result of your research and suggesting modifications to the design team as needed.

We Look For

  • A working familiarity with UX research methods, including quantitative and qualitative means.
  • Adept with technology associated with data collection and analysis as well as design.
  • Someone who thrives as a member of a team.

These Would Also Be Nice

  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Highly organized
  • Keen to try and master new technologies.
  • Having a deep interest in research.

Senior UX Researcher Career Paths: Where to Go from Here

UX Researchers who have attained a senior position has no doubt earned respect from employers and co-workers for their achievements in the field. They have a portfolio brimming with successful projects and have developed a fluency for engaging in meaningful research.

Though they may be happy to carry on at a senior ranking until retirement, other UX Researchers see it as an opportunity to enter a new, though related, field. Some such career changes have included product manager, who follows the entire lifespan of a product from design and creation to marketing and release; and UX Directors, who are responsible for managing the various UX teams and overseeing projects in a managerial role.

It is just as likely that a senior UX Researcher will still right where they are and enjoy many more years of UX Research. It is still a developing field and one that is both personally and professionally rewarding. Senior UX Researchers can mentor junior colleagues, the next wave of senior UX Researchers, as well as watch new technologies and research methods develop right before their eyes.


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