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How To Become a UX Researcher

How To Become a UX Researcher 👨🏽‍💻 — And What Will You Really Do?

13 minute read | May 2, 2024
Monica J. White

Written by:
Monica J. White

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Exploring a career in UX research opens up many opportunities to shape product development. Our post outlines what it means to be a UX researcher, detailing everything from a UX researcher’s essential tasks and the role’s impact on product design to the steps required to jump into a career in this rewarding field.

Read on to learn more about UX research roles, educational requirements, and how to build a standout UX research portfolio to help you stand out in your job search.

What Does a UX Researcher Do?

A UX researcher’s primary responsibility is comprehending the users’ needs, motivations, and difficulties. This information is then used to shape the design and development of products that perfectly align with their requirements. But what does this job entail in practical terms? Let’s take a closer look at the main tasks of a user experience researcher and what UX research involves.

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How To Become a UX Researcher

Becoming a UX researcher typically involves a combination of education, practical experience, and skill development. Here’s an overview of the steps to start your leging journey:

  • Learn about UX research

  • Complete a course

  • Meet the educational requirements

  • Gain an understanding of the tools

  • Get practical experience

  • Build a portfolio

  • Your network is your net worth

  • Get a mentor

  • Tailor your resume to the job you’re applying to

1. Learn about the role

Research and explore resources such as job descriptions and career guides to gain insights into the responsibilities, skills, and requirements of a UX researcher. The more information you have, the better—that’s a mantra that UX researchers live by! You can start by utilizing the following resources:

  • Research online. Start by researching the role of a UX researcher online. Look for resources that provide insights into the role’s responsibilities, skills, and requirements. Websites like Medium, UX Collective, and Nielsen Norman Group often have valuable content related to UX research.
  • Blogs. Blogs are a great way to gain practical information on the job, like what kinds of skills UX researchers need, and for reading insights and opinions of real-life workers in the industry. There are plenty of blogs run by UX research organizations and the UX research community from which you can learn.
  • Podcasts (UIE Brain Sparks, UXPod, and Boxes and Arrows). Get personal anecdotes, professional opinions, and useful insights by listening to podcasts involving industry professionals’ conversations. Here are some of the podcasts we recommend that you check out:
  • YouTube videos. Get to know the ins and outs of the job by following content creators who are currently in the industry. This is a great way to get honest opinions on the job of a UX researcher, covering the cons and pros. 
  • Books. Explore books on UX research to gain a deeper understanding of the discipline. Books like “Just Enough Research” by Erika Hall, “Observing the User Experience” by Mike Kuniavsky, and “Interviewing Users” by Steve Portigal are highly recommended for beginners in UX research.
  • Short courses. Before signing up for college programs or 24-week bootcamps, trying out a few short courses can help you understand the industry, the role, and the studying you’d have to do. It can help you in your job search.

2. Consider a course

You don’t need a Bachelor’s degree to enter this field. If you are completely new to the field, start with a beginner’s course like Springboard’s Introduction to UX Design. Here, you’ll master all the fundamentals you need to launch your career. If you’re already familiar with the fundamentals, try completing a more intense UX bootcamp to bring your skills up to scratch.

Completing a course in UX research helps in:

  • Knowledge acquisition: Gaining a solid understanding of UX research fundamentals, including methodologies, data analysis, and design principles.
  • Practical skills development: Building hands-on experience through exercises, projects, and case studies, enhancing proficiency in conducting research and contributing to UX design.
  • Credentialing and networking: Obtaining certificates, expanding professional networks, accessing job opportunities, validating skills, and advancing career prospects in UX research.
  • Career advancement: Completing a UX research course expands career opportunities, boosts earning potential, and enables transition or advancement in user experience design.

3. Meet the educational requirements

While there’s no strict educational requirement for becoming a UX researcher, having a relevant educational background can be beneficial. Consider pursuing a degree or certification program in fields such as psychology, sociology, human-computer interaction, or design. These disciplines provide foundational knowledge in user behavior, research methodologies, and design principles essential for UX research.

  • Don’t necessarily need a degree, but it can be helpful, especially in a related field. UX research is a job that revolves around understanding people, and many researchers have backgrounds in subjects like behavioral science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and humanities. A degree in one of these relevant fields or similar will help get your foot in the door, a bachelor’s degree is not necessary
  • Pursue a certified online course or a bootcamp. If you don’t have a degree in a related field or don’t have a degree at all, pursuing a UX bootcamp can be a great way to get a relevant education and hands-on experience. With courses that are explicitly focused on UX research, you’ll be able to learn a lot of necessary skills in a short amount of time. You’ll also complete a research project for your portfolio. The purpose of a bootcamp is to get you job-ready, so you will be learning from industry professionals to prepare yourself for the job.

4. Understand the essential tools

During your study, you can begin to understand the wide range of tools you will use daily as a UX researcher. 

  • Recruitment:
    • Ethnio: A recruitment and management system for user participants.
    • User Interview: A dedicated site for recruiting survey and interview participants.
  • Surveys:
  • Usability Testing:
  • Analytics:
    • Google Analytics: Software to track and report traffic on websites and apps.
    • Hotjar: Software for user behavior analytics and heatmaps. 
  • Research and Data Management:
    • Dovetail: Analyze, synthesize, store, and share customer research.
    • AirTable: A low-code platform for building collaborative apps.

5. Get practical experience by working on projects

Education and skills are the must-haves for getting into the UX industry, but practical experience work will give you a real edge in the job market. 

  • Volunteer work. Helping out small businesses or projects that otherwise would not have any UX research is a great way to test out your skills and gain some experience. 
  • Sample projects. They are a great way to build your portfolio and showcase the skills you have and the kind of research you can do. 
  • Apprenticeship or internship. They are invaluable experiences that can give new UX researchers a real advantage during job searching. Opportunities can come from unexpected places, so it’s good to check apprenticeship sites regularly. 
  • Freelance. Filling your time as efficiently as possible is a good habit when studying and preparing for a career change. If you don’t have a larger project, apprenticeship, or internship going on, then try out some freelance work until you find something bigger. Your projects will make a good addition to your portfolio.

6. Build a portfolio

A strong portfolio is essential for showcasing your skills and expertise as a UX researcher. Create a portfolio website or document that highlights your research projects, methodologies, and findings. Include case studies that demonstrate your process, insights, and the impact of your research on design decisions. Your portfolio should effectively communicate your abilities to potential employers and clients.

7. Your network is your net worth

Networking is valuable for advancing your career in UX research. Attend conferences, meetups, and networking events to connect with professionals in the field. Engage with online communities, join professional organizations, and seek mentorship opportunities to learn from experienced researchers and expand your network. Continuously seek opportunities to learn and grow in the field.

Check out some of the methods below to get started:

Try your best to connect with other students and industry professionals—it might help you in the future.

8. Get a mentor

If you meet a professional in the industry willing to take you under their wing, take advantage of this unique opportunity. Mentorships do not have to be formal and official partnerships, but finding someone with experience that’s willing to answer your questions is very valuable. A mentor can significantly aid in the learning journey to become a UX researcher by:

  • Guidance and direction: Providing guidance on navigating the field of UX research, including recommended resources, learning paths, and career opportunities, thus offering clarity and direction in the learning process.
  • Insight and experience sharing: Sharing insights, experiences, and real-world examples from their own career, offering valuable perspectives and practical knowledge that may not be readily available in textbooks or courses.
  • Feedback and accountability: Offering constructive feedback on your work, projects, and portfolio, helping you identify areas for improvement and providing accountability to stay motivated and focused on your learning goals.
  • Networking and connections: Introducing you to industry professionals, networking events, and job opportunities, expanding your professional network, and providing access to valuable connections within the UX research community.
  • Moral support and encouragement: Providing encouragement, motivation, and moral support during challenging times, helping you overcome obstacles, build confidence, and stay committed to your learning journey.

Overall, having a mentor can accelerate your learning, provide invaluable insights, and support your growth and development.

9. Tailor your resume to the job you’re applying to

To create a compelling UX resume, you should tailor it to the job you’re applying for. Companies want to know that you’re passionate about making their products the best they can be, so doing the research and catering to each specific company will set you above all the generic resumes. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Tailor to the job description: Customize your resume for each application by aligning your skills and experiences with the specific job requirements, highlighting relevant keywords and achievements.
  • Objective or summary statement: Start with a concise statement emphasizing your passion for UX research and key relevant skills or experiences.
  • Skills section: Showcase proficiency in research methodologies, data analysis, prototyping tools, and UX/UI design principles, including both technical and soft skills.
  • Experience section: Highlight roles or projects demonstrating your ability to conduct UX research, using bullet points to detail tasks, accomplishments, and outcomes.
  • Education and certifications: List degrees, certifications, or coursework related to UX research, psychology, or design, emphasizing additional training in research methodologies or UX/UI design.
  • Projects and portfolio: Include descriptions of UX research projects, outlining objectives, methodologies, outcomes, and deliverables, with links to online portfolios or project documentation.
  • Keywords and buzzwords: Incorporate relevant industry terms like “user testing,” “usability studies,” and “human-centered design” to optimize visibility for applicant tracking systems and hiring managers.
  • Quantify achievements: Provide measurable results whenever possible, such as the number of user interviews conducted or improvements in usability metrics.

By tailoring your resume to highlight your relevant skills, experiences, and achievements in UX research, you can increase your chances of standing out to potential employers and landing interviews for coveted UX researcher positions.

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What Skills Do You Need to Become a UX Researcher?

UX researchers need a variety of skills to be successful. Some of the most important skills include:

Technical skills

Technical skills are essential for a UX researcher to effectively conduct research, analyze data, and communicate findings. Here are some key technical skills needed to become a UX researcher:

  • Qualitative research

    There are many different qualitative research methods, such as focus groups, surveys, and interviews. Learning the pros and cons of each and when to use them is an important skill and you’ll need it to complete your first research project.

  • Understanding UI design

    Designing the UI of the product will not be your job, but helping guide a UI designer will be. You’ll need a basic understanding of UI design to know how your research findings should affect the design of the user interface. UX designers, product managers, and UI designers all work with researchers on a regular basis.

  • Creating user personas

    User personas help researchers create a user-centered design. They are fictional personas with personalities and needs taken from data on real people and used in various stages of the design process.

  • Empathy mapping

    Understanding the fine points and nuances of how a user’s experience can make them feel will help UX researchers avoid mistakes that will turn a user away from the product. 

  • Producing user journey maps

    Simulating a user persona’s journey with a product helps keep the design process on track. Are their needs being met? What needs to be changed to improve the experience for them?

  • Generating insights from data

    Some skills with data visualization and analysis (with tools like Microsoft Excel and Tableau) will be necessary to structure and understand larger sets of data that are collected through surveys and interviews. 

  • Creating prototypes and wireframes

    Helping UI designers create prototypes and wireframes will improve your ability to collaborate with them and give them practical examples of how your research can be implemented into the design project. 

  • Usability testing

    Once prototypes exist, they need to be tested. Potential users, in-house testers, and the UX team themselves can take part in testing to assess how easily and well features can be accessed and used. You’ll work closely with product managers on this aspect of the research.  

  • Coding skills

    While user experience researchers are less likely to have front-end coding skills than a UX designer, it’s still good to have some coding skills. Dvelop skills in HTML and CSS, for example, which can be useful when collaborating with UI designers. 

Soft skills

The UX research role involves talking to users and encouraging them to share their thoughts and feelings, collaborating with the rest of the UX design team, and convincing them to take your research on board. This requires excellent soft skills and communications skills, to the extent that UX practitioners and hiring managers believe soft skills to be the most important skill set in UX. 

  • Analytical mindset

    Analytical skills involve using the information at your disposal to figure out a relevant and objective cause of a problem or solution to that problem. 

  • Active listening

    Listening to users’ opinions is by far the most important thing for a user experience researcher to do. If you don’t truly listen to the thoughts and feelings your respondents are trying to communicate, your data collection will not be useful and relevant. 

  • Organization

    Conducting interviews, surveys, analysis, and collaborating with other teams all at the same time all require good organizational skills. 

  • Critical thinking

    Critical thinking allows researchers to spot anomalies in data and fix problems before they grow bigger. It’s an important skill to be able to notice when something doesn’t quite fit and then find out why. 

  • Communication

    Communication is a large part of collaborating with others and conducting research with users. The key is being as clear as possible, and as friendly and respectful as possible. 

  • Teamwork

    Teamwork is extremely important for a UX researcher. Working with others is the only way to get your research used.

  • Problem-solving

    To help push improvements in design, researchers should be able to suggest solutions to the problems they are communicating. 

  • Creativity

    Creativity will help a researcher come up with new ways to collect data, new ways to view it, and how to best use it in the design thinking process.

How Much Can You Make as a UX Researcher?

Here are some average salaries for UX researchers at different stages in their career paths.

  • Entry-level UX researcher. In your first year of work, Glassdoor reports the average total salary for an entry-level position as $108,009.
  • Mid-level UX researcher. After around two years, average salaries rise to around $124,732.
  • Senior-level UX researcher. Senior-level UX researchers with 8 or more years of experience can expect to earn an average salary of $152,764. However, Glassdoor reported wages as high as $282,000.

UI Design vs. UX Design vs. UX Research

UI (User Interface) design, UX (User Experience) design, and UX research serve distinct yet interconnected purposes. Understanding the differences between these disciplines is crucial for creating successful and user-centric products. Let’s delve into the key distinctions:

Who Should Become a UX Researcher?

Becoming a UX researcher is ideal for individuals who possess a combination of specific qualities, interests, and skills. Here’s who should consider pursuing a career in UX research:

Overall, becoming a UX researcher is suitable for individuals who are curious, empathetic, analytical, and passionate about improving user experiences through research and design. If you enjoy uncovering insights, solving complex problems, and advocating for users, a career in UX research might be the perfect fit for you.

FAQs About Becoming a UX Researcher

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a UX researcher.

Are UX Researchers in Demand?

A search on Glassdoor lists 2777 UX researcher job postings in the United States. The UX researcher role is mostly in demand at large companies with big UX teams, whereas small companies may choose to combine the roles of UX designers and researchers

Is UX Research Hard To Learn?

You will need to be a motivated and determined individual to switch careers and become a UX researcher, but UX research itself is not intrinsically hard to learn. With many courses and resources out there to learn from, it is a very accessible field to get into. You will also need to complete many research projects. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree, you just need experience and motivation.

Can You Become a UX Researcher Without a Degree?

Degrees are always useful tools to help get you noticed and get you interviews, but they are not a 100% requirement. Individuals with experience equivalent to a degree, good portfolios with solid research projects, and other certifications can get into a career in user research. 

Can You Become a UX Researcher Without Any Experience?

While you would struggle to get a job as a UX researcher without any qualifications and previous resume entries, you can begin on the path to becoming a UX researcher without prior experience. You simply need to earn experience as you study and work toward putting yourself on the job market. This can be done with freelance work, portfolio work, apprenticeships, internships, and more.

Since you’re here…
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About Monica J. White

Monica is a journalist with a lifelong interest in technology, from PC hardware to software and programming. She first started writing over ten years ago and has made a career out of it. Now, her focus is centered around technology and explaining complex concepts to a broader audience.