If you search on Glassdoor for UX jobs, you’ll find nearly 26,000 postings. UX is a growing, thriving field, and demand is at an all-time high.
User experience is about making products, websites, apps, and other pieces of technology as easy to use as possible. While aesthetics is a component of a good website or product, it’s not the primary goal of UX—function is. More specifically: how to make the product function as easily as possible so the consumer will want to use it.
In order to make a consumer-friendly product, a UX designer must understand the customer. What do they want? What motivates them? What do they like, what do they dislike, and what will keep them coming back? This is where a UX researcher comes in.
In order to better understand the difference between a UX researcher vs. UX designer, let’s take a look at what their primary roles and responsibilities are, what backgrounds are best suited for each, and what the salary range is for both.
UX Researcher vs. UX Designer: What’s The Difference?
In some companies (often smaller ones), the role of UX researcher and UX designer are performed by the same person. It’s advisable, however, that the roles be separate, and if you’re considering going into user experience, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Here are the key differences between a UX researcher vs. UX designer:
UX Researcher: Before a UX designer can begin the design stage of a project, he must understand who he is designing for. Who is the target market? What motivates them? How will the product improve their lives? Without these insights, it’s impossible to design a good product. Finding the answers to these questions is the role of a UX researcher.
As you can infer from the job title, a UX researcher’s main goal is research. A UX researcher analyzes consumer behavior and forms data-driven insights to address the needs of the consumers. Once they have these insights, they turn them over to the larger UX design team so they can create products that meet the needs of their audience.
UX Designer: A UX designer’s job is to design a user-friendly product that addresses the needs of the consumer. Only after a UX designer has a firm grasp on the target market can she begin the design process. The UX designer gains this awareness from the UX researcher’s findings.
Again, a UX researcher’s primary goal is to understand what motivates the consumer. A UX designer’s primary goal is to design a product that the customer will want to use based on insights provided by the UX researcher.
Now let’s look at how they do this.
UX Researcher vs. UX Designer: What They Do
If you’re looking to break into a new field, it’s imperative to know what you’ll do day in and day out. Let’s take a look at how a UX researcher’s typical day differs from a UX designer’s.
What Does a UX Researcher Do?
UX researchers employ a mix of quantitative and qualitative research to get to know a target market. If you don’t know the difference between qualitative and quantitative, you can think of quantitative research as measurable and qualitative as more subjective. For example, if you look at the bounce rate of your website (i.e., the percentage of people who leave your website after viewing just one page) you would be looking at quantitative data. If you wanted to know why they left, this would fall under qualitative.
UX designers and UX researchers employ a few methods for studying consumer behavior.
- Observation: They observe people interacting with a product and look for unspoken clues to understand what a person thinks about it. Do they find it easy to use? Did their behavior reflect what the UX designer intended them to do?
- Interviews: UX researchers conduct face-to-face Interviews, either one-on-one or via focus groups. They can ask specific questions, engage in conversation, or just observe the participants in their natural settings to see how they interact with the product.
- User Surveys: UX researchers can also conduct online user surveys to get people’s thoughts on a product or website.
- Usability Tests: Once a UX designer has created a prototype of a product, the UX researcher can conduct usability tests. Researchers can share prototypes with a target audience to see how they interact with them. This can be done either in person or online, and the tester is encouraged to talk through their thought process as they navigate the product.
What Does a UX Designer Do?
While a UX researcher’s objective is to understand what motivates a customer, a UX designer is tasked with taking the UX researcher’s customer insights and turning them into actionable, consumer-centric results that resonate with the audience. (Find out more about UX design and expert tips on becoming a UX designer.)
Once a UX designer has a solid understanding of the target market (thanks to the UX researcher’s findings), she can begin the design process.
A UX designer typically starts by creating sketches or wireframes to show others how the product will function, and mood boards to help others envision how the final product will look. Finally, he will create a prototype, which is a simulation of the final product.
The goal of a prototype is to test the flow of design and gather feedback from both internal and external parties before the final product is built. This is something the UX researcher can help with. Prototypes are fluid and can be edited based on user feedback.
Now that you understand the ins and outs of a UX researcher and UX designer’s day, let’s take a look at what the roles require.
UX Researcher vs. UX Designer: Role Requirements
In order to understand the difference in UX researcher vs. UX designer role requirements, we visited Glassdoor and looked at current job openings to see what companies are looking for in prospective employees.
What Are the Requirements for a UX Researcher?
You don’t need a specific degree to be a UX researcher, but you should have experience with technology and an understanding of people’s behavior. Common backgrounds include (but are not limited to) psychology, anthropology, sociology, marketing and communications, and information science.
Of the job postings we looked at, common requirements include:
- Deep knowledge of an array of user research methodologies
- Ability to frame key questions, create research plans to address those, conduct research, and synthesize the findings into meaningful, actionable insights
- Passion for defining and solving problems
- Ability to design and conduct usability studies—i.e., identify potential solution options for a stated user need and design experiments that help elicit the most viable solution for users
- Experience managing communications with users and stakeholders
- Experience integrating user research into product designs and design practices
- Experience in survey design (i.e., qualtrics)
- Working knowledge of statistics and experimental design
- Strong ability to generate and communicate compelling and actionable insights, both verbally and visually
- Excellent communication skills, including written, verbal, and presentation
What Are the Requirements for a UX Designer?
Similar to a UX researcher, you don’t need a specific degree to become a UX designer. In fact, most UX designers are actually self-taught (to a certain degree) but share soft skills such as curiosity, passion, empathy, and time management. That being said, for those with college degrees, common fields are similar to those of a UX researcher, and include psychology, computer science, anthropology, and information science.
Of the job postings we looked at, common requirements include:
- 3+ years of experience in UX design
- Strong understanding of the UX process
- Mastery of design and prototyping tools such as Sketch, Adobe Creative Suite, InVision Axure, etc.)
- Endless curiosity about people, technology, design, and life
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Experience interacting with clients and the ability to speak about your work with passion and data
- Demonstrated skills creating process flows, sitemaps, wireframes, prototypes, and other UX deliverables
- Produce clear, user-centric design across mobile, desktop, web, and hardware endpoints
- Contribute to all aspects of design including requirement defining, user research, workflow diagraming, detailed design, development of use cases and scenarios, and engineering support
- Partner closely with developers, QA, and product managers to rapidly iterate on designs based on user feedback, tech constraints, and market dynamics
UX Researcher vs. UX Designer: Role Responsibilities
A UX researcher’s primary job is to understand the target market so the UX designer can design a product they’ll like. This is done through a variety of research techniques. We returned to those Glassdoor job postings to find some real-life examples:
What Are the Role Responsibilities for a UX Researcher?
Google’s New York City office is currently hiring a UX researcher whose primary objective will be to “reveal what our users need from our products by conducting primary research, exploring the behaviors and motivations of our users, and working with teams of designers, product managers, engineers, and others to develop new features.”
(The salary range is estimated by Glassdoor to be as high as $154,000.)
San Francisco-based Gusto is looking to hire its first embedded UX researcher to help the company “deeply understand the goals and experiences of small business owners & operators, so we can empower them with great systems for payroll, employee on-boarding, benefits, performance reviews, and more.”
(The salary range is estimated by Glassdoor to be slightly over $109,000.)
Grubhub is seeking a UX researcher for its Chicago office who can “take our usability practice to the next level. This candidate will design and conduct usability tests frequently and efficiently. They will be responsible for designing test plans, recruiting users, moderating tests, analyzing results, and presenting insights.”
(The salary range is estimated by Glassdoor to be approximately $76,000.)
What Are the Role Responsibilities for a UX Designer?
High-end jeweler Tiffany & Co. is currently hiring a UX designer for its New York City headquarters to “play a key role in supporting the UX team by producing assets and artifacts for marketing campaigns, e-commerce enhancements, new omnichannel initiatives, and contributing to the holistic digital strategy at Tiffany through a user-centric perspective.”
The company breaks down the role into three key areas: digital design, communication, and research:
(The salary range is estimated by Glassdoor to be as high as $88,000.)
San Francisco’s ShopStyle says prospective UX designers “should have empathy for our users, be a creative problem solver, be able to articulate the reasons behind a design, and have the ability to manage multiple projects. The ideal candidate has experience across many design disciplines and is highly knowledgeable about the latest interaction and design standards.”
(Glassdoor does not have an estimated salary for this position, but the average salary for a UX designer in the San Francisco area with around three years of experience is $97,000).
IBM is currently seeking a UX designer for its Chicago office. Specifically, the company wants “an experienced User Experience Designer with a proven record of delivering irresistible solutions which address our customers most challenging business problems and opportunities. The ideal candidate will have experience collaborating effectively with Product Management and engineering in agile and lean delivery methodologies.”
(Glassdoor does not have an estimated salary for this position, but the average salary for a UX designer in the Chicago area with around three years of experience is $74,000).
Now that you have an idea what real companies are looking for in a UX researcher vs. UX designer, let’s move on to arguably the best part: salary.
UX Researcher vs. UX Designer: How Much Do They Earn?
UX researcher and UX designer salaries are fairly comparable from a national standpoint but can vary greatly based on location.
How Much Does a UX Researcher Make?
In order to get a better idea of regional differences, we looked at the average base pay for UX researchers in a few key markets with thriving tech sectors (we were very surprised by Chicago):
- San Francisco: $111,781 (+20% national average)
- New York: $97,775 (+5% national average)
- Chicago: $74,350 (-20% national average)
- Boston: $85,733 (-5% national average)
- Seattle: $96,660 (+4% national average)
Now let’s take a look at the national averages for UX designers.
How Much Does a UX Designer Make?
Just like UX research, UX design roles pay pretty well—for entry-level, mid-level, and senior levels. It’s worth noting, however, that the “user experience designer” category is a broad one, and that has an impact on average salaries.
We wanted to see how the average UX designer salary fared in the aforementioned key cities, so we went back to Glassdoor:
- San Francisco: $109,062 (+20% national average)
- New York: $94,253 (+4% national average)
- Chicago: $83,090 (-8% national average)
- Boston: $88,623 (-2% national average)
- Seattle: $98,775 (+9% national average)
As you can see from the above, the salaries are fairly comparable by market, even in cities where they’re well below the national average.
Related: The State of UX Salaries in 2019
We hope this helps clear up the difference between UX researcher vs. UX designer and can help guide you down the right path. As you can see, salary shouldn’t be a determining factor, as the roles pay pretty comparable salaries. What should be the deciding factor is what you enjoy.
If you love conducting research and learning what makes people tick, then perhaps you’d be better suited as a UX researcher. If you prefer that someone else conduct the research so you can focus more on the design process to deliver a product that consumers will enjoy, then maybe you’d be better suited as a UX designer.
Enjoy both? Consider finding a small company where the UX designer does the work of the UX researcher, too.
Looking for more career guidance? Check out Springboard’s UX Career Track—you’ll have your own personal mentor and a career coach to help you land the UX job of your dreams.