What Does a UX Researcher Do?

Learn more about the roles, responsibilities, and salary of a UX researcher.

UX researcher

What is UX research?

Research is the driving force behind real user experience (UX). UX research is about examining and analyzing, utilizing different methodologies such as surveys, competitive analysis, experimentation, and testing.

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Why is UX research important?

User-centered product development at mature customer-centered organizations is driven by multi-method research. Modern businesses collect plenty of analytics and numbers. But all the counting in the world doesn’t tell them everything they need to know to make smart product decisions and that’s where qualitative research comes into play. 

Instead of relying solely on metrics or narratives, they know the best UX decisions are made when they’ve done their due diligence to appeal to both sides of the equation. But again, qualitative research only tells part of the user story. So holistic research brings them statistically significant UX numbers, plus compelling stories, all describing what customers actually do, need, and want, so decision-makers are in the best possible position to proceed accordingly. This is why mature companies employ all kinds of UX researchers.

What types of UX researchers exist?

To begin, there are essentially three types of UX researchers: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods. All of these roles share the overarching goal of informing product and design decisions through various types of user research.

  • Qualitative UX researchers specialize in uncovering “the why” behind the numbers. They typically work with small study sample sizes (up to a few dozen participants) and capture data such as key user quotes, behavioral patterns, useful anecdotes, and observed phenomena described via storytelling. This is a popular entry point into the world of applied research and attracts people from a variety of backgrounds. 
  • Quantitative UX researchers concentrate on the numbers that help measure and describe UX. This includes things like statistically significant UX trends and analytics, task completion rates, and task efficiency, all gathered through higher sample size studies (from 30 to tens of thousands of participants). 
  • Mixed-Method UX researchers are the highly sought-after generalists of their respective fields. Unlike quantitative researchers or qualitative researchers, who specialize in the UX numbers vs. the UX narratives (respectively), these individuals are familiar with both disciplines and all they entail. Typically, this breadth and depth of skill sets require many years of experience to do well because there’s a lot to grasp. Regardless, many UX researchers still start their careers with exposure to both sides of the equation as it makes for a well-rounded foundation. To gain a better understanding of this interesting suite of roles, keep reading!

What do UX researchers do?

UX researchers empower leaders in the organization with the insights and recommendations they need to make more informed business and product decisions. They also:

  • Create innovative and systematic ways of learning about user needs, behaviors, workflows, pain points, expectations, etc. 
  • Plan and execute multi-method longitudinal lines of research (such as those focused on continuous discovery or customer journeys)
  • Evangelize research programs, projects, pitfalls, and best practices throughout the organization to cultivate an appreciation for quantitative and qualitative methods
  • Identify and champion best research practices to maximize the effectiveness, efficiency, and validity of studies

UX researchers also lead studies from end-to-end, each of which may include one or more of the following methodologies:

  • In-depth interviews
  • Concept testing
  • Usability / User / UX testing
  • Surveys 
  • Ethnographic observation / field research / site visits
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Task analysis
  • Competitive analysis / evaluation / benchmarking
  • Diary studies 
  • Eye tracking & biometrics (facial expression analysis, galvanic skin response, etc.)

What makes UX researchers unique?

Qualitative researchers are especially great rapport builders and storytellers. They shine at making participants feel comfortable and effectively eliciting their knowledge, perspectives, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs.

Quantitative researchers excel at working with numbers, leveraging them to help explain behavior and perceptions and to uncover new opportunities to understand and accommodate users. They must be very good at descriptive and inferential statistics.

A successful mixed-methods researcher has mastered both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. They are often more senior because of this, with advanced educational degrees and at least 5 - 10 years of direct experience, which places them at a higher salary band than most UX researchers. As individual contributors, they often serve as the senior-most researchers on the team, and regularly end up in management if they choose that route. 

What tech skills do UX researchers need?

The hard skills required of UX researchers are very similar to those of Human Factors (HF) practitioners. Junior researchers will know a few of these technologies, while expert researchers will be experts of most or all of them. 

  • Standard office software (word processing, spreadsheets, email, instant messaging, etc.)
  • Web conferencing for meetings and moderated studies
  • Design tools such as Invision, Sketch, Adobe XD, Marvel POP, and Figma
  • Survey software
  • Project management software
  • Collaborative whiteboards
  • Unmoderated research software
  • Survey tools
  • Video editing
  • Video transcription technology
  • Diary study software
  • Certain biometric instruments such as eye trackers and facial recognition technology (depending on setting)
  • Statistical programs and basic database management

How much do UX researchers make?

A number of factors impact the salary of a UX researcher— such as location, company size, industry, compensation packages, and actual job title. These numbers are merely averages compiled from Glassdoor as of September 2020.

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This post was written by Rylan Clark, the COO of The UXology Group, a leading UX Research firm. Rylan is also a Springboard mentor and UX subject matter expert.

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