How to Become a UX Researcher

User experience (UX) research is a fast-growing, lucrative field. If you’re curious about how to become a UX researcher, it’s important to understand what the job entails, research the necessary skills, and spend time thinking about whether this career is right for you.

User experience researchers are crucial in developing new tech products from apps and websites, to operating systems and digital interfaces. While UX designers decide how a user will interact with and move through a given product, UX researchers are the people who give those designers crucial information about what those users want, need, and care about.

UX researchers use a variety of research methods to understand who their users are, and how a product might fit into their lives. Strong tech and analytical skills help them develop research strategies and evaluate the data they find, but they must also have a deep understanding of how people work, what their desires are, and how their psychology functions. UX research is a great job prospect for anyone who loves tech as much as they love people.

What Is UX?

User experience, also known as UX, refers to how a user interacts with a product or service and how they move through that project or service.

A good user experience is easy, logical, and enables users to easily complete their intended goal, whether that’s booking a flight or playing a game. User experience doesn’t begin at the moment a user arrives at a product — it begins with branding, which is often how the user is first introduced to the product. It also includes how the user feels after they use the product. Would they want to use it again? Would they recommend it to someone else?

The goal of anyone working in user experience is to ensure the user has a positive, enjoyable, and efficient experience with a product from the moment they hear about it until the moment they tell their friends about it. There are a number of jobs in the field of UX, two of the most common being UX research and UX design.

UX designers build products that maximize the user’s satisfaction and experience. This field incorporates many different areas of product development, design, and software development. UX designers work on aspects like usability, branding, function, and design. UI designers, or user interface designers, are more focused on the look of a product rather than the functionality, and they often have a background in graphic design. UX researchers, as we’ve mentioned, are more focused on learning about the user.

What Do UX Researchers Do?

Maybe you’ve read a few UX researcher job descriptions, but you’re still not completely sure what these jobs are really like. One of the primary goals of a UX researcher is to understand people — specifically, understand the way they might think about and interact with a potential (or existing) product. They might do this through in-depth interviews, which require very strong listening and communication skills, as well as the ability to turn an interview transcript into valuable data. It’s also up to the researcher to choose the correct research methods for a project, as no two projects are alike. Lastly, UX researchers need to understand how to use the data they’ve gleaned through research to inform and influence the work their team is doing. UX researcher jobs are all about gathering and sharing information, so communication is key.

How to Get Into UX Research

While UX research is an exciting and growing field, it’s still relatively new, which means that the career paths leading to roles in the field can vary. This is an industry that doesn’t discriminate against people with nontraditional backgrounds, and there are a number of ways to become a UX researcher.

That said, it is important to develop UX research skills before you apply for entry-level jobs. Although a four-year degree associated with UX isn’t a requirement for qualification, it’s recommended that you choose an educational path that equips you with the necessary skills and experience to apply for jobs in the field of UX research. Once you do that, you’ll be able to further develop your skills, build a portfolio, hone your resume, and begin applying for jobs.

Receive a UX Education

Although there is no explicit degree pathway into UX research, a bachelor’s degree can be beneficial to pursuing this career. Many job listings for UX research positions mention a requirement of a bachelor’s degree, although they rarely specify what area of study that degree should be in.

If you’re considering pursuing a four-year degree as a precursor to a career in UX research, there are a few different routes you can take. This is a tech-focused field centered around coding, and many people choose to complete a degree in computer science, statistics, and information systems. Having an understanding of human behavior also underpins much of the UX research role, especially in regards to interactions with tech. If your interests lean more heavily toward the human (rather than machine) side, consider a degree in psychology, anthropology, or even human-computer interaction.

Develop Your UX Researcher Skills

User experience researchers need a mix of research-based skills, analytical skills, and soft skills to do their jobs successfully. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this field, plan on spending a significant amount of time developing your UX researcher skills.

What does a UX researcher need to be good at? First of all, it’s important that they are strong analytical thinkers and problem solvers. After analyzing user and market research data, UX researchers develop ideas and plans and apply them to anticipating, avoiding, and solving users’ problems. Researchers need to be able to understand what those problems could be and quickly develop resolutions to those issues.

UX researchers also need to have strong communication skills so they can communicate clearly and effectively not just with their research subjects, but with their peers and managers as well. They need to present their findings in a way that will help the other stakeholders use that information in a product’s design.

One of the most important UX researcher skills is having a strong grasp of research methods. Researchers use a variety of different research methods and strategies in their work. Some strategies are more qualitative (i.e., figuring out the “why” or “how”), while others are more quantitative (i.e., figuring out the “what” or the “when”). There are also behavioral and attitudinal strategies; the former tries to understand how a user will act, whereas the latter tries to understand how a user will feel or think about something.

One way to acquire all these skills in an efficient, comprehensive manner is through a UX boot camp. These are intensive educational courses that focus on preparing learners for a particular career and often offer flexible hours. Through a UX boot camp, you can learn UX design and research skills in just 24 weeks.

Build a UX Research Portfolio

Once you have developed your UX research skill set and begun learning about UX research methods, you’re ready to start building a UX research portfolio. This portfolio will be integral to your job search, as it will show hiring managers what you’re capable of doing and what you’ve already accomplished in the research space — not to mention, how you approach and think about UX research. In a field where experience isn’t always the most important factor in recruitment, a portfolio can be just as important as your resume.

Your portfolio is your opportunity to display your experience and knowledge of the field. Consider going back to projects you worked on early on in your education and enhancing them with the new skills you’ve learned since starting. Applying the UX research skills you learned in your boot camp or other courses will help you better understand the concepts you learned and put them into practice.

Another great portfolio project is to choose an app or website and conduct your own research using an array of UX researcher methods. Let’s say, for example, that you choose Uber Eats. You could start by interviewing your friends about how they order food, use different convenience apps on their phones, and so on. You could then write out your own set of test scripts for the app, and recruit your friends to perform user experience tests. Finally, you could conclude your research with a heuristic evaluation of the app.

Once you’ve done your research and exhausted your UX research methods, turn it into a readable, logical portfolio that shows your process as a researcher. In a well-formatted document, lay out the project or problem you were looking at, explain your methods and how you applied them, and what you learned. Repeat this for every project.

Prepare a UX Researcher Resume

Before you begin applying to jobs, it’s crucial to prepare your UX researcher resume, as it is often the first impression that a recruiter gets from you.

Make sure to highlight the UX researcher skills that you’ve developed, and be specific. This is one of the most important things that recruiters will be looking for. Discuss the individual skills and research methods that you’ve honed either in your boot camp or other educational path. According to Burning Glass Technologies, some of the top specialized skills recruiters look for are user research, psychology, usability testing, and quantitative research.

You should also highlight the other aspects of your professional background that are especially relevant to a career in UX research. Have you worked in tech before? Have you worked in a job that relates to human behavior, or where you had to meticulously document your work? These are all details that look great on a UX researcher resume.

If you have specific research experience, be sure to break that out into its own section. Lastly, highlight your educational background, including any boot camps you’ve taken and certifications you’ve earned.

Become a UX Researcher

As we’ve already mentioned, UX research is a lucrative industry with a strong projected growth rate. According to a report from Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight™, UX researchers earn a median salary of $103,018, and the industry has a projected growth rate of 15.9 percent over the next decade. This means that more and more companies are hiring for UX researchers, and will continue to do so in the future. Investing in a UX researcher education, therefore, means investing in a rewarding career path with opportunity for advancement.

The preparation you’ve put in up until this point will make all the difference once it comes time to start the job search and interview process. As a newcomer to the field, you won’t be expected to know everything about UX research, so don’t be afraid to admit your limited experience. Your portfolio and your educational background will demonstrate to employers that you are willing to keep learning and have a passion for the role in question.

How to Become a UX Researcher FAQ

What is a UX researcher?

UX research is a field dedicated to understanding people in order to develop products that serve their interests, needs, and desires. A UX researcher deploys a variety of research methods in order to better understand the people they are trying to serve, as well as how those people use a product.

UX researcher vs. UX designer: What’s the difference?

UX researchers and UX designers have distinctly different jobs, but they work together and depend on each other to achieve the goal of delivering a great product. While a UX researcher performs research around the use of a given app or product, a UX designer will use that research to design a product that best serves the researched population.

What are some UX researcher interview questions?

Some questions you’re likely to hear in a UX researcher interview are:

  • What’s an example of a difficult decision you’ve had to make during a research project?
  • What’s a research project you’ve taken on that didn’t go as planned?
  • How do you communicate your research findings to relevant stakeholders?
  • How do you work with designers and product managers?
    What’s the most successful research project you’ve taken on?

Get Into UX Research Today

One of the fastest ways to become a competitive candidate in UX research is to enroll in a UX/UI boot camp. These courses will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to be a successful UX researcher in just a few months. Take the first step on your UX journey today!