Do You Want to Become a User Experience Researcher? Here’s A Beginner’s Guide to UX
With billions of active websites and mobile applications, it’s no surprise that UX researchers are in demand. After all, technology continues to advance and every day, in-person experiences are becoming virtual.
Let’s be honest – digital is the new normal and the demand for UX researchers will likely continue to increase for many years to come1. But, what do UX researchers actually do? And, how do you become one?
Before you enroll in a UX research course or spend time scouring the internet, read this guide! Here, we’ll explain what a UX researcher is, what they do and how they are integral to building society’s digital future.
In this article:
- A Simple Explanation of UX Research
- The Role of User Experience Researchers
- User Experience Research Methods
- 5 Skills Needed to Become a UX Researcher
- Educational Resources
- Related Articles
A Simple Explanation of UX Research
Simply put, user experience (UX) research is the process of finding insights to guide successful UX design. And, UX design is all about putting the user first. Think about it.
User experience research will always be an integral part of the UX design process. Frankly, it is nearly impossible to hone in on one’s target users without conducting UX research or collaborating with a UX researcher. Why? Well, when it comes to UX, there is no time for guessing games!
The Role of User Experience Researchers (UX)
The purpose of a UX researcher (sometimes referred to as a product researcher or a design researcher) is the identification and analysis of data for the development of UX design concepts.
User experience researchers contribute greatly to the UX design process by generating and analyzing data-driven insights from a variety of sources – all with the goal of understanding the user.
In a team setting, UX researchers work with development, design, and advertising professionals to assess current and future user needs. Their efforts assist the product development process tremendously.
User Experience Research Methods
User experience researchers want to understand their products’ end-users2 better. Thus, they are tasked with implementing various research methods such as:
- user interviews
- user surveys
- card sorting
- focus groups
- usability testing
A user interview is a UX research method in which the user experience researcher asks individual users questions about their interaction with a product.
A user survey is a UX research method that aggregates information from users. The goal is to provide UX teams with quantitative data on user behaviors and opinions.
When UX researchers need to evaluate the information architecture of a website, they may try card sorting.
UX professionals use card sorting to test users with the goal of creating a dendrogram – a diagram that visualizes the hierarchical relationship between objects.
Ultimately, card sorting helps UX researchers understand user expectations – which is important for building the structure of any website.
UX researchers use focus groups, or moderated discussions, to gain insight into user attitudes, behaviors, and responses to concepts.
This UX research method typically involves 5-10 participants, however, there are no set rules regarding that. So, the number of participants may vary depending on the focus group.
Focus groups are often confused with usability tests or contextual interviews but differ in a key way:
- Focus groups involve users who participate via verbal communication. In this setting, users tell the moderator or UX researcher about their experiences with a product.
- In a usability test or contextual interview, users act out their responses – showing the UX researcher exactly what they like and dislike about a product.
When UX researchers engage in usability testing, they are evaluating a product using feedback from representative users.
The benefits of this user research method include:
- enabling design teams to identify issues and work to solve them before a product is coded
- identifying how long it takes to complete tasks
- understanding how satisfied users are with your website, mobile application, or other product.
5 Skills Needed to Become a UX Researcher
If you enjoy finding out what makes people tick, a career in user experience research might be a good fit. After all, it is the job of a UX researcher to understand a product’s users and how they behave.
So, if you’re ready to take the plunge into this budding industry; here are five skills you’ll need to get started:
- UX/Design Thinking
- User-Centered Design Research
- Personal Creation
- UX Mapping
- User Testing
When it comes to creative problem solving, design thinking helps UX designers and researchers alike. It empowers user researchers to see things from the participants’ perspective. Design thinking relies on strong UX research skills, as analyzing user responses is a big part of the process.
User-Centered Design Research
This type of UX research focuses on the product’s end-user as the most important consideration for design plans. Instead of thinking broadly, this design strategy involves honing in on a target user and creating a product with that ideal user’s preferences, needs, and desires in mind.
In a nutshell, the role of the UX researcher is important because user-centered design research eliminates guesswork.
When a UX researcher needs to identify an ideal user, they can put their user research skills to practice by creating a persona.
A persona is an imagined user for a website, mobile application, or product; an aggregation of data about the attitudes, patterns, and skills of typical users.
Keeping the persona or ideal user in mind can, a UX researcher can empathize with their users.
How could a user researcher or UX designer track user behavior? Well, one user research method involves UX mapping.
What is a UX map, you ask? It is an annotated timeline of a consumer’s journey through or website, mobile application, or other product.
UX mapping results in an overview of user touchpoints; allowing both UX researchers and UX designers the opportunity to identify how users interact with their product.
This type of data visualization is not just useful to UX researchers – it can help all user experience professionals assess issues and make product improvements with poor user experiences in mind.
User Testing Methods
All UX researchers need to be able to conduct user testing. Without doing so, designers or developers won’t know if they have missed the mark or if they have successfully created a product for their end-user.
Are you starting out fresh in this UX field? Or transitioning from a different career? In either case, getting started as a UX researcher may require some additional education.
Here are a few online resources for UX research and UX design courses.
- Can you answer these 21 UX interview questions?
- UI/UX Design Terminology: Words Every Design Should Learn
- A Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking for UX
- “Computer and Information Research Scientists: Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3 Jan. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm.
- “Methods.” Methods | Usability.gov, https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods.