Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a UX Researcher

Allie Decker
Allie Decker



User satisfaction is now a critical metric for business success: 32% of customers surveyed said they would stop business with a brand they loved after just one bad experience. Additionally, research shows it takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one negative experience.


Now more than ever, it’s critical for companies to design and deploy products, services and even websites with the end-user in mind. Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data needed to make this possible is called user experience (UX) research — a very in-demand position. A quick look for UX researcher jobs on Indeed.com shows more than 38,000 open positions across the country.

Download Now: Free HTML & CSS HacksBut what exactly is UX a researcher? What are they doing all day? What’s the difference between UX researchers and designers — and how do you become a UX researcher if you’re interested in this career?

In this article we’ll cover the basics, give you the highlights and help you get a better understanding of the UX researcher’s role.

What’s a UX researcher?

Let’s back up a bit: What exactly is UX research?

The Interaction Design Foundation defines UX research as “the systematic investigation of users and their requirements, in order to add context and insight into the process of designing the user experience.”

That’s a mouthful, but the role of UX research is straightforward: discovering what end-users want digital and physical experiences to look like based on observation, behavior monitoring, and direct interaction.

UX researchers work to understand consumer needs as they relate to company products or services. This includes identifying target markets, uncovering key motivations, and determining the best design approach to improve end-user satisfaction.

What does a UX researcher do?

UX researchers use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to discover best-fit design principles and approaches. For example, researchers might use qualitative measurements such as satisfaction surveys to identify potential satisfaction shortfalls, or leverage quantitative metrics such as e-commerce cart abandonment rates to analyze the impact of online experiences.

To acquire relevant customer data, UX researchers use multiple methods.

  • Direct observation: UX researchers observe customers interacting with existing products or services for information about how these experiences could be improved. For example, they may observe how users interact with website layouts that don’t work or service descriptions that aren’t clear and then determine potential remedies to help inform future designs.
  • Interviews: Speaking one-on-one with consumers helps UX researchers drill down and discover exactly where experiences don’t measure up. These interviews typically combine pre-formatted questions and freeform interactions to get customers thinking about potential UX issues but also give them the freedom to describe their personal experiences.
  • User surveys: Surveys help UX researchers reach a broad sample of target customers at once. These surveys may be multiple-choice or short-answer and generally focus on a single aspect of user experience to help drive specific feedback.
  • Usability tests: Once preliminary research is complete, UX designers often create product or service prototypes based on customer feedback. UX researchers can then carry out usability tests with these initial experience iterations to see how users respond and discover potential prototype shortfalls.

Once data has been collected and analyzed, UX researchers develop customer experience theories that highlight key findings and suggest design best practices to maximize user satisfaction. These theories are then used by UX designers to create optimized UX components.

UX Researcher vs. UX Designer

While UX researchers and UX designers share the same broad goal — improving the end-user experience — their roles are substantially different.

UX researchers focus on the underlying motivations, needs, and expectations of end-users. It’s their job to discover these key human components using the research methods above and then create theories that address key concerns and suggest ways to adapt current products, services, or web experiences.

UX designers, meanwhile, convert the broad theories of UX researchers into actionable designs and experiences. In effect, UX researchers develop and draft the basic form of enhanced UX, while designers build out the function.

What does this look like in practice? Consider an e-Commerce site that’s experiencing a disconnect between full customer shopping carts and sales conversions. UX researchers look at why the problem is occuring — are prices or shipping details unclear? Are there too many steps between item selection and payment? Is the website itself slow or cumbersome?

UX designers use UX research findings to identify what can be changed. This might include a more streamlined Product to Cart to Purchase experience or an improved backend infrastructure to enhance overall performance

How to Become a UX Researcher

UX researchers look to developer end-user theories based on three key methodologies: observation, understanding, and analysis. While there are no specific qualifications required to become a UX researcher, you’ll need to develop key skills that align with each of these categories.

  • Observation: This requires a keen eye for detail and the ability to quickly organize data into relevant categories. Observant UX researchers are trained to identify pain points in the user experience even if customers don’t actively voice their frustration.
  • Understanding: Emotional aptitude and conversational ability are critical to drive understanding. Researchers conducting one-on-one interviews must put customers at ease and ask the right questions to zero in on key concerns.
  • Analysis: UX researchers must also be comfortable with handling and analyzing data at scale to create trend-based models around user satisfaction. In addition, they need the confidence to design and deploy new models quickly — even if they don’t work as intended — and learn from their mistakes.

Stand-out UX researcher candidates will often have a Master’s degree or PhD in Sociology or Psychology, but there’s no specific educational requirement. Before applying for a UX researcher job, however, it’s worth gaining experience on the design and implementation side — enterprises will want to see evidence of your ability to understand, analyze and interpret customer needs.

UX Research: The Bottom Line

UX research underpins customer satisfaction — and is now critical to drive long-term business success. As a result, skilled UX researchers are in-demand to help companies improve the user experience, capture consumer interest and improve sales conversion.

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Topics: User Experience

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