What is a UX Researcher?
Follow our guide to remote user experience researcher and maximize your UX research budget
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
Published on: Jan 31, 2021
When it comes to UX research, think beyond usability testing, card sorting, and prototyping. Findings from a UX researcher will certainly affect those areas, but the impact goes far beyond the usability and product team. A UX researcher will uncover insights about your customers, market, and business that can drive changes to your value proposition, marketing strategy, and even your brand image.
To make sure you maximize the ROI on your UX research budget, let’s get a basic understanding of what design research is and how it’s accomplished. Then, we’ll look at some real examples of how a research strategist can help your business.
The Basics of UX Research
With the variety of research techniques available, and the broad spectrum of skills needed to perform the research properly, getting started with user research can be confusing, and even intimidating. But, you can relax. We’ll get you started with the basic concepts here.
CareerFoundry describes UX research as, “Uncovering user behaviors, needs, and motivations in order to design products and services that provide value is the crux of user experience research.”
User behaviors, needs, and motivations — let’s take those one at a time.
Something is motivating your customers to use your product. It could be for their job or business, it could be for personal tasks, or it could be for entertainment. Regardless, there is an underlying motivation causing your end-users to purchase your product and click or tap through your product features to accomplish a goal.
As a product manager or product designer, it’s your job to figure out that motivator, understand it, and build your product to satisfy it.
This is the “why” in user experience design.
Always keep a clear picture of the end-users’ goals when building digital product design. What do they need your product to do? What are the inputs and outputs? What needs to happen before they take a certain action? And what do they intend to do with the results?
The answers to these questions tell you what customers need your user interface to do and how your product fits into their broader experience.
This is the “what” in user experience design.
Understanding how your end-users navigate your product to accomplish their goals is behavioral. It’s how customers use the UX design functionality built into your product.
The interaction design of your product needs to enhance the customers existing knowledge, anticipate their next need, and fill in the gaps when they don’t know what to do.
Understanding user behavior allows you to use empathy for your customer to build your product from their perspective, not yours. Or at least, this is how successful products are built.
This is the “how” in user experience design.
What are the main tasks of a UX Researcher?
We previously answered the question: what is UX research? but now ask ourselves what are the main roles of a UX Researcher in this field? Since UX Researchers main goal is to uncover and understand user’s feedback and insights in order to create a product that truly brings something new to the market while solving user’s needs and wants, their tasks can be grouped into the following five categories:
Research & Planning
During the initial research stages, UX Researchers tasks are related to the creation and curation of a research plan that will pinpoint clear objectives the analysis will later follow. Their main objective during this phase is to set guidelines and establish a set of goals they want to achieve. They are also the creatives in charge of fabricating the usability research screeners as well as the discussion guides that users will encounter once they begin the interview portion of the research process.
But most importantly and after doing so, UX Researchers tasks involve recruiting that group of targeted end-users that will take part of the interview process, to actually carry out their research studies. This research step can also take place remotely; a process known as remote user research.
Once all their planning is done, another task relevant to the role of UX Researchers has to do with collecting data. Once the research and planning stage is complete they have to put matters at hand and begin with the process of gathering information about their product’s user base. The latter means actually conducting sessions with end-users, whether in person or remote user research, by developing, creating and then implementing different types of quantitative and qualitative methodologies that better adapt to the project’s particularities, its user base and the aspects that are actually being researched. As an example, some of these methodologies are user testing, field studies, usability tests, concept tests, group discussions, etc
UX Researchers also take the role of moderators on one-on-one usability sessions, as well as with stakeholder and client interviews, among other things.
Once they have collected all the relevant data, in this stage the real fruitful aspect of UX Research starts: their task now has to do with analyzing all the insights, data and information gathered. During this process and by implementing different tools, they will begin to uncover insights about user behaviours that you’ve probably haven’t even imagined! In order to create actionable recommendations for the rest of the product team and create something that truly responds and resonates with user needs, UX Researchers tasks also have to do with translating those user insights into concise reports with figures or paragraphs that contain valuable information for the design team.
When all information has been translated, the next task UX Researchers embark on is concerned with the presentation of those valuable insights. They do this by crafting user personas and other “information radiators”, such as user journeys, that aid them in communicating insights across the development and design teams. These tools allow them to present their research findings to a larger group of stakeholders in a clear and organized manner.
The last but not least important task that UX Researchers embark on is closely connected to team collaboration and strategy. These team players need to be constantly working with the different teams so as to identify different research objectives, all while establishing and implementing their research strategy. UX Researchers need to understand business or product needs, while contemplating design, product, marketing strategies and maintaining a collaborative space.
UX Research Findings May Surprise You
Chances are, if you’re in business, you already conduct user research. Do you perform A/B tests? Do you gather and review customer feedback? Do you use an analytics tool to measure and evaluate where your customers are spending their time on your website or in your product?
If so, congratulations! You’re already using research methods to make design decisions and improve your product. A user experience researcher will add to that inventory of customer knowledge, take you beyond the basics, and propel you to the next level.
One of the biggest advantages of using an experienced UX researcher is discovering insights into your customers or your market that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Let’s use the fictional ABC Company as an example of how UX research impacts results. ABC is dedicated to helping small businesses grow, like mom and pop companies with a handful of employees, some of them probably family.
Their marketing messages align perfectly with this strategy. The UX and UI designers worked tirelessly to create a design that makes customers feel like ABC is their “partner,” helping them get to the next level. But, they didn’t conduct user research to validate their design decisions or their value proposition.
Sadly, their customers aren’t growing their businesses. They aren’t upgrading or buying add-ons. They are just plugging along, doing what they do, the same way they always have.
Worse yet, the ABC product team just announced they aren’t acquiring new small business customers at their projected rate, and their stakeholders are not impressed.
UX Research To the Rescue
After conducting some advanced user research, the results are in. These customers don’t want to grow. What?! That’s right. The primary customer base of ABC’s product is happy being a small shop. Growing and expanding is not their goal. They enjoy what they do, and they can provide for their families. They are accomplishing their goal.
ABC has been spending money building advanced features their customers don’t want or need, and paying for marketing messages that don’t apply to their base. But, because ABC invested in a user experience researcher, the product manager and user experience designer can collaborate to adjust their strategy and divert that budget to support a new strategy — one better suited to the goals of their customer base, and their overall market.
Do you see how research findings can uncover completely new insights into your users? Now, not all research results will bring this dramatic shift to your company’s strategy, but making an effort to conduct user research projects will assist you in fine-tuning your value proposition and ensure you’re getting the most out of your marketing and development budgets.
UX Researchers Collaborate Throughout an Organization
A UX researcher’s work extends well beyond the UX team. Good UX researchers know an important part of their role is to educate fellow team members within and beyond the product team in the use and value of UX research.
Presenting research results, explaining research methods, and ensuring everyone in the company understands the customer and the product goals influences decisions company-wide.
Understanding research findings and their purpose can lead to shifts in budget allocation by department heads, new partnership opportunities for the business development team, changes in how the support team functions, and even adjustments to infrastructure and networking platforms.
Your UX researcher must be adept in communicating with all levels of employees from the C-suite executives to individual contributors in a variety of areas within the company. Not only evangelizing the findings and value of studies, the UX researcher must also listen to and understand the impact and effect on other departments.
Armed with a company-wide aspect of product operations, the UX researcher leads the product team to the best design and development decisions that meet the needs of the customers and the company.
Adding a UX Researcher To the Team
So you’re ready to dive in and hire a UX researcher. Great! Your next step is to determine if you want to hire an agency or an employee. Let’s talk about which might be the best fit for your company.
Depending on your business, you may need to conduct user research periodically — maybe quarterly or annually, or maybe even on a project-by-project basis. Unless you find a researcher with work experience in other design process areas, you should consider looking at an agency relationship.
But even if you need UX research work continually, consider your existing, in-house skills. Do you have someone to support your new UX researcher at the manager level? Like all other professionals, UX researchers like to be challenged and mentored to move forward in their careers. Who will provide this leadership in your company?
If you already have a mature UX department in-house, bringing on a new employee dedicated to UX research might be your best move. If you’re not sure which type of the various researcher jobs to choose from, seek advice from a recruiter or agency about the best position for your company.
When filling a UX researcher position within your company, look for the following qualities in your candidates:
- Education: A bachelor’s or master’s degree, and/or respected certifications in the UX research field.
- Communication and presentation skills: Experience working with a variety of teams and presenting complex data for multiple audiences.
- Collaboration skills: Bringing customers’ insights to the teams, but also listening to and understanding internal needs.
- Experience: A track record of tackling complex quantitative and qualitative research that led to meaningful outcomes.
Putting Your Researcher To Work
Whether you choose an agency or an employee, your next step in executing your research strategy is to define the business problem you need to solve. While general usability tests may result in some interesting research findings, exploration without a specific goal is generally not recommended. A research project should result in a clear answer to a specific problem.
If you’re not sure of the problem or how to define it, don’t worry! An experienced UX researcher will know what questions to ask to help you figure it out.
You have your researcher in place, and you know the business question you’re trying to answer. All that’s left is determining the appropriate research methodologies, creating the right mix of quantitative research and qualitative research, and then executing your plan.
Use UX Research To Take Your Business To the Next Level
User experience research findings can bring enormous benefits to your company. Use an experienced UX researcher to define your research project’s scope, conduct the study, and analyze the results.
Whether you decide to bring on a full-time employee or outsource your design research work to an agency, you’ll save time and money by investing in a professional. The design team at December Labs is highly skilled in user-centered design processes, and we’d love to talk to you about your goals.