How to become a UX researcher

How to Become a UX Researcher (With No Experience)

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So you want to be a UX researcher, but you have little-to-no experience and don’t know where to begin? Well, rest assured: step one is complete. You’re here. And we know a thing or two about how to get started along the UX researcher career path.

Firstly, let’s start with the basics.

What is UX Research?

UX is an acronym for user experience. It follows then that user experience (UX) research is the systematic study of how people interact with products, systems, or services, with the goal of improving the user experience.

There are a wide variety of UX research methods and techniques, including user interviews, usability testing, focus groups, and data analysis. The insights gained from UX research are typically used to inform the design and development of products, systems, or services, with the aim of making them more usable, efficient, and effective. 

UX research is an interdisciplinary field that draws on fields such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and human-computer interaction. The best UX makes the user feel completely at home, as if they’ve used the interface before, even if it’s their first time

To learn how to make a user feel like this, you’ll need to study learnability, as well as the other 4 aspects of usability: efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction.

Why be a UX Researcher?

It’s a creative job that allows you to have fun and build something from start to finish. It’s great for those with good visualization skills, and even better for those who can convert raw imagination into drawings and diagrams that others can act upon and implement. It’s a fantastic opportunity to be a part of impactful tech. Often, the work of UX researchers can be done remotely, too.

Also, we’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t mention that UX researchers tend to be paid pretty well. In the U.S, UX researchers earn around $89k per year on average. Those just starting out can still bag $60k per year or more.

UX Researcher Responsibilities

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cl1QhhRJZu3/ 

Okay, so a creative job that pays enough for some good holidays sounds epic, but what are the actual UX research responsibilities that you’d need to fulfill in such a role?

User experience researchers are responsible for studying how potential users interact with products or services, and using that knowledge to design more user-friendly experiences. Some specific UX researcher responsibilities may include:

  • Conducting user research: interviews, surveys, usability testing, and other methods to gather data on how people use products or services
  • Analyzing data. UX researchers will identify patterns and insights about user behavior and attitudes
  • Collaborating with designers. UX researchers will join forces with designers and product teams to translate research findings into design recommendations
  • Defining and prioritizing user needs and goals. UX researchers must understand the mind of the user to best design something intuitive and user-friendly
  • Developing and testing prototypes. To assess user experiences, UX researchers must first have prototypes and examples that they can use in order to gather even more data
  • Creating and presenting reports and recommendations to stakeholders. UX researchers will need to update their bosses about the design process and suggest what needs to change based on the research they’ve conducted
  • Staying up-to-date with the latest UX research methods. In a field like user experience, research methods and best practices are always changing. One of the key UX research responsibilities is to stay on top of new trends or methods to succeed

Things to Keep in Mind

If you’re looking at how to become a UX researcher with no experience, there are several things you should keep in mind.

A UX Researcher Career Path is Not Linear

People enter the field of UX research from a whole variety of different backgrounds. When we said that you could become a UX researcher without experience in the field, we weren’t kidding. If you studied any of the following, then the door to a career in UX research is wide open: sociology, ethnography, psychology, marketing, communications, design, or technology.

Of course, there are some UX researchers who didn’t study any of the above and they still made it too. Generally speaking, UX research is a diverse career with no set background necessary. You can come from any walk of life, so long as you understand how humans work, and are familiar with people and the design process. Having said that, having one of the above qualifications certainly helps when applying for new jobs.

Advances in AI

There have been worries that AI may advance to the point where it is able to take over and do the job of a UX researcher so adeptly that there is no need for humans. While several years ago that might have sounded far-fetched, technologies like ChatGPT and Dall.E are swiftly changing many people’s opinions on the future of AI and which jobs will be redundant.

The good news: it seems likely that UX researchers are here to stay. A machine cannot understand humans any more than an actual human could. Plus, AI currently lacks creativity and thus could not create anything unique or original (though it’s up for debate whether humans could ever create something truly unique or original too). According to UXDesign, current AI “lacks a core tenet of human intelligence; ingenuity and creativity.”

Research, Research, and More Research

Most of the work involved with being a UX researcher is, well… research! The name might give it away, but UX researchers will spend a long time researching. If this is a skill you have in spades, then a career in UX research might be for you.

Get Networking

If you want to know how to become a UX researcher with no experience, you’re going to have to get networking. Qualifications aren’t what land most people jobs. It’s not what you know, but who you know, as the old adage goes.

Find a community of UX researchers and try to get to know people there. Not only is this a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people, it’s also an awesome way to learn more skills and be better prepared for when you do get a UX research role.

There are various Slack groups you could join, as well as Facebook and Discord. You can also hang around subreddits that are frequented by UX researchers. Follow other UX researchers on LinkedIn and see what they’re posting, what their experience is, and emulate it, if possible.

Resume Writing

Even if you don’t have any qualifications in the recommended fields, or any work experience in tech, you can still focus your resume in such a way that it makes you a contending candidate.

Emphasize anything that is even remotely related to UX and design. Focus all your attention on what you can do, not what you can’t do or haven’t learned yet. If you can display your enthusiasm and determination in your resume, it will shine through to recruiters that scan hundreds per day.

Usually UX research recruiters will give some kind of assignment during the hiring process. If you can nail it, you’re as good as gold. Your competitors’ qualifications don’t count for sh*t if you can outperform them here.

UX Research Tools

While it might be possible to land a UX research job without any prior experience in the field, it should be known that UX researchers benefit from a suite of UX research tools.

We’ll get onto a full list later but one that UX researchers absolutely love is tl;dv! It makes their job so much easier. Want to revisit calls and user interviews to maximize what you learn from them? Want a super simple way to easily share insights from your user research with your colleagues and team mates? Want a stress-free user interface that you would be proud of? tl;dv is the remote UX research tool for you.

What to Expect From a UX Research Job

If we’re speaking broadly here – which we are – then you can break a UX research role down into three general parts:

  1. Business time with colleagues
  2. Actual research like interviews, surveys, and testing
  3. Analysis and presenting your findings

When you’re a UX researcher, you will do a lot of research, but it’s also important to understand how the team will include, incorporate or implement your findings. This is why it’s good to be around the business side of things so that you can target your analysis in a way that will help your work mates the most. 

The research itself is fairly self-explanatory. You’re going to be getting into the mind of the consumer, viewing the product from the user’s eyes and approaching users in a way that doesn’t scare them off or force their tongue. It’s all about capturing the right information, not what you expect or want, but what the user expects or wants from the service.

As for the analysis, if you are on the same wavelength as your peers, you should be able to create a presentation that gives them exactly what they need. Combine the data gathered from your research with the knowledge and understanding of your colleagues to maximize the effect and impact of your research. A good UX researcher can suggest implementable changes that can dramatically increase sales and user-happiness.

Tools to Get Started in UX Research

There are plenty of resources available to those keen to delve deeper into UX research. If you don’t have the time or funds to study for a degree, there are plenty of actionable steps and online courses you can take to enhance your chances. With some hustle and gritty determination, anybody can become a UX researcher, even without the recommended qualifications. 

tl;dv

One of the most important tools for getting started in UX research, tl;dv is a must-have! It’s an excellent UX research tool because it allows you to record, edit, transcribe and create snippets of video calls. If you’re conducting user interviews or another form of research in a virtual meeting setting, tl;dv has everything you need to save time and maximize your research efforts.

UX research is normally a collaborative effort. With tl;dv’s timestamps, you can quickly and easily tag your teammate in at the important bits. No longer do you have to watch the entire video, trying to pause it to find the most critical information. Instead, you can simply make timestamps during the meeting itself and add a brief description (either at the time or after the meeting). These timestamps can be sent directly to Slack so that your colleagues can jump straight to the juicy bits

Not only does this free up time in the analysis phase, it also potentially frees up researchers to be productive elsewhere while a colleague takes the call. After all, the researcher can skip to the important bits later.

Download tl;dv on Google Meet or Zoom today.

Other Software

There are dozens of different softwares that you might need as a UX researcher, depending on your specific role and responsibilities. Here are some of them. 

The 2020 UX Research Tools Map

Source: User Interviews

As you can see in the research tools map above, there are different categories in which you’ll need different tools.

Transcription

Transcription tools are great for when you need a written version of a user’s video call. Here at tl;dv, we can also automatically translate our transcriptions into 20+ different languages, helping UX researchers broaden their information base. 

The map above shows Otter.ai and its alternatives as great transcription tools. They’re not wrong, but tl;dv isn’t just for transcription. It’s also for note-taking, video interviewsand you can timestamp the important parts and easily share with your colleagues so they can jump straight to the part that matters. It cuts through the fluff of interviews, empowering stakeholders and other colleagues that weren’t present to immediately skip to the relevant information. As it’s integrated with Slack, this is just a click away.

tl;dv is a real voice of the customer tool that is integral to any UX researcher’s arsenal. It allows you to analyze user calls faster, share insights directly from the user’s mouth, and capture authentic user feedback.

Scheduling

As a UX researcher, you’ll be a busy bee most of the time. Utilizing a software like Calendly allows you to organize your time and meetings far more easily. People can book a call with you around your timetable.

Surveys

There are several top tools for creating surveys, but Survey Legend, Typeform and Google Forms are three of the biggest. 

If you’re debating whether to get G Suite because of Google Meet, Google Forms and the whole other array of Google tools, it might be worth taking a look at this comparison.

Automated Feedback

Automated feedback tools are computer programs that are designed to provide feedback on a variety of tasks or processes without the need for human input. They can be extremely useful to the budding UX researcher because they can provide benefits such as improved efficiency and accuracy, and can help to reduce the workload on humans. There are many different types of automated feedback tools, including grammar checkers, code testing tools, and customer feedback forms.

Some of the best ones for UX researchers are Instabug, UserPilot, and Tribe.so.

Heatmaps, Eye Tracking, and Session Recording

Heatmaps are useful for finding out where users click the most. By studying them in depth, you can work out what draws the user’s eye and why. Eye tracking literally lets you track the user’s eyes, while session recording allows you to see what the user saw as if you were experiencing it yourself. All three methods of user research are essential for UX.

Check out UXcam, Fullstory, or Eyequant for excellent tools in this area of UX research.

A/B Testing

UX researchers need to do a lot of testing, and A/B split tests are some of the most efficient.

Try Optimizely, Split.io or Adobe Target for the best split testing capabilities.

Analytics

Analytical tools are a massive help to UX researchers. If you’re looking to learn how to become a UX researcher, it’d be wise to get familiar with Heap, Kissmetrics or Google Analytics.

Brainstorming

While a good ol’ fashioned pen and paper never goes out of style, you could use FlowMapp, LucidChart or Miro to make your life easier.

Wireframing

An essential part of UX design, wireframes are the skeletons of web pages or apps. They are the 2-dimensional original.

Both Balsamiq and Whimsical are excellent wireframing tools to use for your UX research and design.

Design

UX researchers will also toy with design. And there are a few design apps that should be in any serious UX researcher’s locker. Adobe Creative Cloud is one of them.

Prototyping

UX researchers will often have to create a prototype of their product with the new data added in. Proto.io is a fantastic choice when it comes to seeing how your final product will look before you commit to building it properly.

Distinguish Between Saying and Doing

The bad thing about user interviews is that sometimes users don’t tell you the truth. That’s not always necessarily because they are lying either. Sometimes they just don’t understand their own thought process and actions enough. It can be difficult to reflect on why you do things a certain way when they are a habit.

A landscape of user research methods

Source: nngroup

Very often, what users say and what they do are two entirely different things. This infographic by the Nielsen Norman Group will help to see the differences in research styles so that the UX researcher can understand what users do rather than just what they say they do.

Focus groups are useful for a top-of-mind view of what people think about a product concept, but they should not, under any circumstances, be the only method of research.

Offer Your Services

The best thing for UX researchers is experience. Not qualifications, not character traits, but simple, straightforward experience. Not getting hired for any gigs? Offer your services for free.

While you don’t want to do this for any long-term work, the odd small job that would otherwise be outsourced to a freelancer is the perfect way to get experience and testimonials. Build up a portfolio and a bunch of references and they will get you a whole lot further than any single qualification ever could. Employers want to see that the person they’re hiring, the candidate they’re gambling on, has been there and done it. They want a safer bet.

You never have to tell your future employer which contract was paid and which was voluntary. So long as you have the experience to show for it, they don’t care. Not only that, but if you do a good job, there’s a good chance that the same company will get you back again, this time with money involved.

Work for Yourself

Another standout way to get more experience and practice is by completing UX research projects for yourself. You can add these to your portfolio too, but more importantly, you can use this non-employment practice to get used to the different tools and methods.

Use this time to push yourself and try new things. The best way to learn a new skill is through application. UX research is no different. 

For user interviews, you can use your spouse, your family, your friends. You’ll find that if you’re determined enough, there are opportunities everywhere. Replicate the process in the best way you can. It doesn’t have to cost money.

Good Luck

For those that have an interest in people and technology, with impeccable research skills, and a thirst for perfection, UX research is a standout career choice. There are plenty of books you can read, courses you can take, and UX YouTubers to follow that will help you on your journey.

Some people have been known to get their first UX job after as little as seven months of self-learning. It’s definitely possible if you’re ready to learn, practice and persevere.

We hope to have provided you with some information, resources, and motivation to get started on the UX researcher career path. Don’t forget to use tl;dv, the best meeting recorder, to record your interviews, share clips with your team, and edit transcriptions whenever necessary.

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