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The In-Demand Characteristics of a UX Researcher (Poster, Brian Utesch, Thomas Blanchflower)


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We analyzed 101 “user experience researcher” job postings to understand what characteristics were in demand. This information provides a foundation for students and aspiring professionals to develop new skills and provides experienced practitioners the data they need to assess their current skills. Through our analysis we highlighted three main areas discovered in all 101 listings: required and desired research methods, educational requirements and expected responsibilities. The findings also led us to inquire about the ongoing growth of the profession, from its roots in usability to what we believe has become a more holistic research position that spans entire projects and product life cycles.

Published in: Career

The In-Demand Characteristics of a UX Researcher (Poster, Brian Utesch, Thomas Blanchflower)

  1. 1. The IN-DEMAND CHARACTERISTICS of a UX RESEARCHER Brian Utesch,, @brianutesch TJ Blanchflower,, @blanchflower Keywords: jobs, ux, uxr, user research, resume, employment, education COMPANIES TITLES JOB LEVELEXPERIENCE METHODS We inquired about the methods that represent the core toolkit that every UXR practitioner should master. It was clear that while the job listings did not exhaustively list expected methods, they did appear to represent either top of mind, popular or seemingly fundamental methods. Looking across the 101 sources, 95 research methods were mentioned. To the right is a prioritized list of the most frequently mentioned methods, which include a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques. Usability Studies/Testing Surveys Quantitative research Focus groups Interviews Personas/User profiles Heuristic evaluations Qualitative research Ethnography Contextual inquiry Field studies Group moderation/facilitation Competitive evaluations Remote usability Card sorting Lab studies Task analysis Behavioral usage analytics Data analysis/synthesis A/B testing Cognitive walkthrough Statistical analysis Field/naturalistic observation Experimental design 50 45 40 32 32 29 28 27 26 20 20 19 18 18 17 15 14 13 13 12 10 10 9 7 Scenarios/user stories Benchmarking studies Expert reviews Participatory design Eye tracking studies Workshops Concept testing Content analysis Descriptive statistics Inferential statistics Requirements gathering Secondary research Wireframes Brand tracking studies Cluster analysis Data mining Diary/journal studies Guerrilla testing Multivariate testing Social Media Platforms Task workflows Unmoderated usability testing Use cases User needs identification 7 6 6 6 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 Affinity modeling Agile Methodologies Brainstorming/ideation Experiments Generative research Log analysis Narratives Observation Online listening research Participatory workshops Think aloud protocols Web Analytics Workflow Modeling Agnostic (methodologically) Crowdsourcing Expectancy tests Front end analysis Gamification Techniques Ideation Techniques IDI Mental models Meta analysis Mobile Research Methods Mock-ups 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Online Diaries Online quantitative usability testing Opportunity exploration Pluralistic walkthrough Post-launch outcome analysis Product reviews Prototyping RITE studies Server Logs Shaddowing Site maps Site visits Storyboards Strategic research Strategy Documents Time and motion studies Tree Testing User error analysis User journeys User modeling User Stories Video capture VOCE 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 RESPONSIBILITIES Job responsibilities represented the bulk of job descriptions. Patterns emerged that confirmed the core of what a UXR practitioner (generally) should be prepared to deliver. Following are some of the salient points: Actionable insights: The most pervasive requirement and responsibility involved the creation of actionable insights derived from user research. Research outcomes are only meaningful to the business if they are delivered in a way that precisely describes issues and strategic solutions, in turn, providing design and development with useful information to address. Collaboration: The UXR practitioner should be competent working with multiple teams and stakeholders across the organization. In addition to working with Design, the UXR practitioner works collaboratively with Product Management and Development at all levels in the organization including executives. Communication: Attention to detail and accuracy are key attributes of a qualified UXR practitioner. As someone who engages multiple stakeholders with various types and levels of expertise, communication must be clear and easily consumable to facilitate understanding. Dynamic environment: The ability to work within a fast-paced environment that often includes an agile approach to conducting research is a critical characteristic of the UXR practitioner. The practitioner must also be able to simultaneously manage multiple projects, providing and maintaining consistent levels of value when and where it is needed and impactful. Toolkit of methods: The UXR practitioner must be knowledgeable of qualitative and quantitative techniques, exhibiting proficiency in gathering both attitudinal and behavioral data. Behavioral analytics were specifically called out as desired. Product lifecycle: The UXR practitioner is the user advocate across the product development lifecycle, starting with innovation and user needs research through iterative usability testing to post-launch evaluative studies. Business needs: To address the highest risk business needs it is imperative that UXR practitioners understand business goals and drivers. Directly linking user research goals with business needs provides relevancy and value to the research. Design principles: The UXR practitioner must understand the larger context and processes of design, including UCD and Design Thinking, and know how user research fits within the context and processes. In addition, the UXR practitioner should have working knowledge of design principles, being capable of proposing design solutions that address issues validated and/or discovered through the collaborative research process. WHAT’S NEXT? These findings are useful in confirming conventional wisdom around the UXR profession, as well as illustrating the core competencies required and/or desired of practitioners. This information is useful guidance for educators, students and professionals looking to increase marketability. In addition, the findings possibly represent the ongoing growth of the UXR practitioner from solely a usability expert to a holistic researcher whose knowledge and skills encompass both generative and evaluative methods, spanning the entirety of a project and/or product’s lifecycle. EDUCATION Bachelor’s degrees were commonly noted as required, but most jobs stated a desire for an advanced, specialty degree (i.e., Master’s or Ph.D.). The most common educational specialties were in the social sciences, while a design background for a UXR practitioner was rarely cited. HCI and Human Factors were the most frequently noted, and with the first non-social science specialty at number seven, there is a strong suggestion that a basic understanding of human behavior, associated research methods and fundamental design principles are characteristic of the UXR professional. REQUIRED HS Diploma Advanced degree Ph.D. Masters Bachelors High School Diploma_1 Bachelors_58 Masters_28 Ph.D._12 Advanced Degree_7 Bachelors_4 Masters_18 Ph.D._7 Advanced Degree_12 DESIRED 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 SocialSciences Inform ation Science Cognitive Science Com puterScience Anthropology Experim entalPsychology Psychology Cognitive Psychology Hum an Factors HCI JOB LOCATIONS The majority of UXR jobs were in the Bay area of California, followed by the expected technology heavy cities. This certainly does not mean there are no UXR jobs elsewhere, rather there is a meaningful alignment of high-tech jobs with the Silicon Valley. Seattle Area_6 San Francisco Bay Area_47 Los Angeles Area_3 Atlanta Area_3 Washington D.C. Area_3 Chicago Area_5 Boston Area_5 NYC_8 0 10 20 30 10+ years 8+ years 7+ years 6+ years 5+ years 4+ years 3+ years 2+ years 1+ years 0 2 4 Trimble The New York Times Microsoft Facebook Citrix Google 0 5 10 15 User Experience Researcher Senior User Experience Researcher User Researcher Director of User Research Senior User Researcher Usability Analyst Usability Research Manager User Research Manager 0 15 30 45 Practitioner Senior Manager Executive Junior