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Job: User experience researcher.

The role: A user experience researcher – commonly abbreviated to UX researcher – conducts market research to improve the usability of technology products and services. Working either in-house at a technology company, within a dedicated user experience design firm or on a freelance basis, they spend much of their time gathering feedback from existing or target customers, and make recommendations based on their findings.

“A user experience researcher is the person who is talking to people, understanding what’s happening in their lives, what they’re trying to do, trying to understand the pain points and context so that when we’re making design decisions, we’re doing it responsibly,” explained Margaret Gray, a UX researcher for Vancouver-based software design firm MetaLab.

Ms. Gray explains that the research process can take a variety of forms, including one-on-one interviews, large-scale surveys, focus groups and even real world observation. “For example, I was just recently at a grocery store watching people grocery shop, and having them tell me why they were making the decisions they were,” she said. “It runs the whole gambit.”

UX researchers are also responsible for communicating their findings to key stakeholders in order to inform their decision-making as it relates to the design of products and services.

“There’s a lot of working internally with designers, engineers and business stakeholders,” Ms. Gray said. “Making sure everyone is aligned and working toward the same goal is a big part of the role as well.”

Salary: The salary of a UX researcher will vary depending on their level of experience, educational background, location and employer.

“The entry level, I would expect about $50,000 [a year] in Canada averaging across cities,” said Ms. Gray, adding that salaries are typically higher in cities with more established technology industries such as Toronto and Vancouver. “It goes all the way up to what you’d expect out of senior design leadership, so upwards of $120,000 [annually], depending on the market.”

According to anonymous employer review platform Glassdoor, the average base pay for UX researchers in Canada is $84,000. According to online compensation database PayScale, starting salaries can range from $39,000 to $86,000 a year, with a median salary of $59,322 for entry-level UX researchers in Canada.

Education: As a relatively new role, there are no educational standards or requirements for UX researchers, and according to Ms. Gray the industry embraces a diverse range of educational backgrounds.

“A business degree I’ve found to be very useful,” she said. “Other common backgrounds I see are psychology, sociology and social sciences that involve research and analysis of people. There’s also a lot of degrees in human-computer interaction and cognitive behavioural science.”

Job prospects: Although it was once considered a niche position used by only the biggest names in the tech industry, Ms. Gray says the supply of UX researchers now struggles to meet the demand. “Prospects are good; expect them to grow as technology and software becomes a part of every business, not just the tech companies,” she said.

Challenges: According to Ms. Gray, UX researchers contend with two primary challenges; recruiting participants for their research, and turning that research into actionable insights. “Trying to pick out patterns that are relevant for the decisions being made about the product or service is really hard,” she said.

Why they do it: UX researchers often have an innate curiosity about human behaviour. “I get to meet so many people and learn from them, and I find that so rewarding,” Ms. Gray said.

Furthermore, unlike other research positions, UX researchers get to see their insights applied to real-world products and services. “I can see the results of my work really quickly, which is pretty gratifying as well,” Ms. Gray added.

Misconceptions: Many research participants mistakenly assume they need to hold back criticism in order to spare the feelings of the UX researcher. In reality, however, the quality of their research depends on honest criticism.

“They can be afraid of hurting my feelings when I say, ‘What sucks about this product?’ ” Ms. Gray said. “I have no feelings about it, I probably wasn’t the one who made the product in the first place and you can be as mean as you want to be, because that’s how I learn."

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