You've been thinking about getting into user experience (UX) after a design internship at a startup, and now you've got your eye on a UX position at a Fortune 500 company. However, the job posting says "junior UX researcher".
As you scroll through the job description, you know this role is somewhat similar to your previous UX design gig, but you're not sure if you should go for it.
If you want to make an informed decision about your design career path, you've come to the right place!
In this guide, we'll explore the differences and similarities between UX research (UXR) and UX design (UXD). You'll also learn what these roles involve, their required skills, and information on average salaries.
Whether you're interested in becoming a UX researcher or designer, or want to understand more about how these two UX roles work, you'll find all the information you need right here.
Let’s get to it.
Are user experience research and user experience design the same thing?
The short answer is no. While these two areas in the UX field are closely related, they serve different purposes and require different skill sets. UXR jobs are about understanding what makes users tick – their needs, motivations, and behavior. On the other hand, UX designers take this research and use it to create user-centered products and experiences.
Both UX design and UX research are crucial to creating successful products and enhancing the overall user experience, and you'll often find them working hand in hand.
In smaller companies, a UX designer may also be responsible for user research, but it's common for larger organizations to have a separate UX research team.
So, now that you know the basics, let's dive into the details of these two exciting career paths.
UX research vs UX design: Key differences and similarities
In a hurry? The table below summarizes what you need to know about UX design vs UX research.
The process of gathering and analyzing data to understand user behaviors, needs, and motivations in order to inform the design of products and services.
The process of creating and implementing products and services for user interfaces that are useful, easy to use, and enjoyable for the people who use them.
To create products and services that meet the needs and goals of users.
To create products and services that meet the needs and goals of users.
User interviews, usability testing, user surveys, focus groups, heuristic evaluations, analytics data analysis.
Sketching, wireframing, prototyping, user testing, design software (e.g. Adobe Creative Suite).
Research reports, user personas, usability test reports, design recommendations.
Wireframes, prototypes, design mockups, design specifications.
Role in the design process
Comes before design (but also done any time in the design process e.g. iterative usability testing).
Comes after research, informed by research findings.
Empathy, communication, analytical thinking, problem-solving, data analysis.
Creativity, visual design, interaction design, user-centered design, prototyping.
A bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g. psychology, human-computer interaction, market research) is often preferred, but not always required. Additional training in UX research methods and tools (e.g. usability testing, user interviews) may be helpful.
A bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g. graphic design, human-computer interaction) is often preferred. Additional training in UX design methods and tools (e.g. sketching, wireframing, prototyping) may be helpful.
Average salary as of Jan 2023 (USD)
What does the UX research process look like?
UX research (sometimes labeled as UI/UX research) is the process of collecting data and gathering insights from target users. UX researchers use these insights to create user personas, serving as the team’s “north star” during the design process.
It’s a field that's becoming more and more prevalent because companies are starting to recognize the importance of understanding their users first before rolling up their sleeves in product design.
As Apurvo Ghosh, Senior UX Manager at HCLTECH, puts it:
“User research provides an essential foundation for design strategy. It helps you to create an optimal product for users. Most importantly, you’ll have the data to back your strategy and design decisions.”
For instance, a UX researcher at Shopify may spend time interviewing small business owners to understand their expectations of an e-commerce platform. Another researcher might also find out if users can quickly complete a purchase on their website.
According to Adam Sonnett, President at Openfield (a UX agency for EdTech companies), incorporating UX research early and often is the best way to get your product off on the right foot.
UX research methods to familiarize yourself with
If you want to explore UX research further as a career, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with two main categories of research methods: qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative research is all about answering questions about why people do what they do and how they feel about it, while quantitative research allows researchers to assess the full extent of a problem and gather statistical insights.
To learn more about these methods and how they apply to UX research, check out our article on qualitative vs quantitative research. It's packed with examples and in-depth explanations to help you get up to speed on these user research techniques.
Market research vs UX research: Are they the same thing?
While they might seem similar at first glance, these two types of research have very different objectives.
Market research is all about informing marketing and sales strategies. It gathers data about target markets and consumers to inform business decisions. On the other hand, UX research focuses on how people interact with and use products or services to improve the overall user experience. UX research helps design teams create products and services built on UX design principles like usability and accessibility.
In short, market research is all about understanding and targeting a specific market, while UX research is about understanding and solving problems through helpful user experiences.
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What does the UX design process look like?
As we described earlier, the UX design process is all about taking the insights and findings from UX research and using them to create new products or improve the overall user experience.
What does this process look like?
It often involves the design of visual and interactive elements of the product or service, which can include the following steps:
Information architecture: Organizing, structuring, and labeling content to help users complete tasks or find the information they want quickly.
Visual design: Using images, colors, fonts, and other elements to enhance and support the user experience.
Interaction design: Understanding how users interact with and control a product or system, including the layout of the user interface, the behavior of the product in response to user input, and the overall user experience.
Wireframing: Creating simple versions of the final product or service to help designers visualize and plan the layout and functionality.
Prototyping: Bringing wireframes or ideas to life, making them tangible and testable.
Usability testing: Evaluating and testing prototypes or the actual product with representative users.
UX research is crucial for successfully completing these steps and creating a product that truly meets the needs and expectations of users.
UX researcher vs UX designer: Responsibilities, skills, and salaries
Now, let’s look at how both a UX researcher and UX designer compare in terms of what they do, their skillset, and salaries.
What does a UX researcher do on a daily basis?
Here’s a quick rundown of what a UX researcher’s job might look like:
Recruiting research participants and participant management (if you work in a larger company, this may fall under the remit of a ResearchOps team).
Analyzing data from various sources, such as user interviews and online reviews, to identify trends and patterns.
Communicating findings to the design team and other stakeholders.
Working with designers to create and implement solutions to improve the user experience.
Collaborating with cross-functional teams, such as engineering and product management, to make sure that user needs are being considered throughout the product development process.
Staying up-to-date with the latest UX trends and methods to continually improve the research process.
In short, UX researchers are responsible for gathering and analyzing data, communicating findings, working with designers to create user-centered solutions, and collaborating with teams across the organization to ensure user needs are met.
Learn more: A day in the life of a UX researcher by Meghan Wenzel, Senior UX researcher at Lyft
How to become a UX researcher
UX research is a diverse and dynamic role that requires strong communication and analytical skills, as well as a deep understanding of UX research methods and trends.
A good UX researcher should have a strong foundation in a range of skills, including:
Research design and analysis: UX researchers need to be able to design and conduct research studies that are reliable and valid, and also be able to analyze and interpret the data they collect.
Communication: UX researchers need to be able to communicate their findings and recommendations to stakeholders (both technical and non-technical).
User-centered design: Fluency in user-centered design principles and how to apply them to research and design projects is important for UX researchers.
Technical skills: Depending on the specific role and industry, a UX researcher may also need technical skills, such as programming or data analysis.
Understanding of human behavior and the ability to shift your perspective: The ability to shift perspectives allows UX researchers to identify potential frustrations and roadblocks that users may encounter while using the product, and designing solutions to address these issues.
In terms of education and training, a degree in a field such as psychology, human-computer interaction, or market research can be helpful for aspiring UX researchers. Many UX researchers have backgrounds in anthropology, cognitive science, and information science.
UXR salary: How much do UX researchers make?
Here’s how much UX researchers earn on average (as of February 2023):
United States: USD$85,855 (Glassdoor)
Canada: CAD$88,000 (Uxcel)
Australia: AUD$100,000 (Glassdoor)
United Kingdom: £60,463 (Glassdoor)
China: ¥329,349 (Salary Expert)
Singapore: SGD$55,459 (Payscale)
Germany: €57,670 (Glassdoor)
What does a UX designer do on a daily basis?
As a UX designer, you'll be responsible for creating intuitive, user-centered products and experiences. Your day-to-day tasks might include:
Conducting user research to gather insights and inform design decisions.
Creating wireframes, prototypes, and high-fidelity mockups.
Collaborating with cross-functional teams (e.g., product managers, developers) to ensure a cohesive user experience.
Designing the overall look and feel of a product or service, including visual design elements like color, typography, and layout.
Defining and designing user flows and interactions.
Conducting user testing to gather feedback and iterate on designs.
Creating and maintaining style guides and design systems.
In addition to these tasks, you might also be responsible for presenting your work to stakeholders, collaborating with content strategists and UX writers, and helping define the product roadmap.
The specific tasks you'll be responsible for will depend on your role and industry, but these are some of the key activities you can expect to be involved in as a UX designer.
Learn more: What does a UX designer do?
What skills and training do you need to become a UX designer?
If you want to choose a UX design path, you need to have a combination of education and experience in fields such as interaction design, visual design, and usability.
Some specific skills and training that are often helpful for UX designers include:
Interaction design: UX designers should have a strong understanding of how to design user flows and interactions that are intuitive and efficient.
Visual design: UX designers should have a good eye for aesthetics and be able to create visually appealing designs that are also functional.
Usability: UX designers should be able to conduct user research and testing to ensure that the products they design are easy to use and meet the needs of their target users.
Prototyping: UX designers should be able to create wireframes, prototypes, and mockups to communicate their designs and test them with users.
Project management: UX designers often work on cross-functional teams and may need to manage the design process from start to finish, so project management skills can be helpful.
In addition to these skills, it can be helpful for UX designers to have a solid foundation in human-computer interaction (HCI) and the design thinking process. Many UX designers have a bachelor’s or master's degree in a field related to HCI, computer science, or design.
UXD salary: How much do UX designers make?
Here's how much UX designers earn on average (as of February 2023):
United States: USD$97,848 (Glassdoor)
Canada: CAD$86,533 (Indeed Canada)
Australia: AUD$109,087 (Indeed Australia)
United Kingdom: £53,303 (Glassdoor)
China: ¥171,000 (Payscale)
Singapore SGD$45,769 (Payscale)
Germany €45,106 (Payscale)
Recommended reading: Product design vs UX design
UX design and UX research go hand in hand
UX design and UX research go hand in hand to create useful, helpful, and delightful user experiences. While UX design focuses on the look and feel of a product, UX research digs into the why behind user behavior.
Without research, design solutions might miss the mark. Without design, research findings might not effectively reach the user. Together, these two fields create a well-rounded, successful product.
UX research vs UX design: Which role is the best fit for you?
Whether you're just starting out in the field or looking to switch roles, choosing between UX research and UX design depends on how you want to be involved in the design process.
Pick UX design if you want to be responsible for creating the overall usability of a product, while opt for the UX research path if you want to spend more time understanding user needs, behaviors, and motivations through qualitative and quantitative research.
As you can see in the salary information of this guide, average salaries for both roles are similar. Salary may not be a deciding factor unless a company offers a significant salary bump or a clear-cut career progression in the organization.
Want to learn more about the different UX research methods every UX researcher and UX designer should know? Head over to our helpful user testing guides.
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Frequently asked questions about UX research vs UX design
Kai has been creating content for healthcare, design, and SaaS brands for over a decade. She also manages content (like a digital librarian of sorts). Hiking in nature, lap swimming, books, tea, and cats are some of her favorite things. Check out her digital nook or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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