Your Comprehensive Guide to User Experience Research and Design Jobs

UX design on computer screen

Ask any web publisher, and they’ll tell you that the idea that people just passively consume the information they read online totally misses the mark. People interact and engage with content the moment it flashes across their screens, but its impact doesn’t end there. The truth is, people are influenced by what they read, it affects the decisions they make and the way they think and see the world. The better their experience is, the more meaningful and lasting that impact will be. And if content isn’t engaging enough to hold their attention in those first few seconds, people simply move on without a second thought, totally unmoved and unaffected.

The masters of UX make sure that doesn’t happen.

It’s their job to give every person who clicks a link and lands on a web page a fun and engaging experience, efficiently serving up precisely the information they’re looking for and making sure the site visit is effortless and purposeful. There are too many options out there and opportunities for users to go somewhere else. User experience specialists are there to make sure businesses don’t blow it by losing customers to a subpar experience.

The Difference Between a Site Visitor and Client Often Comes Down to User Experience

Young business people looking at devices outsideUser experience doesn’t just deal with how effective, accessible, and functional a site or app is, but also how users perceive that utility and ease of use. Usability, functionality, and efficiency are important, yes, but user experience experts also specialize in straight-up satisfaction. It’s ultimately about people, and that means that feelings and the emotional responses definitely factor into creating an amazing user experience. A user experience professional needs to know how to evaluate momentary emotions, but also consider the prospects of a long-term relationship between the user and the product.

A company’s product or service may be amazing, but if prospective clients don’t have a spectacular user experience that translates into loyalty and action, they won’t move a single unit. Working closely with content strategists, user experience professionals pull out all the stops to create an amazing web environment for every individual who lands on the website, optimizing engagement and turning visitors into satisfied customers.

User experience is a nuanced business. Every aspect of a web page, from the color palette to the choice of font to images and widgets, haptics and clickable elements, it all affects the overall user experience, and the user’s perception of the brand. UX specialists think critically and in detail about every little thing that might impact that experience.

Born in the Machine Age, User Experience Reached Maturity in the Digital Age

Inside magnetic motorWhile we typically only think about user experience in the context of web properties, the concept actually began at the turn of the 20th Century as industrialists strived to come up with new ideas for improving workplace efficiency and assembly line production. Originally a product of Machine Age innovation, the early forays into user experience were hugely successful, leading to major advancements in technology at the time, and contributing to the kind of high output of product that would later come to be known as mass production.

It was the likes of Henry Ford and other industrialists of the early 20th century who were the first to experiment with these concepts, giving thoughtful attention to design and carefully tracking the results in both output and worker morale.

The phenomenon shifted from focusing on workers and tools to users and websites in the Digital Age.

User Experience Job Description: What UX Specialists Do

User experience jobs involve careful monitoring to make sure that user experiences are seamless and easy. By keeping a close eye on user feedback and other data, today’s user experience professionals identify areas for improvement in websites, programs, and apps.

Even in the age of AI, user experience isn’t something that can be measured easily. You can check all the boxes for best practices, but at the end of the day what works for one audience may not resonate the same with another. Even if you feel you know your audience well, you need real feedback from real people to know you’re on the right track. To get a feel for how your user experience overhaul campaign is going, you would employ standard methods like online questionnaires and usability tests with actual website visitors, along with live focus groups, a somewhat unlikely method for the Digital Age.

A user experience expert carefully considers user perceptions of visual design, functionality of information architecture, and elements of user interaction, and then fine-tunes the experience accordingly.

A fully refined user experience requires a UX expert to perform research and tests, and then works with a design and programming team on ways to enhance functionality and opportunities for interaction. User experience jobs are all about knowing your audience and understanding exactly what elicits the desired response from them, from how they interact with the online environment you create, to the psychological and emotional appeal of your message.

User experience basically consists of two chief roles – the designers who create the experience and the researchers who inform and guide that design.

User experience professionals aren’t necessarily limited to working only on the research or design side of the equation, but in most cases they do. Though bigger marketing companies generally lay out distinct descriptions for user research and design jobs, it’s not unheard of for professionals with either job title to do a bit of both. But ultimately, where the rubber meets the road in performing the tasks involved in getting a website up and running, you’ll often find team members that are more proficient in the technical side of web development are the ones involved in the design work, while team members more specialized in market research and the psychology side of the coin do the bulk of the research work.

User Experience Design Jobs

A UX designer must be able to anticipate and analyze user needs. A user experience designer works with web developers and user interface designers to deliver a singular experience that prompts visitors to act, and come back to do it again.

A user experience designer will:

User Experience Researcher Jobs

Naturally, research is the first step in figuring out how to orchestrate all the elements involved in creating the best user experience. But their job doesn’t end after that initial phase. User research professionals actually collaborate with designers and engineers in every phase of web property creation.

In user experience research jobs, the focus is on understanding how and why users feel, act, and think the way they do, and how a web experience can influence those thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

User experience research is an iterative process, where the steps are repeated in a cycle as many times as needed to land on an ultra-refined and totally ideal user experience, making use of both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Qualitative methods include:

Quantitative methods include:

UX (User Experience) vs. UI (User Interface)

While closely related, user experience and user interface jobs have critical differences. A user interface designer or engineer will create the graphic design side of the software, website, or product that users see with a focus on usability and experience, and a user experience professional will test, analyze, and provide solutions to that interface to optimize user experience.

User interface designers and user experience professionals collaborate with the goal of delivering the most accessible, user-friendly and enjoyable interactions between the user and website, promoting a positive perception of the brand, eliminating barriers, and prompting the user to take the desired action.

How to Become a User Experience Research and Design Professional

UX developers working on planA user experience expert needs to understand psychology, market research, and design as well as technology.

When it comes to jobs in user experience, the proof is in the results more than the credentials. If you can show off a portfolio of proven UX design work, that carries more weight than any specific degree by itself. However, a bachelor’s degree is the first step toward a career in user experience, usually in computer-related programs.

Many liberal arts colleges have degrees with concentrations in related disciplines such as digital design and graphic arts. When it comes to examining user psychology and behavior, a degree with a focus in psychology or social sciences would provide a very strong background for any user experience professional. It’s a lot more reasonable to pick up technical skills on the job, which isn’t something that can be said about knowledge in areas like psychology and sociology. It takes a degree to gain expertise in those areas.

Studying the relationship between technology design and how people interact with it, involves looking at everything from storyboarding and heuristic evaluation to A/B testing and user interface. In any field, it’s wise to load up on electives in these areas as much as possible when preparing for a role in user experience design and research.

Knowledge of design software and programming languages such as JavaScript or CSS, along with research experience and a course in project management certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

A liberal arts education, regardless of emphasis, sets you up with the transferable skills needed to succeed in a user experience career. These include:

Liberal arts graduates don’t just walk out with a degree but also a strong connection to the community, which can be incredibly valuable for networking in the business world. Liberal arts colleges put a real focus on the individual learning experience with one-on-one attention, personalized learning experiences and opportunities for internships with local companies that are a lot harder to come by in any technical program. And there’ no doubt about the fact that a user experience internship can go a long way in bumping you up in the candidate pool when you start competing for jobs in the field.

User Experience Salary

The median salary for web developers and digital designers is $77,200, although pay can range from under $40,000 at the low end to more than $140,000 at the high end. That’s a wide gap with a lot of room for advancement after entering a career as a UX designer or researcher.

The highest concentration of web developer and digital design jobs are found with software publishers, and that’s where the highest salaries are found too, with an average of $132,760.

The demand for user experience experts is growing rapidly, especially as ecommerce expands with nearly every successful retailer expanding their presence in the online marketplace. The BLS expects employment for web developers and digital designers to increase 13 percent over the next decade, faster than the average rate for jobs overall. And it’s no surprise. Users aren’t content with the same old apps and websites. The precedent is set for new and exciting user experiences with every update.

Along with good compensation and growth opportunity, many UX specialists are also their own bosses, with a whopping 18 percent of web developers and digital designers being self-employed in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job market trends for Web Developers and Digital Designersreflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2021.