UX Research Career Starter Guide – UX Planet
MooCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
Most people looking to start a career in UX Research often want to know where they can gain access to high quality information taught by industry professionals and receive a recognized credential for their time and effort. Going to college, and in many cases going back to college for a UX related degree isn’t a realistic option for many folks due to tuition being prohibitively expensive, the long time commitment involved, and/or family matters that need to be attended to. In which case MooCs are usually the best option.
In recent years, more and more top ranked accredited institutions have been creating educational online UX programs with a high degree of rigour and care. Institutions such as University of Michigan, University of California San Diego, California Institute of the Arts and others have been making a concentrated effort to make content more open and affordable. I’ve previously written in detail about the many options available free or affordably online for people looking to build their foundation of knowledge in UX. But it’s worth touching on some of the highest quality courses in this article. Of the determined people I know of who have made the commitment to give their best effort in courses such as these, almost all of them have landed well-paying, rewarding UX jobs.
My friend Ellina Mortis, Senior UX Architect at Sky Betting and Gaming, previously made a career pivot into UX after finding out about user experience as a field while working in the fashion industry. Although she held a somewhat relevant educational background in Intercultural Communications from a top ranked university, that alone wasn’t enough to get her on the career ladder in UX. After taking the Interaction Design Specialization program from UCSD and a few courses from the User Experience Research and Design Specialization from University of Michigan, she was able to compete and standout in the job market and land a legitimate UX role, eventually working her way up to the Senior position she is in today.
She has this to say about her experiences with UX MooCs:
“Online Coursera courses and books have been really helpful. I loved that I control the pace of learning, since I like things quite fast-paced. The courses are provided by world class institutions, so I felt that information was trustworthy and the community was friendly and engaged.”
Here are some great online learning options that are well worth your time if you are just getting started or even looking to up-skill.
Interaction Design Specialization from University of California San Diego
This specialisation offers an engaging and immersive 8 course module consisting of:
· An introduction to Human-Centred Design
· Introduction to design principles
· Social computing
· Input and interaction
· User experience: research & prototyping
· Information design
· Designing, running and analysing experiments
· Design capstone project (details).
Although the approximated time to complete is cited at 11 months, the course is self-paced, so there is no reason a diligent, motivated person wouldn’t be able to finish it in 3–5 months (my friend Ellina finished it in 3.5 months over one Summer)
This program currently has a 4.3/5 rating on Class Central and is heavily cited on various UX community spaces such as UX Mastery Forum and the user experience sub Reddit as one of the best introductory courses to user research and UX in general on the web. Having had the pleasure of taking this program when I was finishing my undergraduate HCI studies, I can’t recommend it enough. Professor Scott Klemmer eloquently and passionately weaves the theory and application of interaction design, cognitive psychology, user interface design and human-computer interaction seamlessly throughout all 8 courses, setting a foundation of knowledge for any aspiring UX Research professional.
Participants will learn about need-finding and observation techniques, how to carry out rapid prototyping, principles for effective interface design, and strategies for evaluating interfaces. A mixture of quizzes and peer reviewed assignments help reinforce learning as well as introduces learners to hands on practice.
This specialisation also offers office hours and a Slack group for support and discussion.
If you’re just getting started and looking for a CV boost in the form of a legitimate UX credential as well as a capstone project you can showcase to potential employers via portfolio case study, I highly recommend this specialisation.
On a personal level I really enjoy Coursera as a learning platform, whenever I want to learn about something new, like a new programming language, design thinking strategy, or even the science of well-being (amazing course), I know I’m going to be given access to incredibly high quality content and an engaged, caring community.
University of Michigan User Experience Research and Design Specialization
In this User Experience Research and Design Specialization on Cousera (previously offered on EdX) students will be taught how to integrate UX Research and UX Design to create great products through understanding user needs, rapidly generating prototypes, and evaluating design concepts. Learners will gain hands-on experience with taking a product from initial concept, through user research, ideation and refinement, formal analysis, prototyping, and user testing, applying perspectives and methods to ensure a great user experience at every step.
This program consists of 9 courses
· Introduction to User Experience
· Principles for Designing for Humans
· Evaluating Designs for Humans
· UX Design from Concept to wireframe
· UX Design: From Wireframe to Prototype
· Understanding User Needs
· UX Research Surveys
· UX Research at scale: analytics and online experiments
· UX (user experience) Capstone project
Similar to the UCSD Interaction Design Specialization, this course yields a legitimate credential from one of the most respected higher educational institutions in America (Go Blue!) and culminates with a capstone project which you’ll be able to use as a portfolio piece.
The production quality and depth of the material offered in this program is very impressive to say the least. The frequent quizzes and assignments go a long way in helping learners reinforce material discussed. I have no doubt this program will continue to gain popularity thanks to its incredibly polished content and brand name institution credibility.
UX/UI Design Specialization From CalArts
This UX/UI Design Specialization from California Institute of the Arts will give learners the foundation they need if they are looking to launch a more visual design focused role within the field of user experience.
Although I am firming against using UX and UI interchangeably, this program offers a design-centric approach to user interface and experience design, and offers practical, skill-based instruction centered around a visual communications perspective, rather than on one focused on marketing or programming alone. In this sequence of four courses, you will summarise and demonstrate all stages of the UI & UX development process, from user research to defining a project’s strategy, scope, and information architecture, to developing sitemaps and wireframes. Students will learn current best practices and conventions in UX design and apply them to create effective and compelling screen-based experiences for websites or apps. Skills and knowledge you will learn in this Specialization are applicable to a wide variety of careers, from marketing to web design to human-computer interaction.
Learners enrolled in this UI/UX Design Specialization are also eligible for an extended free trial (1 month) of a full product suite of UX tools from Optimal Workshop.
This offering consists of 4 courses:
- Visual Elements of User Interface Design
- UX Design Fundamentals
- Web Design: Strategy and Information Architecture
- Web Design: Wireframes to Prototypes
Although this specialization is fairly new, it seems like a great starting point for anyone looking to become a more visual-based UX professional.
Springboard UX Design Track
In this self-paced, online course consisting of 12 units students will learn the basics of human-centered design and receive constrictive feedback from mentors who are industry professionals. Although this program may not be cheap for some (cited by coursereport at $4,900 USD) students will receive access to high quality content as well as career support and personal 1-on-1 feedback from senior professionals.
The Springboard User Experience curriculum consists of the following 12 units:
- Introduction to UX Design
- User-Centered Design (UCD) and Design Thinking
- User Research and Personas
- Usability Analysis
- Empathy Mapping, Personas & Scenarios
- Design for Mobile
- Lean UX
- Content Strategy
- Sketching, Wireframing, Prototyping
- Visual Design
- Research Evaluation
- Capstone Project
User Experience Design Techdegree (Treehouse)
Treehouse has recently launched a new UX TechDegree. This track teaches the basic skills needed for a role as a UX designer, including user research, wireframing, prototyping, information architecture, and conducting user tests and analyzing feedback.
Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society
Accessibility matters. Unfortunately, accessibility for many teams and practitioners is viewed as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. Don’t be a person who doesn’t advocate for accessibility and inclusive design for users with disabilities and/or impairment.
In this free course from FutureLearn in partnership with University of Southampton, you will get an introductory understanding of how people with sensory, physical and cognitive impairments may be disabled by barriers encountered when using digital technologies. The course will highlight how the use of accessible and inclusive design can help overcome many of these difficulties.
This course consists of 9 main topics:
- What is digital accessibility?
- Digital accessibility and business
- Relationship between ‘usability’, ‘accessibility’ and ‘user experience’
- Challenges and barriers met by disabled people
- Video and audio barriers and subtitles, captioning and audio description
- Desktop, laptop, mobile and self-service terminal accessibility
- Creating, checking and evaluating document, web and self-service terminal accessibility
- Input and output devices e.g. screen reader, Braille, switch access technologies
- Digital and web accessibility guidelines, standards and principles of Universal Design
For more insight into researching and designing for accessibility, check out this article from Gov.UK
For more affordable and free online UX educational offerings, check out the link below which will take you to an article I wrote a few years ago discussing several other UX related MooCs
There is no shortage of UX-related books on the market. With the sheer volume of books, blog posts, marketing material, and video content out there it can sometimes feel overwhelming to try to cut though the noise and find high quality reading material suited to exactly what you are trying to learn.
Here are some UX Research-related books that I personally enjoyed and that have come highly recommended by Senior User Researchers in my network.
User Research: A Practical Guide to Designing Better Products and Services
This book is a practical guide that shows readers how to use the vast array of methods available. Covering all the key research methods including face-to-face user testing, card sorting, surveys and A/B testing, the book gives experts insight into the nuances, advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches, while providing guidance on how to interpret, analyse and share the data once it has been obtained.
Think Like a UX Researcher
With Think like a UX Researcher you’ll discover how to plan and conduct UX research, analyze data, persuade teams to take action on the results and build a career in user research. The book will help you take a more strategic view of product design so you can focus on optimizing the user’s experience. UX Researchers, Designers, Project Managers, Scrum Masters, Business Analysts and Marketing Managers will find tools, inspiration and ideas to rejuvenate their thinking, inspire their teams and improve their craft.
Observing the User Experience
Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research aims to bridge the gap between what digital companies think they know about their users and the actual user experience. Individuals engaged in digital product and service development often fail to conduct user research. The book presents concepts and techniques to provide an understanding of how people experience products and services. The techniques are drawn from the worlds of human-computer interaction, marketing, and social sciences.
Remote research allows you to recruit subjects quickly, cheaply, and immediately, and give you the opportunity to observe users as they behave naturally in their own environment. In Remote Research, Nate Bolt and Tony Tulathimutte teach you how to design and conduct remote research studies, top to bottom, with little more than a phone and a laptop.
Doorbells Danger and Dead Batteries
User research war stories are personal accounts of the challenges researchers encounter out in the field, where mishaps are inevitable, yet incredibly instructive. Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries is a diverse compilation of war stories that range from comically bizarre to astonishingly tragic, tied together with valuable lessons from expert user researcher Steve Portigal.
Human-Computer Interaction: An Empirical Research Perspective
Human-Computer Interaction: An Empirical Research Perspective is the definitive guide to empirical research in HCI. The book begins with foundational topics including historical context, the human factor, interaction elements, and the fundamentals of science and research. From there, you’ll progress to learning about the methods for conducting an experiment to evaluate a new computer interface or interaction technique. There are detailed discussions and how-to analyses on models of interaction, focusing on descriptive models and predictive models. Writing and publishing a research paper is explored with helpful tips for success. Throughout the book, you’ll find hands-on exercises, checklists, and real-world examples. This is your must-have, comprehensive guide to empirical and experimental research in HCI-an essential addition to your HCI library.
This is Service Design Doing
This is the first comprehensive book on how to actually do service design to improve the quality and the interaction between service providers and customers. You’ll learn specific facilitation guidelines on how to run workshops, perform all of the main service design methods, implement concepts in reality, and embed service design successfully in an organization.
Great customer experience needs a common language across disciplines to break down silos within an organization. This book provides a consistent model for accomplishing this and offers hands-on descriptions of every single step, tool, and method used. You’ll be able to focus on your customers and iteratively improve their experience.
Sketching User Experiences
Sketching User Experiences approaches design and design thinking as something distinct that needs to be better understood―by both designers and the people with whom they need to work― in order to achieve success with new products and systems. So while the focus is on design, the approach is holistic. Hence, the book speaks to designers, usability specialists, the HCI community, product managers, and business executives. There is an emphasis on balancing the back-end concern with usability and engineering excellence (getting the design right) with an up-front investment in sketching and ideation (getting the right design). Overall, the objective is to build the notion of informed design: molding emerging technology into a form that serves our society and reflects its values.
If you’re looking to explore more options, Google’s Simon Pan put together this amazing reading list a few years ago breaking down some classics. This is a great article well worth checking out