x
Careers

5 UX specialties that could be your next career move

4 min read
Emily Stevens  •  May 28, 2019
Link copied to clipboard

In a field as broad as UX design, working out your next career move can be tricky. Should you specialize or generalize? What additional skills can you learn to enhance your career prospects?

The UX design umbrella covers a vast array of specialist roles, each with their own specific requirements. Before making any decisions, you first need to know what options are available—and that’s exactly what this guide is for!

In this comprehensive career guide, we’ll introduce some of the most sought-after job titles in UX based on our experience at CareerFoundry, where we’ve helped thousands of people forge a successful career in the design industry. We’ll also help you figure out which path is best suited to you based on your interests, strengths, and professional goals.

We’re going to explore the following roles:

For each job title, we’ll look at the tasks and responsibilities involved, the skills required, as well as key stats such as salary and industry demand. We’ll then help you determine whether or not each role is right for you.

What’s your ideal UX career path? Let’s find out!

1. UX researcher

As more and more companies recognize the importance of user research, the role of the UX researcher is becoming increasingly popular.

According to UserTesting’s 2017 industry report, 81% of executives believe that user research makes their company more efficient. 86% recognized that user research has a positive impact on the quality of their products and services.

With executive support for UX research on the rise, user experience researchers have a crucial role to play. Let’s explore this career path in more detail.

What is a UX researcher?

A UX researcher is someone who specializes in the research aspect of product design. Their primary role is to understand user behaviors, needs, motivations, and pain-points.

A UX researcher is usually called in once a product has been scoped. Almost like a marketer, they are responsible for making sure all product elements are “talking” to the right people. They spend their time interviewing prospective customers and sharing their findings with the wider product team; namely the designers and product owners. If you were a UX researcher for Spotify, for example, you’d spend time interviewing music superfans in order to gauge what they want from a music streaming platform.

Through qualitative and quantitative research, the UX researcher gathers in-depth insights about the target user. These insights help to inform user personas, which act as a “north star” throughout the design process.

UX researchers rely on a variety of research techniques, each of which is grounded in one of three key methodologies: observation, understanding, and analysis. They work closely with designers, engineers, product managers, and developers to ensure a user-centric approach at all times.

Key stats

The national average salary for a user experience researcher in the United States is $93,152. There are currently around 4,300 open positions on indeed.com.

What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a UX researcher?

UX researchers are responsible for planning and conducting user research sessions, analyzing the data gathered, and communicating these findings to key stakeholders.

Here are some of the most common tasks and responsibilities of a UX researcher, based on real job ads:

  • Identifying and prioritizing research questions and objectives based on analysis of existing product designs, business needs, project goals, and risks.
  • Working with product managers, sales, and marketing teams to recruit research candidates.
  • Scheduling and conducting user interviews, surveys, usability tests, card sorting exercises, contextual inquiries, first-click tests, and diary studies.
  • Analyzing data from multiple qualitative and quantitative insights.
  • Designing and delivering research reports for internal stakeholders.
  • Developing user personas, journey maps, and prototypes.
  • Translating user research findings into strategic recommendations.
  • Communicating and presenting research insights to business and executive stakeholders to influence both short- and long-term design and development roadmaps.
An extract from a UX researcher job ad posted by Deloitte Consulting Platforms. As you can see, the UX researcher role is highly collaborative.
An extract from a UX researcher job ad posted by Google. As this job description explains, UX researchers are crucial in making sure that the user is the main focal point throughout the product development process.

What skills are required for the role?

UX researchers often come from analytical or customer-related fields such as marketing, psychology, or information science. However, many researchers also start out as UX generalists. UX researchers usually demonstrate the following:

  • Expert understanding of user research best practices, with backgrounds in marketing, cognitive science, psychology, economics, information science, anthropology, or similar.
  • Fluency in user-centered design practices, with a solid understanding of user experience design.
  • Ability to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Excellent communication and collaboration skills.
  • Ability to read people, build empathy, and understand human behavior.
An extract from a UX researcher job ad posted by Nu Skin. As you can see, UX researchers are experts in both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Should you become a UX researcher?

A career in UX research is both analytical and people-focused. If you enjoy spending time with people and finding out what makes them tick, you’ll most likely thrive in a UX research role. At the same time, you should feel at home handling data and drawing out strategic insights.

As a UX researcher, you’ll divide your time between meeting with key stakeholders to discuss business and project goals, analyzing company metrics to identify which areas of the business could be further supported with UX research, attending research sessions with users, reviewing and visualizing research findings, and sharing them with your colleagues. You’ll work closely with product managers, UX and UI designers, and developers.

So, if you’re passionate about user-centered design; keen to collaborate across different teams; able to effectively communicate your findings to all key stakeholders, and relish the thought of mastering a range of different research techniques and being the voice of your users, then it’s worth considering a career in UX research.

2. Information architect

Information architecture is the way content is laid out across a product.

What is an information architect?

An information architect is a digital librarian of sorts; they structure all the content across a website or app. Their goal is to ensure a positive user experience by making the information accessible, logical, and well-organized.

Information architects consider how users interact with an existing information architecture based on data from usability tests. They use these insights to develop strategies that serve both user needs and business goals. If you were an information architect at Amazon, for example, you would conduct analysis on online shoppers. Based on your findings, you would determine the best informational layout for getting customers to complete a purchase.

“The information architect’s job is to find out what the target user wants (and expects) from a product’s informational structure and to translate these insights into clear, logical sitemaps.”

Twitter Logo

Information architects are concerned with both the overall site navigation and the informational structure of individual pages and screens. They work closely with researchers, designers, developers, and product managers to ensure the user’s journey is logical and intuitive.

Key stats

The national average salary for an information architect in the United States is $96,435. There are currently 9,450 open positions for the search term “UX information architect” on indeed.com.

What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of an information architect?

Information architecture is steeped in both cognitive psychology and library science. This role focuses primarily on the target audience, the technologies used to create the site, as well as the information presented on the site.

The work of an information architect spans research, navigation creation, wireframing, labeling, and data modeling. Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Working closely with product owners to identify product requirements.
  • Planning and facilitating user interviews, usability tests, and card sorts.
  • Analyzing data from user interviews, usability tests, and card sorts in order to assess users’ mental models.
  • Developing user personas, opportunity maps, and use cases.
  • Creating sitemaps that illustrate the hierarchy of content across the product.
  • Developing concept models, interaction models, comprehensive wireframe systems, and process flows.
  • Preparing prototypes and mockups that include page layout and navigational elements.
  • Working with content strategists to determine labels for pages and links across the site.
  • Developing taxonomies and plan and design metadata management.
  • Working with developers to determine structured content types that represent user needs, business logic, and internal editorial practices.
  • Creating templates for copywriters and content strategists.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of existing architecture, tools, and processes.
  • Driving continuous improvement of IA processes, models, data management, and taxonomy.
An extract from an information architect job ad posted by Pega. Information architects are involved in both the strategy behind the information architecture, and actually getting hands-on with designing it.

What skills are required for the role?

Information architects tend to demonstrate the following:

  • Excellent analytical skills.
  • Strategic and critical thinking.
  • A background in information management, content management, or similar.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills, which allow them to present IA concepts and deliverables in a compelling and convincing manner.
  • Knowledge of HTML, XML, and DITA.
  • Project management skills.
  • Outstanding attention to detail.
  • Expert knowledge of user experience design principles.
An extract from a UX information architect job ad posted by Veritude. As you can see, a familiarity with other disciplines will help you excel in the role of information architect.

Should you become an information architect?

The information architect’s job is to find out what the target user wants (and expects) from a product’s informational structure and to translate these insights into clear, logical sitemaps.

If you’re considering specializing in information architecture (IA), start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Based on my experience of UX design so far, do I enjoy the practice of organizing and structuring the information on the product I’m designing?
  • Am I strategic, analytical, and creative in equal measure?
  • Am I a natural problem-solver?
  • Am I good at building empathy with my users and delving into the psychology behind their actions and expectations?

This is also a highly collaborative role, so consider how you feel about working with a number of different stakeholders. Are you a good communicator? Last but not least, can you see yourself getting passionate about taxonomy and metadata?

As an information architect, you can expect an extremely varied workload. Depending on what phase the project is in, you’ll spend your time meeting with business stakeholders and product owners to prioritize product content and structure, attending usability tests and card sorts with real users, drawing up site maps, content models, user flows, wireframes and templates for the content team, and looking at ways to improve the existing information architecture. You’ll work closely with product owners, UX and UI designers, developers, and, of course, the content team.

3. UI/UX developer

Traditionally, designers and developers belong to two very separate camps. UX and UI designers determine how the product should look and function; the developers then build it.

These days, however, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. As more companies opt for leaner operating models, it’s not uncommon for designers to specialize in frontend skills. Cue the rise of the UI/UX developer!

What is a UI/UX developer?

A UI/UX developer is best described as part-designer, part-developer. This role combines user experience and user interface design with key front-end development skills such as JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

While UI/UX developers are capable of both designing and building fully functional products, the exact role that they play varies greatly from company to company. In a startup, the UI/UX developer may be responsible for the entire product design and development process, whereas in larger organizations, they may serve as a bridge between the design and development teams.

Either way, UI/UX developers are proficient in both and are, therefore, considered an extremely valuable asset. A unicorn, if you will.

Key stats

The national average salary for a UI/UX developer in the United States is $77,379. There are approximately 5,300 open positions currently advertised on indeed.com.

What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a UI/UX developer?

Depending on the company, the role of the UI/UX developer may span strategy and concept, user experience design (research, wireframing, prototyping, and testing), visual design, and actual coding of the product.

Here are some tasks and responsibilities that typically fall to the UI/UX developer based on real job ads:

  • Gathering and evaluating user requirements.
  • Designing, developing, coding, testing, and debugging new digital products.
  • Creating storyboards, process flows, and sitemaps to illustrate design ideas.
  • Designing graphic user interface elements such as menus, tabs, and widgets.
  • Building page navigation buttons and search fields.
  • Developing UI mockups and prototypes that clearly illustrate how sites should look and function.
  • Identifying and troubleshooting user experience issues.
  • Working with product management and development teams to design responsive interfaces.
  • Generating rapid prototypes to help illustrate complex UX solutions or interactive design mechanisms.
  • Managing usability testing.

What skills are required for the role?

A career as a UI/UX developer requires the following:

  • Excellent knowledge of front-end web technologies (JavaScript, HTML, CSS, jQuery).
  • Knowledge of both web and mobile design.
  • An in-depth understanding of user experience design principles.
  • Excellent visual design skills and knowledge of user interaction principles.
  • An ability to work closely with multiple stakeholders, including information architects, project managers, UX designers and researchers, and engineering teams.
  • An understanding of common software development practices.
  • Experience using GIT as a version control system.
  • Strong communication and documentation skills.
  • Strong organizational skills and excellent attention to detail.
An extract from a UI/UX developer job ad posted by Apartments.com. The UI/UX developer role calls for an extensive skillset, spanning design, development, and business know-how.

Should you become a UI/UX developer?

The UI/UX developer role is often described as a creative development role. If you’re keen to be involved in the product development process from start to finish, this is a career path that enables you to do a bit of everything.

If you’re thinking about taking the UI/UX developer route, it’s essential that you be as passionate about frontend technologies as you are about user-centered design. Are you proficient in JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, or keen to learn? Do you delight in the prospect of turning your designs into fully functional interfaces?

This is an extremely varied role, so you’ll need to be comfortable wearing many different hats. As with most (if not all!) UX roles, communication and collaboration are key. Be prepared to bridge the gap between designers, developers, and product managers. Essentially, if you’re both creative and technical, a career as a UI/UX developer can be extremely rewarding.

4. Usability analyst

Sometimes referred to as a UX analyst, a usability analyst focuses on a very specific aspect of user experience: usability. Usability refers to how user-friendly a product is: is it efficient, memorable, and easy to navigate for a first-time user?

What is a usability analyst?

Usability is a key measure of the overall UX of a product, based on four main usability metrics:

  • Success rate: Can users perform the desired task?
  • Time it takes to perform a task.
  • Error rate: The frequency of user errors within a given time period.
  • User’s subjective satisfaction: This can be gauged by asking the user to complete a simple satisfaction questionnaire (on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied were you with using this product?) and averaging the scores across the number of users tested.

Usability analysts have a significant part to play in making sure the product is a success.

A usability analyst seeks to understand what the user experiences as they interact with a digital product. They conduct ongoing usability tests on existing products in order to come up with fixes and improvements. Their role is pivotal in the development of new products, carrying out competitor analysis and leveraging data to inform design decisions. Let’s say you’re working for Virgin Atlantic as a usability analyst: you would consider the steps that users take to locate and book flights, and pinpoint exactly where they get stuck in this journey, and why.

“Usability analysts have a significant part to play in making sure the product is a success.”

Twitter Logo

In many ways, the usability analyst role is similar to that of the UX researcher: facilitating usability testing and communicating these insights to the wider UX team. As a usability analyst, however, you will focus specifically on how well an app or website functions in terms of accessibility and interactivity. Usability analysts are most likely to be part of a team of UX specialists in larger, more established organizations.

Key stats

The national average salary for a usability analyst in the United States is $73,667. There are currently around 1600 usability analyst jobs being advertised on indeed.com.

What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a usability analyst?

Usability analysts use a range of usability inspection methods to assess product usability. They are responsible for planning and executing usability tests, analyzing the resulting data, and sharing their insights with the wider team.

As a usability analyst, you will be responsible for:

  • Working with the UX research team to plan and facilitate usability testing sessions/usability reviews.
  • Employing a range of usability inspection methods, such as pluralistic walkthroughs, heuristic evaluations, cognitive walkthroughs, and persona-based inspections.
  • Analyzing usability test data and drawing out valuable insights.
  • Translating observations and insights into action points for the design team.
  • Developing user stories through task analysis, process mapping, and user input.
  • Creating interface design standards.
  • Developing wireframes and prototypes.
  • Identifying usability issues in existing products and making recommendations for improvements.

What skills are required for the role?

Usability analysts combine their knowledge of user experience design principles with a natural ability to leverage data and drive strategic decisions. If you want to forge a career as a usability analyst, you’ll need to demonstrate the following:

  • Strong analytical skills and a business-oriented approach.
  • Familiarity with the principles of interface, interaction, and visual design of web and mobile interfaces.
  • An understanding of human behavior.
  • An understanding of key UX practices such as storyboarding, wireframing, and prototyping.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
  • Excellent research, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills with attention to detail.
  • An ability to communicate technical information to nontechnical audiences.
An extract from a senior usability analyst job ad posted by NISC. As you can see, the usability analyst usually sits within the user experience team, focusing on the usability of both new and existing product features.
An extract from a UX analyst job ad posted by The Joint Commission. Sometimes referred to as a UX analyst, the role of the usability analyst intersects UX and business analysis.

Should you become a usability analyst?

Usability analysts are analytical, creative, and naturally curious about human behavior. If you’re fascinated by the ways in which people interact with digital products, you’re likely to enjoy working as a usability analyst.

If you’re considering this route, you’ll need to be extremely knowledgeable about, and interested in, human-computer interaction. Are you a critical thinker and creative problem-solver? Do you want to have a hand in making digital interfaces more user-friendly and accessible? Are you an excellent communicator who is able to reconcile the needs of both the user and the business?

If yes, the usability analyst role could be a great fit. You can learn more about the importance of usability in design here.

5. UX writer

In recent years, writing has been named a “unicorn skill” for designers. Most major tech companies have UX writers in their design teams (Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, to name just a few!) and you’ll even find a 1600-member-strong UX writers group on LinkedIn.

So what exactly is a UX writer, and what does this career path entail? Let’s find out.

What is a UX writer?

You can think of this role as an intersection between user experience design, copywriting, and branding.

When navigating a digital product, the user relies on written copy to guide them. A UX writer crafts this copy, ensuring that every piece of text the user encounters facilitates them in their journey. If you were working as a UX writer at Tinder, for example, you’d think about the most appropriate copy to use at each point in the user journey—such as alerting the user to the fact they have a new message, or celebrating a new match.

UX writers combine knowledge of user experience design principles with a flair for copywriting. They seek to understand the user’s needs while reflecting the brand with the right tone of voice. They carefully compose all microcopy that adorns the interface—from error messages and call-to-action buttons to welcome screens and form fields. UX writers are also responsible for devising a UX editorial strategy.

Key stats

The average UX writer salary in the United States is $132,600 per year. There are currently around 3700 open positions for user experience writers on indeed.com.

What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a UX writer?

The UX writer role covers user research, copywriting, and strategy. Some typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Working closely with the UX research and product teams in order to understand the target personas and identify user pain-points.
  • Writing concise, user-friendly copy for all user touchpoints across the digital interface.
  • Evaluating how the interface language and interactive design elements work together to construct a logical narrative in the user journey.
  • Devising and implementing a UX editorial strategy.
  • Conducting regular analyses of, and continuously iterating on, existing UX copy.
An extract from a UX writer job ad posted by Spotify. UX writers are extremely versatile professionals. Not only are they excellent writers and storytellers; they are also well-versed in the design process and the principles behind it.
An extract from a UX writer job ad posted by Pinterest. A career as a UX writer will see you collaborating with designers, producers, researchers, engineers, and more.
An extract from a UX writer job ad posted by Apple. As you can see, previous design industry experience is extremely valuable in this role. Many UX writers already have a background in UX, content strategy, or information architecture.

What skills are required for the role?

UX writers are, first and foremost, brilliant copywriters. They have a knack for crafting concise, user-friendly copy that guides the user, mapping out a smooth user journey across the product. What sets UX writers apart from marketing copywriters is their knowledge of user experience and interaction design principles. UX writers are known for the following:

  • Outstanding copywriting skills and attention to detail.
  • Background in design, communications, copywriting, or similar.
  • Understanding of the user experience design process and of how copy and design support each other.
  • Passion for language and storytelling.
  • Ability to find the best and most concise way of clearly communicating an idea.
  • Creative and strategic mindset.
  • Excellent communication and collaboration skills.

Should you become a UX writer?

If you’re passionate about language and how it contributes to great user experience, this is definitely a career path worth considering. To excel as a UX writer, you’ll need to master the art of copywriting within a design context:

  • Are you able to differentiate between marketing copy and copy that guides the user?
  • Do you strongly believe that copy should play a prominent role in the design process, and are you keen to advocate this?

If you’re toying with the idea of becoming a UX writer, it’s important to evaluate your existing skillset. This role is really a marriage between excellent design skills and a gift for writing; it may not simply be a case of crossing over from one to the other. Ideally, you’ll gain experience in both copywriting and design, with the end goal of combining the two.

With more and more companies recognizing and embracing the role of the UX writer, this is certainly an exciting path to pursue.

What’s your ideal UX career path? Next steps

Did any of these roles resonate with you? If so, it’s time to devise a plan of action. Start by browsing job boards to familiarize yourself even further with the role. If you can, connect with professionals already working in the field; they’ll be able to tell you exactly what it’s like on a day-to-day basis—as well as how they ended up on this particular career path. Finally, identify any gaps in your existing skillset and consider how you might close them.

If none of these career paths really speak to you, don’t worry. The roles explored in this guide are just the tip of the iceberg: UX professionals also go on to become voice designers, consultants, interaction designers, product managers, and more. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of user experience design, the world is your oyster.

Want to learn more about UX careers?