How is the UX researcher role different from a UX designer ?

UX Researcher

A UX Researcher undertakes research to better understand their audience, and how that audience interacts with a system.

The term is generally used when talking about websites, applications, or intranets but it also applies to physical products and interfaces like Gas Pumps and ATM machines.

UX researchers are often responsible for:

  • Running usability tests to see how users interact with the current system.
  • Developing user surveys to get information from potential users.
  • Undertaking heuristic and expert audits of systems.
  • Shadowing users during their normal work activities to see how they interact with the systems and under what context.
  • Documenting Customer Journeys, Top Tasks and other deliverables that will support the design and development of the system.
  • UX Researchers are often also asked to undertake a Business Analysis role, and identify the business requirements for the system.  This is technically not part of a true “UX Researchers” area of expertise but it is similar in many respects and an easy area to expand into.  This can include identifying and documenting the business goals including Key Results Areas and Key Performance Indicators for the system.

A UX researcher should be competent in usability testing methodologies, statistics, analysis and reporting.  They must be good at undertaking primary research through surveys and in person interviews and focus groups.  They need to understand many of the principles of Human Computer Interfaces and Cognitive Psychology.

UX Designer

This is a bit more complicated, because there is the “What a UX Designer SHOULD be”, and “What a UX Designer generally is”.

What it generally is:

A UX Designer is the person who designs the interface and look and feel of the system.  

The simplest version is someone who really is a web designer and who uses Photoshop/Sketch to create visual mock-ups of the interface.  They may or may not spend time on low fidelity wire frames and sketches and they may or may not run usability tests on those mock-ups.  This type of UX Designer generally focuses on the look and feel and is often more concerned with the fonts and imagery than anything else.

A “basic” UX Designer might be accountable for:

  • Low fidelity and high fidelity Wireframes
  • Design mock-ups
  • Prototypes, templates and front end HTML/CSS

What it should be:

A more sophisticated view of the UX Designer is that it is the person responsible for the users experience with the system.  They may in fact never even apply graphic design skills, instead leaving that to a dedicated designer.

The UX Designers primary role is to ensure that the entire User Experience of the system works.  This covers aspects of content, structure, technology and visual design.
This would generally include:

  • Define and validate conversion goals and Key Performance Indicators.
  • Either by themselves or in collaboration with an Information Architect, map out the structure of the content and system to accomplish the goals defined by the Business Analyst and UX Researcher.
  • Collaborating with writers and content specialists to ensure that the copy is appropriate and provides proper context.
  • Develop low and high fidelity wireframes to demonstrate the interaction of the system.
  • Collaborating with the technical team to ensure that the system is usable, accessible and responsive (both for devices and speed)
  • Either by themselves or in collaboration with a designer, develop Interface designs and design mock-ups.
  • Either by themselves or in collaboration with a developer, develop prototypes, templates and front end HTML/CSS
  • Either by themselves or in collaboration with a UX Researcher, undertake multiple rounds of usability testing at all stages of the above.

In general UX Designers should be responsible for:

  • Usability – how easy it is for users to accomplish the tasks that they want to complete.
    Accessibility – the ability for anyone to use it regardless of environment, device or disability.
  • Sustainability – how easy is it for the system to stay current and manageable with available resources.
  • Scalability – can the system grow as required. Can it accommodate foreseeable changes to business or audience need

All of this must be done by taking into account the understanding of the user that is provided by the UX Researcher and the business needs documented by the Business Analyst.

Unfortunately many agencies and companies that aren’t heavily into a UCD (User Centered Design) process often don’t realize there is a difference between UX Designer and a Web Designer, which has led to a significant misrepresentation of skills with many claiming to be “UX this” or UX that” simply because they keep hearing that that is what they need.

This has the corollary effect of almost all web designers adding “UX” to their titles in order to get jobs even though very few of them actually undertake much more than just visual design.

Conclusion :

In theory, these titles refer to two different sets of tasks that are important to UX. In a big UX department, you might have one or more specialists who focuses on research—conducting usability labs, heuristic analysis, user interviews, and being knowledgable about what kinds of research other people are doing in the field, and what we can learn from it. This job is more closely related to the skills of an anthropologist or marketing research than, say, a graphic designer.

A “UX designer” might focus more on the actual production of creative solutions, based on the insights that come from user research. This might include more wireframe design, interaction design, visual design, etc. Again, this is assuming a scenario where UX work is highly specialized.

From what I’ve seen, however, “UX Designer” is often used as a catch-all term for someone who may do many UX-related jobs, including interaction design, user research, information architecture, and anything else that goes into making good experiences.

The real difference between roles isn’t always clearly captured by the title. Better to look at what the person is responsible for, and what the expected deliverables are.


  1. Tom

    In Germany we call both parts: usability engineer. The usability engineer are the guy who can do the whole analysis stuff at beginning to evaluation stuff at the end. The whole UX process defined in ISO 9241-210.