My recent trip to UXPA 2014 offered me more than the opportunity try authentic Fish & Chips. It gave me great insights to the UX industry and as it turns out, great perspective on the people that make up the industry. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the consistently, inconsistent career & educational backgrounds of UX professionals. After nearly a dozen conversations that described incredibly diverse paths to their current role, I decided this warranted a closer look. After some digging it turns out that not only are UX professionals incredibly diverse in their educational backgrounds, but their career satisfaction ratings were noticeably high¹. In order to understand why our colleagues were rating their job satisfaction so highly, I decided to first look at the characteristics of successful researchers. I wondered how current growth within the industry and optimism on future developments within their profession shaped their feelings towards their job.
In order to answer these questions I first looked at the qualities that make up professional UX research associate. I asked participants at UXPA2014, employees within Key Lime Interactive and colleagues across the industry to chip in. I received some pretty interesting opinions. Most success stories were based on educational backgrounds. Some of the responses described researchers as having “solid computer programming skills, a background in Anthropology or Psychology and some exposure to Human Factors training.”
To test the validity of these statements, and in true UX fashion, I conducted some ethnographic studies on some unsuspecting colleagues and UXPA2014 delegates. Knowing their education background and comparing it to the “suggested educational paths” would allow me to determine if it was their training or other inherent qualities that make great researchers. It turns out that only about half of the participants I observed were trained in the previously mentioned disciplines. So what was the common thread between the greater population? It seems that at the heart of almost all UX professionals lies a naturally inquisitive spirit, the willingness to pursue a career of lifelong learning and excellent communication skills.
Armed with this information I wondered how such a diverse group of men and women would describe their job satisfaction. Would they express optimism towards the future of their industry? According to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, UX professionals rank their job satisfaction a 5.4² on a Likert scale. They also ranked pay/benefits satisfaction as a 5.2³. But does earnings truly correlate to higher job satisfaction? Harvard Business Review author Tomas C. Premuzic argues that “there is less than a 2% overlap between individuals pay and pay satisfaction”⁴. This leads us to infer that job satisfaction and satisfaction of pay are independent of each other. So what other factors could be driving the overall satisfaction from such a diverse pool of workers? Nielsen researchers noted that after polling over 1,000 UX professionals, the core activities of a UX researcher included: presenting solutions/concepts, persuading others and critically analyzing tasks or activities, which strongly correlates to the qualities observed during my impromptu ethnographic study.
As a whole, the UX industry finds itself in a period of tremendous growth. With more than half of all UX professionals living in the United States⁵, other markets will soon look to qualified professionals for expertise and guidance. So ask yourself this, do you feel well-rewarded and highly valued? Do you see your work as being intrinsically good for humanity? Do you enjoy being engaged and being able to use many of your skills on a daily basis? Then smile, you are probably a UX professional.