Need to Know — UX Research Outside the Bubble

Illustration by Laura Leavitt

There is a strong UX research practice in Silicon Valley, but that’s not the only place where a UX researcher can make a valuable contribution. Something I think our community is coming to know well.

The Mixed Methods slack channel has thirty-seven sub channels created by our members. Fifteen of these sub-channels are geography specific. From this I glean that we, as a community, want to better connect and understand UX research close to home. For this reason, the Mixed Methods publication will occasionally profile UX research in different locales, both in and outside the bubble.

In this post we will hear from three UX researchers making valuable contributions in New York (#nyc_area), Atlanta (#southeast_usa), and Austin (#tx).


New York City

Hello there! I’m Val Pucilowski, a researcher and strategist based in New York City. I currently work at Spotify, where I surface insights about a global community of creators and the industry that they navigate. Previously, I conducted research at Etsy—to inform the development of services and tools that help 1.8M+ people start, grow, and manage a creative business.

The design and research community in New York City is vibrant and multifaceted. A wide range of companies with NYC offices employ dedicated researchers. As I write this, Glassdoor lists approximately 2,200 open roles in NYC (compared to 4,200 and 1,400 open roles in California and San Francisco, respectfully). Spotify, Etsy, WeWork, Dropbox, Facebook, and Google all have well-established research teams. Other companies — Blue Apron and Buzzfeed, to name a few — are beginning to build out their practice. There are contract roles aplenty and my contemporaries tell me that some agencies, like Code and Theory and Huge, also hire folks with solid research skills.

From what I’ve observed, the majority of in-house roles require at least a few years of experience working in product research, specifically. If you have the requisite experience, I suggest that you try to connect directly with someone who already works where you want to apply. Given the competition for talent, many NYC companies encourage internal referrals and offer referral bonuses to the employee — so don’t be shy!

It can be challenging to get eyes on your resume without any past experience — or enough of it. A strong professional network can help you gain skills, hear about opportunities, and stay motivated while you interview.

I regularly enjoy the NYC UX/User Researchers Meetup. Attendees have varied backgrounds and levels of experience. Organizers keep things interesting with a rotation of lighting-talks, presentations, workshops and conferences. NYC UXPA is another great venue to meet and learn from other researchers. For those of you who are interested, NYC also offers an extraordinary number of design-focused events. Hello, choice paralysis!

Atlanta

Hi! My name is Riana Dawson, and I’m a UX designer based in Atlanta. Recently I joined the UX team at SunTrust, where I work to make banking faster and more flexible for small and mid-sized businesses and enterprises. Before joining SunTrust, I closely collaborated with researchers and strategists at CareerBuilder to make job hunting and hiring processes more manageable and motivating.

Atlanta has a diverse metropolitan area and a well-established business sector composed of large finance, healthcare, and logistics companies. In the past several years, Atlanta has ramped up its tech scene through the development of startup hubs like Atlanta Tech Village and Advanced Technology Development Center.

While Atlanta’s local startups mature, established companies have changed their hiring practices, signaling opportunities for designers and researchers alike. Established companies are bringing their design teams in-house and looking to build out their UX talent. Atlanta’s UX job market is growing, but these new roles are often hybridized, asking for a combination of design and research skill sets. There are not many pure UX research positions yet, but that may change in the future.

Dedicated UX researchers will find the best opportunities within larger companies with established UX teams, like Home Depot, ADP, NCR, The Weather Channel, Cox Communications, and MailChimp. You’ll find agencies and consultancies occasionally feature research roles but outside of this, a researcher can expect advertisements for research teams-of-one or hybridized designer-researcher roles.

You can expect that Atlanta-based research positions will request a few years of experience, five on average. Atlanta is a competitive market with UX generalists transitioning from outside fields, bootcamps, and surrounding universities.

Austin

My name is cary-anne olsen-landis. I’m the Experience Research Lead for IBM Power Systems in Austin. I’ve lived in Austin for fifteen years and can’t think of a better place for me to be. I’ve done UX research in many forms. The bulk of my career was spread between higher education, startups, agencies, and more.

For most of my career I did research as a part of my work, like many others in user experience who do design work and conduct research on their own. I’ve seen an increase in pure research roles in Austin area in the past year. Often these roles are with established companies like Visa, Indeed, IBM, and a small handful of agencies. This is a significant change. Pure research roles in Austin used to be very rare, maybe I would see an advertisement once a year, but now these roles show up more regularly, perhaps once a month or so.

A few years ago, I had the privilege to meet Dave Yeats (Indeed) who convened a periodic informal meeting of researchers and this group fit my needs perfectly.

Over time we created a Facebook group to host gatherings for researchers a few times a year. The Facebook group has enabled our group to communicate informally between meetings, ask questions, and network with one another. A date for our September meeting is forthcoming.

I’m always happy to add anyone who’s in the Austin area to the group, so just search Austin UX Researchers on Facebook, and you’ll find us. My primary criteria for adding people to this group is making sure each person lives in Austin.

For anyone working at IBM in Austin, my team facilitates lunch discussions of various research topics on Tuesdays every three weeks.


Thanks to our contributors Val, Riana, and Cary-anne. The Mixed Methods publication looks forward to hearing more about the UX research scene in your backyard. Contact me through our Slack channel (@erynwhitworth) for opportunities to provide a write up of your city. As always your comments and suggests are welcome!