The ups and downs of the UXR job market
How things have changed over a volatile year for technology
Can UX researchers “time” their next job search to look when more positions are available?
Or—on the other half of the equation—can hiring managers open roles when they’re more likely to attract competitive applicants?
Keeping a close eye on the state of the UXR job market has practical benefits for both applicants and leaders. Candidates can learn how to stand out. And hiring managers can better understand gaps in their process.
For the broader community, it can reveal industry trends. For example, if demand for UX research is indeed steadily growing, that should be reflected in the year-over-year growth of available roles.
Last year, I started collecting data to look at these questions.
Previous studies haven’t tracked change over time
Other UX researchers have already contributed valuable in-depth analysis of job listings.
In September 2021, Brian Utesch and Theresa Nguyen wrote a 4-part series based on manual coding of 100 job descriptions, which described the relevant experience and skills found within them. Zombor Varnagy-Toth performed a similar analysis of 68 job descriptions in February 2021.
Yet little work to date has examined how the market has changed over time. One exception is Jason Buhle’s periodic updates on how many UX researchers are actively working in the field since April 2021.
The work described here looks instead on how many roles are available. These data were collected over the 15 months between June 2021 and September 2022 with 10 unique observation periods—which averages to about one observation every 45 days. For the sake of readability, I'll refer to each observational period as "a month" from here on out.
I collected these data by repeating the exact same search terms and filters (as applicable) on Indeed.com. In total, 21,639 job descriptions were included in this analysis.
Availability peaked in February and has steadily declined
Across the 10 months in the dataset, the average number of open roles each month was 2,112 (with a standard deviation of 460). There was considerable variablity from month to month, as the full range of least to most available roles was 1,458.
But that only tells part of the story, as the chart below suggests:
The month with the fewest available roles was during the first observation in June 2021, with only 1,532. From there, there were steadily more open roles at each month until they peaked at 2,990 roles in February 2022. Afterwards, open roles became less available and settled at its second lowest point this month.
Is there seasonality to available roles, or does this mean that hiring is slowing down in general?
It’s difficult to conclusively say with only a little over one year of data, and without comparable data for non-UXR roles. However, this follows a similar pattern to broader secular trends, as can be seen by comparing it with the performance of the S&P 500—a proxy index for the US stock market—over the same time period.
Interestingly, the pattern appears to lag by a month or two—which might be attributable to the longer time-frame in which organizations forecast and approve budgets for upcoming quarters. If the stock market continues to rebound, we might expect open roles to rebound in Q4 of this year or Q1 of next.
In future reports, these data can be further compared with employment statistics in relevant sectors collected by organizations such as the the US Bureau of Labor Statistics when those become available.
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No pattern to the relative few entry-level roles available
On average, just 2.5% (SD=1.3%) of all UX research roles observed were explicitly flagged as junior roles, but that varies wildly from month to month.
Many established UX teams offer 3-month (or longer) internships that start at the end of the academic school year. Thus one may expect some seasonality in the availability of internships and other entry-level roles.
Nevertheless, there was no clear pattern indicating time periods when more entry-level roles might be regularly available. September, the month with the most in 2022, was also the month with the least in 2021.
These data only examined the incidence of four job titles: “user research intern,” “UX research intern,” “junior UX researcher,” and “junior user researcher.” Consequently, other alternatives like “associate UX researcher” were not included. Further, it would not account for junior roles with a generic title that are distinguished by the experience and duties of the job description itself.
Interestingly, internships are nearly ten times more plentiful than researcher roles having “junior” in the title. Over the past 15 months, there were 46.6 intern roles available on average each month, compared with just 5.4 junior roles on average.
“UX Researcher” the most common job title
Although the name of our field is still hotly contested on social media, the debate appears to be settled for a majority of job descriptions: “UX Researcher” is the most common job title, accounting for 53.3% (SD=4.7%) of roles on average each month.
Next most common were “User Researcher” (M=15.0%, SD=3.6%) and “User Experience Researcher” (M=13.6%, SD=1.7%). Thus, nearly four-fifths of open roles include the word “user” in the title.
Among the variants that don’t include the word “user” are the comparatively unpopular “Design Researcher” (M=9.0%, SD=1.6%) and “Product Researcher” (M=2.2%, SD=1.0%). The most divergent alternative I included, “Human Factors Engineer,” accounted for relatively few listings (M=7.1%, SD=1.3%), though it remains popular in organizations testing hardware, such as medtech, aviation/defense, and Apple.
In general, proportions of different job titles remained relatively stable over time and most interesting when aggregated across months.
UXR professionals making decisions about their own careers or selecting others for their teams will value thorough analysis of the job market. Although other analyses exist, this effort is among the first to track a broad slice of the UXR job market over time.
Since I rely on Indeed.com search data, there are several limitations: their search algorithms and filters could change, thereby compromising longitudinal data; counting only job titles can be a crude estimate of the true population of available roles; and not all jobs are available on Indeed.com. These results are further constrained to only US data.
Nonetheless, these were a few of the key themes:
Available roles have declined since February, which may indicate seasonality of availability or simply reflect larger economic trends. More data will be needed for strong conclusions.
There are few entry-level roles, and they aren’t regularly offered. Future reports will examine a broader set of entry roles.
Most job titles include the word “user.” The job titles “UX Researcher,” “User Researcher,” and “User Experience Researcher” together account for four-fifths of available roles today.
I will continue to collect these data monthly. Future reports will focus on other areas of interest, such as requirements and duties, the availability of leadership roles, and incidence by location.
Collaborative artistry and the return of the command line
AI-generated artwork continues to improve and become more widely available.
DALL-E 2 is now in beta with over 1 million users; competitor Midjourney did the same shortly before. Then, last month, an open-source alternative, Stable Diffusion, was released, and it’s compact enough that folks using modern MacBooks can run it themselves for free.
The coolest emerging use case is people with little technical artistic ability collaboratively and iteratively creating beautiful artwork.
The image above shows one user’s seed doodle on the left and the final AI-enhanced landscape on the right. Another sparked controversy by winning a state competition after submitting his generation.
Despite the power and potential of this technology, results can be disappointing without a thoughtfully crafted “prompt,” or command telling the AI what to make. This counterintuitive interface has lead not just to prompt books and guides, but prompt building apps and even prompt marketplaces.
Here’s an area where UX professionals could meaningfully contribute to the development of a promising tool. In a way, we’re returning to the era of the command line and all of its pain.
…to long-time subscribers who have waited patiently through the August hiatus! And a hearty welcome to the many new subscribers who have joined us in that time.
If you haven’t had a chance yet to peruse back issues, here are a couple favorites you may enjoy:
(At least) 4 Xs that aren't UX (Mar 2022)
Reconsidering terms like “user” sounds noble, but needs nuance
How the ghost of strict behaviorist psychology still haunts UX research
I love feedback from readers, so feel free to hit reply and let me know what you think.
Until next time,