Welcome to the State of User Research 2022 report! Now in its fourth year, this report unpacks the findings from our annual survey that we—curious humans doing user research at a leading UX research company—conduct to quantify, analyze, and uncover trends in:
We’re hugely grateful to all of our survey participants, and to our colleagues for their contributions to this, our most exciting (and fresh 🍋) State of User Research report yet.
Happy reading and researching!
Just 3% of researchers said buy-in was a major pain point (compared to 14%, last year, and 20% in 2019 and 2020).
44% said that at their companies, researchers are embedded in non-research teams. Even in very small organizations, researchers are embedded in more than 1 department on average.
Only 6% of researchers said there are 0 dedicated UXRs at their company—down from 19% in 2019.
1 in 5 researchers said their company has a dedicated Research Ops Manager; these same folks were more satisfied with their jobs overall.
Over half (52%) of US researchers with under 5 years of experience earn between $100 to $150k.
The State of User Research survey was created in SurveyMonkey. We distributed the survey to the subscribers of our weekly newsletter, Fresh Views, User Interviews accounts on social media, and in UX and user research groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Slack. Members of our team and friends within the UX research community also shared the survey with their professional networks.
Over the course of 8 days (January 20 – 28, 2022), we collected responses from 562 user researchers (“UXRs”) and people who do user research (“PwDRs”) as part of their jobs. (An additional 554 people took our screener but did not qualify for our survey.)
Our survey audience included researchers in 54 countries, most of whom (53%) live in the United States. Researchers living in the United Kingdom made up the second-largest segment (7%), followed by those in Canada (6%), and Germany (5%). The remaining 166 responses were scattered across 50 countries, including France, Algeria, Brazil, Japan, and Kenya.
Most of the participants in our survey (67%) are individual contributors, with managers accounting for another 18% of responses. People at the Director level or above made up 8% of our audience, with a handful of freelancers (4%) and part-time researchers (3%) at the other end of the spectrum.
These folks represent companies of all sizes—from very small organizations with a handful of employees to multinational behemoths with over 10,000 people, and included User Interviews customers (45%) and non-customers (55%) alike.
This year, we’ve made the (anonymized) survey data available for the first time, along with the full, 86-page report.
1% Independent Researchers
12% Very small: 2 to 49 employees
30% Small: 50 to 199 employees
26% Medium (or mid-sized): 200 to 999 employees
22% Large: 1,000 to 9,999 employees
21% Very large: 10,000+ employees
20% Computer software
19% IT (information technology)
10% Business, consultancy, or management
9% Finance, banking, or accounting
We know, we know. There’s no such thing as an average user (or user researcher), just as no two qualitative studies are the same.
But the State of User Research Report isn’t just a bunch of numbers and graphs—it’s a story about what user research (the field, the craft) looked like over the last year, and how practitioners felt about it all.
So we took a look at the most common answers about things like background and education, salary, company size, and industry in order to paint a somewhat unscientific picture of the protagonists in our story.
We used the same approach to create a snapshot of “typical” user research studies and toolkits.
User Research is a growing field, which means that many practitioners are relatively new to it; indeed, 41% of the UXRs we surveyed have fewer than 5 years of research under their belts. Yet there is deep experience in the field, too—a quarter (25%) of UXRs now have over a decade of research experience to lean on.
We were curious: Who are all these folks doing user research? Where did they acquire their research skills? And how do people become User Researchers?
Just 37% of UXRs said they primarily learned their research skills through formal training at university. Nearly as many (35%) primarily learned about user research on the job, picking up skills to meet an immediate business need while working in another capacity.
In fact, 77% of UXRs began their career in a different field. Folks who transitioned into User Research came from Design (21%), Marketing (20%), Education (13%), and Anthropology/Sociology (11%), among others.
A fifth of our survey participants are PwDRs—people who spend at least 10% of their job on user research, but who are not User Researchers in name.
These folks predominantly work in Product/UX Design and, like UXRs, learned their skills on the job; 42% said they picked up user research to fill an immediate business need. This data backs up what we’ve heard from PwDRs in 1:1 interviews, in which these folks also highlighted the importance of mentorship from more experienced UXRs as part of their path to learning user research.
In our 2021 survey, 89% of people said they had worked exclusively remotely over the previous year.
It’s been a long two years, and it’s easy to forget just how in-person work used to be. A little refresher: in our last pre-Covid era report, just 10% of people reported working exclusively remotely, and another 6% said they worked remotely 3 to 4 days per week.
How much do UX Researchers make?
The quick answer is between $100k and $200k per year for UXRs based in the United States—that’s the salary range reported by the majority (67%) of US-based UXRs in this year’s survey.
To dig in more deeply: For a third year in a row, a plurality of UXRs living in the United States (43%) report earning salaries of $100k to $150k. But the percentage of people reporting salaries of over $150k has nearly tripled since our 2020 report (from 12% to 34%).
Early stage UXRs, in particular, are bringing home larger paychecks—in our 2020 survey, just under a quarter (24%) of US-based UXRs with less than 5 years of experience reported earning $100k to $150k. This year, over half (52%) of people with less than 5 years of experience said the same.
User researchers like opportunities for career growth, knowing that their work is valued, having the right tools for the job, and long walks on the beach.
Okay, that last bit is just a guess. For the rest of it, we have data.
We asked people to rate their overall job fulfillment on a scale from 1 ("very unfulfilled") to 5 ("very fulfilled"). To understand what drives that number up or down, we looked at how job fulfillment changes when analyzed against factors like bureaucracy, research budgets, salaries, and so on. Here’s what we learned….
For the third year in a row, organizational structure and bureaucracy topped the list of researcher frustrations—31% of researchers were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with this aspect of their job.
Companies with fewer bureaucratic hurdles have the happiest researchers overall—people who are satisfied with organizational structure rated their fulfillment as 4.23 out of 5, which is 0.55 points above average and 1.41 points higher than the scores of people who said they were dissatisfied with this part of their job.
In 2019 and 2020, 20% of researchers ranked lack of buy-in as their biggest frustration. This pain point has dwindled in severity over the past couple of years. (Yay!)
The number of researchers who said this was their biggest frustration dropped down to 14% in 2021; and in this year’s survey, just 3% of researchers said they were “very dissatisfied” with the buy-in at their organization.
Researchers who are satisfied or very satisfied with how research is used to make decisions are among the most fulfilled of all—these researchers had an average fulfillment score of 4.19 out of 5, which is 1.43 points higher than people who said they were dissatisfied with the same job factor.
Fulfillment scores increased in tandem with salaries—but only up to a point.
US-based researchers earning under $100k per year rated their job fulfillment as 3.55 out of 5, while folks who earn $150 to $200k were the happiest cohort (scoring 3.93 on average).
But—proving that money alone cannot, in fact, provide happiness—people who earned over $200k a year were actually less fulfilled than lower earners. These folks rated their satisfaction as 3.52 on average.
In a 2018 study, PWC found that 7 out of 10 employees would consider an offer for a more fulfilling job, and 1 in 3 would take less pay if a job were more fulfilling.
And indeed, in an August 2021 study of 752 US executives and 1,007 full- and part-time US workers, 65% people said they are currently looking for a new job.
With an ever-growing list of job opportunities for UX researchers and people with user research skills, keeping researchers happy is more important than ever if companies want to retain the talent they have.
Small budget, not enough time, little buy-in, too much red tape, too busy
As we continue to build the user research practice here at User Interviews, we’ve found ourselves asking: “What does user research look like in other companies?”
So, naturally, we threw some research at the question.
For starters, the percentage of people who said their company has zero dedicated UXRs declined from 19% in our 2019 survey to just 6% in 2022.
Relatedly, the percentage of people who said there are 5 or more UXRs has risen from 24% in 2019 to 49% in 2022; the percentage of people who said there are 5 or more researchers (PwDRs included) has also doubled, from 36% in 2019 to 71% in 2022.
Companies with dedicated Research departments are still in the minority. Only 17% of people in very small companies said they have a Research department. That number jumps to 32% in small companies and climbs to 42% among people in very large organizations.
It’s more typical for researchers to be embedded within a non-research team—44% of our participants said this was the case at their company. This model is especially common in very small organizations where we might expect fewer specialized departments.
But the most common model—reported by 57% of all participants (excluding people working at research agencies) and 66% of those in very large organizations—is a hybrid one in which researchers are embedded within their respective teams but also work together on cross-functional projects. This is what we’d expect to see in companies in which research democratization has taken place.
What’s more, both PwDRs and dedicated UXRs tend to be distributed across multiple teams. This is true for companies of every size, with researchers reporting into more departments as companies scale.
In very small companies, researchers are embedded in an average of 1.2 departments with both UXRs and PwDRs most frequently reporting to Product. In all other company sizes, UXRs are most commonly embedded within Design/UX departments while PwDRs remain embedded in Product.
UXRs in large companies are spread across an average of 1.5 teams and are more likely to report to a dedicated Research department and/or Design, and less likely to report to Product. Companies of this size have researchers embedded in 1.7 departments on average, most commonly Design/UX and Product.
This trend continues in very large organizations, as does the widening distribution of researchers across the organization—in companies of 10,000 or more employees, UXRs are embedded in an average of 1.7 departments, while PwDRs are found in 2 teams on average.
What, exactly, does it mean to democratize user research across an organization? Democratization is an approach centered around empowering non-researchers—people outside the full-time research team—to conduct research, analyze results, and uncover actionable insights from the data.
Recently, our Customer Development team has noticed a trend in large, enterprise organizations that feels like an iteration of democratization. In this second-wave approach, researcher assistance is key—non-researchers are enabled to do research, but with guardrails like prescriptive how-tos and processes in place to ensure projects meet the standards of quality research.
📖 Read more about the “assisted model” or Democratization 2.0 on the User Interviews blog.
At the project-level, research operations tasks include things like scheduling sessions, distributing incentives, maintaining a research repository, etc—in other words, the administrative work that keeps user research humming along.
But Research Operations, as a discipline, is much more far-reaching. It is the organization and optimization of people, processes, tools, and strategies to create repeatable systems that support research at scale and amplify its impact across an organization.
As we expected, most of our survey participants (61%) said that researchers at their company are responsible for their own operations tasks. But we were happy to discover that over a fifth of researchers (22%) now have a dedicated Research Operations Manager (or the equivalent) to support them in this area.
We anticipate we’ll be hearing from more teams with a dedicated Research Operations discipline in the coming years as research practices mature and scale.
Researchers who are supported by a dedicated Research Operations Manager were more fulfilled at work and more satisfied with everything from their tool stacks to their career paths than people who reported having no such role at their company.
The presence of a Research Operations Manager made the biggest impact on people’s reported satisfaction with their budget and resources; folks with a Research Operations Manager rated their satisfaction 22% higher than those without (4.10 vs 3.35 out of 5).
Having a dedicated Research Operations Manager also positively impacts researcher satisfaction with organizational structure, opportunities for career growth, and how research is used to make decisions—all of which play a significant role in overall job fulfillment.
User Research leaders may want to start thinking seriously about hiring for Operations early (i.e. well before teams reach 12 researchers).
Some companies might begin their search for a Research Operations Manager among their existing team—15% of people in our survey said that certain (non-Operations) folks in their company are currently shouldering the majority of the Operations burden.
🎙 Listen to Roy Olende, now Head of UX Research at Zapier, talk through his transition into an operations role and explain how he founded the Research Operations practice at Zapier.
Now that we’re familiar with the “who,” let’s dig into the “how.”
How do researchers plan their studies and ensure their work is inclusive? How do they recruit and incentivize participants? How much does a typical research study cost these days? In short: How do user researchers, well, research?
Let’s start at the beginning…
When we asked researchers how they planned their last qualitative research study, 73% said they conducted 1:1 interviews with their stakeholders; 50% gathered stakeholder input through other means like surveys, workshops, etc.
We’ve written at length about the importance of conducting stakeholder research, so we love to see this happening widely. But talking to stakeholders isn’t the only way to plan a research study—the data already being collected by your sales, support, and product teams can often yield valuable (and time-saving) insights.
In preparation for their last qualitative study, 42% of researchers said they mined quantitative user analytics data, and 40% reviewed data from their sales and support teams.
Research stakeholders are anyone with a vested interest in the outcomes of user research—they could be top-level executives with questions that require research to answer confidently, or the individual product designers who will be expected to take action based on the findings of a study.
Basically, stakeholders are the people who care about user research.
We asked our survey participants to rank different stakeholder groups by their level of investment, from 1 (“most invested”) to 6 (“least invested”).
No huge shocker here: Product and Design teams are the primary stakeholders for the majority of researchers— 43% of people at companies with a dedicated Research department said Product was most invested, followed by 36% who said Design was their primary stakeholder group.
When no Research department exists (more often the case in smaller orgs), Design plays a bigger role—41% of folks without a dedicated Research team said Design was their primary stakeholder group, while 37% said the same of product.
Just over a fifth (21%) of all our participants ranked the executive team as one of their primary stakeholder groups. These researchers were happier with how research is used to make decisions, rating their satisfaction in this aspect of their work as 3.72 out of 5, compared to 3.28 among people who said executives were among their least invested stakeholders.
Unsurprisingly, a high degree of executive investment becomes less common as companies scale.
Make it super simple for executives to engage and join in with user research. Surface findings as you go (via Slack, etc.) to keep them in the loop and, at the end of your study, bundle findings into a concise summary with simple storytelling.
In general, most research studies take about 1 to 4 weeks to plan. A plurality (35%) of researchers say they planned their last study 1 to 2 weeks ahead of time, with another 33% saying they kick off 2 to 4 weeks in advance (the same as last year).
Smaller teams tend to move faster—a third (34%) of people in companies with fewer than 200 employees started planning their last study less than a week beforehand. Very large companies (those corporate behemoths with over 10,000 employees) move much slower—43% of people at these organizations said they planned their last study 2 to 4 weeks in advance, while 13% said it was on the roadmap for months.
Researchers typically start recruiting 1 week or less before a study—this was the most commonly reported timeline, regardless of company size.
In last year’s State of User Research survey, we asked researchers to provide an estimate of their monthly research budget—and 44% simply had no idea.
This year, 28% were still unable to estimate the budget for a typical moderated study, and 37% were similarly in the dark about their unmoderated research budget. People in larger organizations were even less likely to have visibility into this part of their work.
Of those in the know, 38% generally spend under $100 on an unmoderated study (25% spend $100 to $499). Budgets are similar for moderated research—23% say they spend under $100 per study, while a quarter (25%) report having a budget of $100 to $499 for a moderated study.
With the exception of moderated studies conducted at very large organizations, where 55% of people report budgets over $1,000 per study, there was no strong correlation between company size and average per-study budgets.
The majority of the people we surveyed reported taking some measures to ensure that their research is inclusive, especially during recruitment and screening. This is good! (Could be better, but… it’s a start.)
However, 11% of researchers said their team is not taking any measures to ensure that their research is inclusive.
Inclusion matters. User research that fails to include a diversity of perspectives and experiences—on both the researcher and user side—is research that has failed.
We encourage anyone interested in learning more about how to conduct inclusive UX research to check out the following list of resources:
If you're reading this report, you're probably already familiar with User Interviews and why we're especially interested in how researchers find, recruit, and manage their participants.
But just in case, here’s a quick intro: User Interviews is an all-in-one research recruiting and participant management platform. Through Recruit, we connect researchers to our panel of over 850k vetted participants, and also make it easy for researchers to manage their own participants with Research Hub.
Naturally, we’re always curious to learn how researchers recruit participants to their studies (with or without our help).
But managing a panel of research participants comes with its own challenges, and a minority of the researchers in our survey report having a solution for this.
Of the folks currently using a tool to organize, track, and streamline communications with their own participants, a majority (57%) use User Interviews, while 20% rely on Salesforce or another CRM.
When it comes to recruiting their own users, 39% of researchers favor intercept surveys to get research studies in front of their customers. Many also use research recruiting platforms like User Interviews (29%), their existing CRMs (22%), and/or marketing automation tools such as Mailchimp (20%).
People rely more heavily on research recruiting tools to source external participants—48% said they use a platform like User Interviews for this purpose. Recruitment agencies are also a relatively popular method for recruiting new audiences (31%), as are the on-demand panels offered by many UX research tools (29%).
Streamline your tool stack with User Interviews, an all-in-one platform for recruiting and managing participants.
Generate Zoom links, simplify scheduling, automate incentive distribution, and fill your next UX research study in record time—whether you’re researching with your own customers or members of our 850k+ panel.
Gift cards are the most popular method for distributing incentives, used by 67% of researchers (and 82% of people who say they use User Interviews to automate incentive distribution).
Cash or cash equivalents (like PayPal) are the second-most popular means of rewarding participants—38% of researchers said they distributed incentives this way.
Some researchers (14%) offer product subscriptions or discounts, while 10% send physical incentives like company swag in exchange for taking part in their studies. Another 10% use raffle-based incentives for some studies (like the one we offered to our State of User Research survey participants).
Every year, we ask people about their most frequently used UX research methods. We’ve asked this question a bit differently in each survey, but the top 5 research methods remain consistent year over year. (And hey, we get it… we love user interviews, too.)
These methods represent a mix of moderated and unmoderated methods that play well together—and we know from previous State of User Research data that, most researchers (82% in 2020) use between 4 and 7 research methods in a typical month.
Those 5 methods are the most frequently used by UXRs and PwDRs alike.
But PwDRs are more likely than UXRs to say they frequently use evaluative methods like A/B tests (18% vs 6%), accessibility tests (15% vs 6%), first click tests (17% vs 9%), preference tests (23% vs 18%), and tree tests (13% vs 3%).
These folks—who, again, are predominantly UX/product designers—are also more likely to run participatory design (24% vs 17%) and focus group studies (21% vs 8%).
Dedicated UX researchers are more likely than PwDRs to use moderated or observational methods like field studies (23% vs 18%), moderated usability tests (76% to 71%), and interviews (90% vs 85%) frequently or in almost every study.
This pattern suggests that in many organizations, UXRs are focused on generative, discovery research, while PwDRs are more involved with evaluative research and user testing, likely as part of mid-to-late stage product development.
Our team has been (re)evaluating the tools we use. We’ve also been looking ahead to the next iteration of our popular UX Research Tools Map.
In the process, we found ourselves asking questions about other researchers’ toolkits. Once again, we decided to throw some research at the problem by really digging into user research tools as part of our 2022 survey.
We asked researchers to tell us if (and how) they use different tools for user research. Nearly 200 tools are represented in our data—we asked about 75 tools by name in our survey, and participants wrote in over 120 more as part of open-response questions.
With the exception of User Interviews (hey 👋), not one of the top 10 tools was designed for user research, specifically.
Multipurpose, collaborative tools like Google/Microsoft office suites, Figma, Slack, Zoom, Confluence, and Miro make up the cornerstones of most UX research tool kits. People report using these generalist tools for everything from planning studies to conducting sessions to analyzing and storing insights.
Last year, we reported a huge surge in Miro’s popularity among researchers who suddenly found themselves working from home—in 2021, 60% of survey takers said they used the tool, compared to 8% in 2020.
Miro was even more popular this year: 65% of researchers said they use Miro, making it the 5th most popular tool after Zoom.
Speaking of Zoom, if you thought the video conferencing platform couldn’t get any bigger, think again. The percentage of people who use Zoom increased from 59% in 2021 to 70% in 2022. This growth may be due in part to the waning popularity of less-widely adopted alternatives like WebEx or GoToMeeting as teams consolidate their tool stacks.
Specialized tools—designed for UX research use cases like moderated usability tests and surveys—are layered into UXR tool stacks on a case-by-case basis, according to each team’s needs.
Most researchers who are involved in buying and evaluating new software (86%) say they evaluate new tools through a self-service free trial; 74% will also request a product demo before purchasing.
People at the Director level and above were the most likely (31%) to consult websites like G2, TrustRadius, Capterra, or Product Hunt as part of the evaluation process.
But not everyone gets to weigh in on the tools they use: 27% of people working in very large organizations say they are not involved in evaluating or purchasing tools, as do 23% of researchers at large companies and 23% of all individual contributors.
Not having a say in which tools you use on the job must surely translate into a higher degree of frustration with your tool stack, right?
Well… not exactly. People involved in purchasing decisions actually rated themselves as less satisfied with their research tool stack than those not involved in evaluating software—3.27 versus 3.49 out of 5.
So is ignorance bliss when it comes to UX research tools? Possibly…
But we think it’s more likely that Research Operations has something to do with it, 42% of people not involved in evaluating their tools report having a Research Operations Manager (versus 15% of those who do weigh in on buying decisions). Among the 42% with Research Ops, satisfaction with tools was 3.68 on average.
Research that isn’t used is no good to anybody. Research that isn’t tracked and measured… might be good to somebody. But how would you know? More importantly, how would your stakeholders know?
Working remotely ≠ working asynchronously, at least not when it comes to communicating research findings.
The two most common methods for sharing user research remain surprisingly synchronous: The vast majority of researchers in our survey (87%) share their research results in live presentations, and 83% said they hold meetings with relevant stakeholders.
Slide decks (76%) and summarized reports (73%) were the most popular asynchronous methods, and 57% also use ad hoc messages (emails, Slack, etc.) to update stakeholders.
Just under half of the folks in our survey (49%) say they use a research repository to share insights with others.
We asked our survey participants to tell us how they track the impact of their research—and many didn’t have an answer. In fact, a quarter all participants skipped this question entirely. Of the folks who answered, 32% said that their team is not currently tracking the impact of their research.
A third (34%) of people who do track the impact of user research said they do so by quantifying outcomes, using behavioral analytics and performance metrics like OKRs, KPIs, etc.
More qualitatively, 29% of people manually keep tabs on which business decisions and changes to the product roadmap have been influenced by research results. Another 24% gauge their impact through stakeholder and client feedback.
People who don’t track the impact of their research were notably less satisfied with how research is used to make decisions at their company compared to people who do, rating their satisfaction 2.61/5 versus 3.56/5.
One of the ways we evaluate the success and effectiveness of research at User Interviews is by tying research projects back to the specific decisions we want to enable. This makes it much easier to track where, when, and how User Research is contributing to company goals.
In our very first State of User Research survey, dedicated user researchers (again, people with a job title that includes “UX Research,” “User Research,” or similar) accounted for just 35% of all responses. For the past two years (when our sample included a great proportion of large, mature organizations) that number has hovered around 68%.
This year, 80% of the people who took our survey are dedicated UX/User Researchers.
What’s more, the average number of people doing user research within any given company is growing, researcher salaries are rising, and the job market for UX Researchers is strong (a very quick LinkedIn search for “user research” yields almost 84,000 results worldwide).
In short, it’s a very good time to be a person with user research skills.
Given that more than two thirds of current UXRs transitioned from other fields and—like today’s PwDRs—predominantly picked up their skills while doing research on the job, we predict that a sizable minority of people who currently spend 10% or more of their time on user research will eventually follow the same, well-trod path into full-time UXR roles.
At the same time, we’ve begun to see a greater number of user research internships and degree programs crop up in recent years, offering a new generation of UXRs a more direct route into a growing field.
As fellow user researchers and curious humans, we’re grateful for the opportunity to observe, analyze, and report on the evolving state of user research. We’re excited to see what user researchers get up to next!
Thank you, once again, to everyone who participated in and shared our survey and to you, for reading this report.