User Research often has an quantitative character. This can have one of multiple reasons: most of the time UX and usability researchers are employed in tech-related fields. It’s also usual for said professionals to have a more technical background since it’s more common to switch careers than to start out as a UX researcher.
On top of that quantitative research is usually considered more valuable, especially by external stakeholders and higher-ups who tend to think in numbers. Still qualitative and quantitative research methods can work together well. If you employ them at the right moment respectively, quantitative research will answer the “how (much)?” and qualitative research will answer the “why?”.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative R
Quantitative research methods like surveys or the evaluation of analytics data try to quantify and statistically analyze the data or measure user behavior in numbers and make conclusions accordingly. The aim is to make opinions and behaviors statistically measurable and make assumptions that apply to all or most of your users based on the number of users you surveyed.
Qualitative methods such as qualitative interviews, field studies or usability tests have a more explanatory character. They don’t try to predict what happens when with what probability but are used to gain a deeper understanding of users’ feelings, motivations and experiences. Qualitative research also accepts that its results are not always completely objective or reproducible. It also doesn’t try to reach representative results by questioning a certain number of appropriate participants but focuses on individual user’s actions and tries to understand their reasoning.
Because of their explorative character, qualitative methods are especially valuable at the beginning of your research process when you don’t have a lot of information about your user group or the topic of research.
Benefits of conducting Q
User interviews aren’t usually structured as rigidly as questionnaires. As a consequence, the researcher can keep an open mind and react to surprising user behavior or unexpected answers. This can be done by asking follow-up questions that deepen or further follow a certain topic the participant might have mentioned during the interview. Another possibility is to circle back to a previous topic and ask for more detail if the participant mentioned something especially interesting. You can also be open to all kinds of answers and gain knowledge from everything that has been said.
While all of these options are impossible during quantitative research-as the questionnaire or experimental setup often restrict the ways in which participants can answer-you still need to work methodical and structured while doing qualitative research if you want to get valuable insights.
Openness in Qualitative UX Research
The aim of interviews and related methods is to collect data about your users’ reality (experiences, feelings, and opinions) while using your product while elimination the researcher’s influence and bias as much as possible (more on how to avoid 10
When evaluating data this principle of openness includes really exploring your results and not simply searching for validation for assumptions you had before. Similarly, you shouldn’t ask leading questions or push participants into a certain direction that doesn’t represent their point of view. When conducting user tests, keep an open mind and look for interesting occurrences in the user’s behavior even if you already know about certain problems in your interface beforehand.
On top of this principle of openness, qualitative research also relies on interrater objectivity: if you interpret user-statements in a certain way, other qualitative researchers should interpret them in the same way or at least very similar. Let other team members take a look at your result and compare your findings and interpretations to make sure you agree. During the interview, if you notice something a participant says can be interpreted in multiple ways, make sure to ask appropriate follow-up questions.
Running Qualitative Research
Preparing and running interviews, qualitative usability tests and focus groups requires a different skillset than quantitative research methods. The main thing you need to do is to focus on and solve the question of why users act in a certain way while focusing less on the question of what they do when. This means you need to be
- honestly interested in why users behave in the way they do and their thoughts and feelings while they interact with your product
- have a feeling for the right/appropriate questions at the right time
- be able to observe, analyze and interpret nuances in human behavior
- if you’re running interviews and want to employ follow-up questions you need to be able to listen to what people say, analyze it at once and come up with fitting a fitting question
There’s also quite a bit of planning involved: you need to plan appropriate questions and a way to collect your data (audio/video recordings, taking notes…) beforehand. While you don’t usually structure your interviews in detail, you should try to think of four to eight wide research topics you want to cover and maybe break them down into smaller topics.
Finally, you need to choose an appropriate research method based on the questions you defined. Possibilities include:
- In-depth/one-on-one interview: you conduct a one-on-one interview with a user to analyze their individual experiences. This method provides you with in-depth insights into participants’ views
- Focus group: multiple users take part in a moderated group discussion that is directed or lead either by you or by a briefed moderator. Focus groups and the emerging discussions provide a wide range of views and help you understand common issues/problems.
- Usability study: participants are asked to complete certain tasks on your website/using your product while you observe their behavior. This method is suitable to test particular functionalities of a product and less fit to gain a broad understanding of a topic.
Analyzing Data in depth
Apart from whether you chose to gather data using quantitative or qualitative methods, you still need to analyze it in a appropriate way. Using qualitative methods this entails the following: Even if you feel like you have a pretty good understanding of the results of your interview, you should still analyze them properly. This ensures that you don’t overlook results or are led to much by your own assumptions. Look for themes within data sets. Did one participant mention something frequently? What needs or problems were addressed more often than once during the interview? You can also try to find patterns across individuals: did multiple or even all of your participants mention the same thing or make the same mistake?
These questions can most easily be answered by defining categories based on the data you have gathered and tagging statements made by users accordingly. The traditional way to do this would be to print our transcripts of your data and user colored markers to mark everything that fits into one category accordingly.
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