Conducting user experience research is often the most overlooked aspect of the UX design process. The consumer’s opinion is priceless information when developing a functional, accessible, and enjoyable product. However, conducting inadequate research during a usability test or field study transpires when UX professionals fail to perform quality qualitative methods.

Gathering qualitative insights is one of two types of user experience research; it consists of the groundwork where researchers have to observe customer behaviors and understand their true feelings for the product. Therefore, creating quality data sets using the consumer’s beliefs is imperative to performing UX research and eventually applying it to UX design and UI design.

UX professionals become complacent in many cases and don’t take the time to generate usable market research, overlooking the importance of the information. As a result, the customer discovery process is rushed, done incorrectly, or unknowingly designed to confirm the biases of the UX researchers.

In this article, we will discuss why qualitative analysis shouldn’t be discounted and how UX professionals can optimize their research to create a better understanding of the product they are testing. We will cover:

•          The difference between qualitative and quantitative UX research

•          Common qualitative research methods

•          How to improve market research and generate better data

Qualitative Vs. Quantitative UX Design

The best way to differentiate qualitative and quantitative research is to think of qualitative research as personal consumer insights and quantitative as statistics. Both methods are critical in UX design and equally important when conducting UX research.

Qualitative research consists of having conversations with the test participants to understand their feelings regarding the UX and UI design. UX professionals have to inquire about information not visible in an analytics dashboard. According to Jakob Neilson of Nielson Norman Group, ‘quant has quaint advantages, but qualitative deliver the best results for the least money. Furthermore, quantitative studies are often too narrow to be useful and are sometimes directly misleading.’

Quantitative research is still critical, especially today because we have so many valuable tools to analyze data. Observing numbers and patterns in the data sets can be revealing but don’t lead to answers as efficiently as direct consumer insights.

Jakob Neilson uses a great example explaining the difference between the two types of research in his article Risks of Quantitative Studies, ‘in reporting that using websites is 206% more difficult for users with disabilities and 122% more difficult for senior citizens than for mainstream users. Of course, using bottom-line scores to summarize elaborate usability study outcomes neglects details that take 273 pages to explain: Why are websites more difficult for these groups? What should you do about it?’

Qualitative UX Design Research Methods

Conducting a face-to-face interview rather than a massive survey is an example of qualitative research. The follow-up questions in the interview give the UX professional insights into how the consumer truly feels about the product.

Quantitative User Experience Research

An example of quantitative research could be an online survey conducted over a large number of participants. The survey will deliver valuable information, critical to understanding the UX experience but may fail to give the UX researcher solutions.

For example, Neilson’s statistic that 206% of users found the website to be more difficult helps us understand a problem exists. Still, only a face-to-face interview with consumers will identify what is causing the gaps in usability for disabled consumers. 

Qualitative and quantitative research methods should be used in tandem to create solutions to improve the user experience.

Qualitative Research is the Foundation for UX Design & UI Design

Gaining insights during quantitative research is imperative, but inaccurate or unorganized practices result in skewed, misleading results.

Not only do we have to put the time into gaining insights, but they also have to be done in a specific way that doesn’t alter the results or confirm our biases. High-quality quantitative research can save a project manager countless hours of work and conserve the UX/UI budget, especially in developmental phases.

Types of Qualitative UX Research

Interviews – Meeting one-on-one with study participants.

Field studies – Meeting with study participants where they would most likely use the product.

Diary studies – Participants are given clear instructions to record the aspect of their life that the product can improve or the process of using the product in the applicable situation.

Focus groups – Researcher-led conversation consisting of a small group of study participants.

Moderated usability testing – UX professionals closely monitor usability testing sessions by giving participants specific tasks to track the user experience and gain insights into what areas need improvement.

Card sorting – Study participants are asked to organize concepts into groups of content.

Participation design – Allowing the test participants to create their ideal experience on pen and paper.

How to Improve Qualitative Data

All the standard qualitative research methods require the UX professional to use them appropriately, recruit the right study participants, and keep their biases out of the research.

Plan

To achieve a successful qualitative study, UX design researchers need to have clear goals before talking with participants. Identifying the purpose of the research and what they want to improve can help create more practical studies.

Adobe Xd Ideas recommends UX researchers to ‘start with a set of questions that you want to explore, prioritize them according to severity, and select the most important topics for our research.’

Recruit

UX professionals have to recruit test participants from their target audience during market research. Gaining insights from people not likely to benefit from using the product will give valuable feedback.

The process of selecting participants shouldn’t be rushed. Researchers should create the ideal user persona and develop methods to identify these traits when recruiting participants. Quality is more important than quantity. Neilson argues that only five effective test participants are needed to uncover 85% of design-related usability problems. 

Don’t Influence the Participants

Projecting one’s biases can directly influence the data. UX professionals should think objectively in all steps of UX research, from planning the studies, choosing participants, and reviewing the results. Too often, researchers conduct UX research that intentionally or unintentionally confirms their preconceived biases related to the design. 

Create Quality Market Research

Qualitative research is crucial to UX design. Conducting efficient research can identify problems and lead the researchers to appropriate solutions. Furthermore, optimizing each type of qualitative research method ensures that UX professions will gather insights that improve user experience.

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/risks-of-quantitative-studies/

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/

https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/user-research/why-behind-qualitative-user-research/

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