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Be It Qualitative or Quantitative—User Research is Paramount

Written By Ana Khachatrian | Mar 29, 2016

“Who…are…you?” said the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. A simple question, with an often complex answer, and one that every business should be asking their users. Just not in those words.

When I was in school, I had the luxury of doing design research, and I’m grateful because it showed me the value of taking the time to understand your users. I say luxury because I’ve found that, in the real world, there is often either “no time” or pushback when it comes to conducting user research.

This is a shame! Some of my best projects came about because I got out of my own head, put aside my assumptions, and talked to people. The insights I got from these conversations or observations were immensely valuable, and I have no doubt that my final solutions benefited from them.

I could go on and on about why everyone should be doing user research. Entire books are written on the subject, and there are plenty of guides on how to go about doing the research. Instead, I’ll stick to an overview of the two main types: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative methods are great for uncovering what your users needs are and what motivates them. It can give you insights into why they do the things they do, and the types of problems they have (which you can hopefully go on to fix).

At their core, qualitative research methods involve talking to real human beings.

Personally, I think this type of research is the most fun, but also the most challenging, because it really requires you to be open and listen without judgement. It also requires the ability to read between the lines and truly comprehend what the user is thinking or trying to say.

Some popular qualitative research methods include ethnographic studies, contextual design, expert reviews, focus groups, and task analysis. Oftentimes, the information uncovered in these methods will lead to the development of personas, which are used throughout the remaining design process. At their core, qualitative research methods involve talking to real human beings.

Recently, I participated in a design thinking workshop that challenged participants to find ways for people living in food deserts to live healthier lives. To help us understand the actual problems these communities face, we visited a neighborhood in a food desert and spoke to women that were attempting to adopt healthier eating practices for themselves and their families.

We all went in with a ton of our own assumptions, and many of us were surprised to find that we were wrong. This is fairly common, and why qualitative research is so important. Without it, we would have come up with all of the wrong solutions and ultimately failed to achieve our goal.

Quantitative methods are great for uncovering what users are actually doing, since we can’t always fully rely on what people simply say. By being able to quantify actions, you can feel more confident in your decisions. Plus, your stakeholders are likely to be much more keen on seeing numbers versus anecdotal thoughts from observations or conversations.

Quantitative research is much more focused on facts than feelings.

Some popular quantitative research methods includes surveys, eye tracking, web analytics, and A/B testing. Quantitative research is much more focused on facts than feelings.

A/B testing is one of the most popular quantitative research methods. At a previous job, I was working on a creating a new homepage for our company that would highlight our most recent product. Internally, there was some debate about the copy on the call to action.

Rather than assume what would work best, we decided to make both options available and split users randomly into two testing groups. One group of visitors to the site (group A) would see one version and the second group (group B) would see the other. This way, we were able to quantify which was actually more successful and ultimately update the site to only show that version.

Launching and owning a business of any sort is risky. Most companies try their best to minimize this risk as much as possible. By conducting user research, you can determine what your users’ think, feel, and do in order to build the best possible experience, so that they’ll keep using your product or service again and again.

Ana Khachatrian is a Los Angeles-based user experience designer.

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