As staples of nearly all research conducted today, many people think they know about the differences between qualitative (qual) and quantitative (quant) testing. However, in the context of user research, these two methodologies are often used interchangeably. So how does one know when to use one method or the other? In this article, we will look at both research methods individually and outline the best ways to use them. The information presented will be based strictly on the premise that UX testing is being conducted by a research team.
Understanding Qual and Quant
First, we need to understand what Qualitative and Quantitative research are. How are they defined, and what are the attributes of each?
Quantitative Research can be easily defined as collecting and analyzing data to drive insights from a study. It is the form of research we are most used to, as much of today’s teachings around research and data collection are based on quantitative output. This form of research can be much easier to calculate and drive conclusions since quantitative insights are often cut and dry. Analytical graphs, survey responses, and hard data metrics are the main staples of quant research.
Quant is often considered in market research studies as it allows for large data sets of participants at a reasonable cost. It is much quicker to analyze this data type since it can be formed into visually appealing graphs that make it easy to share insights with business stakeholders. Be extra careful to ensure that any quantitative data being shared is visualized in a way that non-department individuals can understand. There can be plenty of glaring data that should lead observers to one conclusion, but if that information is difficult to understand, then the power behind the insights is lost.
Qualitative Research, in comparison, is more difficult to visualize but is much more powerful in the conditions of a UX study. In remote user testing, considering the thoughts and feelings of your users falls under the category of Qualitative research. Qual studies are normally conducted as moderated in-depth interviews. They allow researchers to probe deeper into the mind of the participant and ask follow-up questions to gain insights not possible in a quantitative study. Qual research can also be conducted in short-form unmoderated tests that are recorded. This is ideal in a remote testing situation where participants are participating via their desktop or mobile device.
There are many opportunities to conduct qualitative research in companies all over. It is often a missed practice due to the time required to conduct and increased overhead costs. But qual research does not have to be expensive. At Userlytics, we allow for a quick turnaround on short-form unmoderated research studies. Simply set up a recruitment profile, create a study script that includes the asset link, then launch the project to the panel and wait about one day to get results back. The beauty of unmoderated testing is that most feedback can be acquired with just 10 participants; additionally, the researcher can set up the study, and continue with other important work while waiting for participants to complete it!
Which to Use and When
Now that we understand what each of these research methods are, let’s discuss when to use them in the normal flow of testing. Before choosing which to use, it is important to understand what the goal of the research is. Below are a few examples of research practices with a look into where qual and quant fit within each.
The gold standard for asset testing, usability testing allows research teams to understand if users can easily use a website, app, or prototype concept. Qualitative research is most valuable in this scenario as it is vital to hear from the user why they do or do not feel the asset is usable. That does not mean that quantitative research is not valuable in this scenario; for research teams that have no hypothesis for their asset, quant testing can allow them to run large data set quant studies to get an idea of where the problem areas are. Once a trend begins to emerge, the research team can conduct qual research to understand what is really happening.
An excellent study methodology that helps research teams understand the journey flow their users are taking. For best results in a journey map, a good mix of qual and quant is suggested. Quantitative information will help the team note click paths and this can be easily visualized in heat maps. But again, qualitative information will ultimately tell researchers why users take a specific path to achieve a goal on the asset.
As mentioned above, quant is king when it comes to market research. This is because statistical significance comes into play more when trying to understand a target audience. While this research is normally conducted by a marketing team, sometimes a UX research team will need to understand a broader audience better. Quant testing helps keep the overall cost of the project down since many participants are needed, and doing a large sample set on a Qual basis would be very expensive. Once conclusions can be drawn from the data, in-depth interviews can be very valuable to cross-check the validity of the data and understand the deeper meaning behind the trends found.
In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)
Moderated testing is key to have in the arsenal of any UX research team. There is so much more a researcher can learn by speaking to a user rather than simply looking back at the results of a quant study. When considering empathy in UX/UI design, interviews give researchers the opportunity to truly understand a user and build that empathy with how consumers experience an asset. Qual is the main methodology used here, but that does not mean quant can’t be used. A research platform like Userlytics allows researchers to build quantitative concepts into their moderated sessions. Imagine being with a user in a remote interview and being able to conduct a card sorting exercise with them which is directly linked into the platform. While card sorting can be considered a quant exercise, the researcher can still ask follow-up questions regarding why certain cards were placed into different categories to get qual feedback as well.
While there are many more types of research methods available in the broader spectrum of user experience, the list above should outline the main takeaway from this article. Qualitative and Quantitative research can be used individually, but achieve more when used in tandem. Most research types will lean farther to one side in regards to qual and quant. But understanding how to mix in a touch of both is where researchers can really get the most out of the users in their studies. Consider also that the stakeholders who will be making business decisions must be able to read and digest both your quantitative and qualitative data in a visual way. An example of a complete UX report is one that has data displayed for quick digestion, but also includes a short video clip that backs up the recommendation of the research based on the data. Learn to harness the potential of Qualitative and Quantitative research by using both in separate and mixed situations. If a researcher feels more comfortable using quant research, by learning and understanding the use case of qual, the research will unlock new insights not possible before!
About the Author: Nate Brown
Nate is an accomplished account manager for many large enterprise-level companies in the North American region. With multiple years of experience collaborating with research teams to maximize their research in the Userlytics platform, Nate possesses key insights into why some research projects lack substance and others produce valuable insights. His favorite part about working at Userlytics is building lasting relationships with his clients, even in a remote setting.
If you’d like to view more articles Nate has written, check out his UX Blog here.