5 Qualitative Research Methods

Most of the frameworks and methods I teach are qualitative processes, design, thinking, journey, mapping, service and blueprint. They cannot be driven by quantitative data, which gives you the answers to how many and how much questions. Qualitative data gives you the what’s and whys. I’m going to run through five qualitative methods that may help you in your research.

The first is interviewing a user. It is the most common and most widely known qualitative method. User interviews is the heart of their research. It is just a one on one conversation. They allow us to hear firsthand stories about someone’s experiences, opinions, and interests. There are lots of different ways that you can conduct a user interviews. They can be conducted in person or over the phone.

The second qualitative method that I am going to discuss is field studies, meaning research that takes place in the user’s context rather than back at the office or lab. We know that when people say or do something is not always what they actually do. So we have to rely on something other than just user interviews. Direct observation is a form of a field study where you directly observe the behavior of the user. Observing customers in their own element, doing what they always do is very important. These validates and supports the findings from interviews. Direct observation is useful for conducting design, research and user process. It is great for learning the user’s language style, interactions with other customers, discovering common activities and understanding businesses. An example of this are, listening to support calls, watching people move through an amusement park, or even observing sales staff and customers in stores.

The third qualitative method is the contextual inquiry. A contextual inquiry is a mix of that direct observation and a user interview. It’s a semi structured interview method used to gather information about the context of use. We ask the users to a set of standard questions first then we observe them. This is all conducted in the context and work environments of theirs, not ours.

The fourth qualitative method is a diary study. This is a research method used to collect qualitative data about user behavior, activities and experiences over time. In that case, the user tries to accomplish a specific task or goal in a diary study. This means that in a certain period of time, the participants are keeping daily logs of activities or specific experiences. Diary studies are really helpful in two situations. First is when you will collect a habitual data. What time of day do they use the product? How are they sharing that content? What primary tasks are they completing? These are all habitual data. The second is when you wanted to identify any kind of change in attitude, behavior or motivation over time. One of this is the brand perception How loyal the costumers may be after they make their first purchase? How do they perceive a company after they engage with that brand multiple times?

Finally, the fifth is focus groups. Focus groups is somewhat an informal technique that can help assess user needs and feelings on both interface design or brand perception. For example, you bring together 6 to 9 users to discuss about issues and concerns. The group typically lasts about two hours and is run by a moderator who maintains the group focus.

Regardless of the methods you choose, there are only 2 things to remember. First, with qualitative data, you don’t need a lot of people, but you need the right people. You can conduct qualitative research with five participants and you’re likely to uncover rich insights. However, the tricky part is they should be the right five participants. This means you have to align those people to the specific user segment or persona you’re doing research on to aim to use a multipronged approach. The second one is, do not just rely on a singular qualitative method, but you can rather use two or three different methods to really ensure that you are getting the rich validated data.

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