When to apply qualitative and quantitative research

Foolproof explores the uses of qualitative and quantitative research as well as their respective pros and cons.

Two hands, one with a speech bubble coming out of it and one with a chart.

User research is a non-negotiable component of experience design

It's what gives us consumer insight which in turn helps us make informed decisions about design.

There are two main types of user research: qualitative and quantitative and of course, there are pros and cons associated with both.

When to deploy either-or depends very much on the design decision you need to make.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research methods are used to gather feedback and insights from a relatively small group of users.

In general, qualitative research is answering the; How, When, Where and Why, of user behaviour.

Examples of qualitative methods include: unstructured or semi-structured interviews, ethnography, diary studies, focus groups and co-creation sessions.

Foolproof's qualitative research capabilities
The limitations of qualitative research

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research methods are also used to gather insights but the size and range of the user group can be expanded.

This type of research focuses more on collecting user “data” as opposed to just insight. In general, quantitative research is answering the “who” and “what” of user behaviour.

Examples of quantitative methods include: structured, unmoderated testing, surveys, and questionnaires.

Foolproof's quantitative research capabilities
The limitations of quantitative research

Choosing the right research method to inform design decisions

Research methods are not interchangeable and have specific objectives which they are most suitable for.

Choosing the most applicable method will depend on what design decisions need to be made for the creation or refinement of a design.

As a rule of thumb, use qualitative research methods for exploring ideas, designs, or processes which do not require concrete hypotheses or structured, statistically valid feedback.

We have found that qualitative methods are particularly useful for serendipitous discovery and often provide more in-depth insights.

You can use quantitative research methods such as A/B testing for validating or choosing a design based on user satisfaction scores, perceived usability measures, and/or task performance. You will find the insight will be more superficial, but the data is statistically valid and can be generalised to the entire user population.

A combination of qualitative and quantitative research is typically best for most design projects if budget allows.

By using both methods you can achieve a deeper level of insight through the exploratory nature of the research in addition to statistical evidence to support your design decisions.

Using qualitative and quantitative research together answers to the; Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, of user behaviours and experiences.

Related articles