UX research comes in many shapes and forms, and it often borrows techniques from other fields, especially the cognitive sciences (e.g. psychology, anthropology). There are countless research methods out there and different ways of classifying research, and the most important distinction is often made between qualitative (“quali“) and quantitative (“quanti“) methodologies.
Qualitative research is based on observation and feedback collection techniques. It provides insights that can be used to investigate human behaviour, user needs, motivation and goals. Examples of qualitative research methods are user interviews and think aloud studies, in which you collect feedback directly from the user or by observing them interact with a product.
Qualitative research methods
- Think Aloud
- Focus Group
- Diary Study
- Direct observation / Contextual Inquiry
- Surveys with open-ended questions
Quantitative research is based on the collection and analysis of quantifiable information. It provides data that can be used to define metrics, measure user experience, and make comparisons. Examples of quantitative research methods are surveys, in which you collect feedback in a measurable way, and A/B testing, in which you compare two variants of something to see which one performs better.
Quantitative research methods
- Surveys with close-ended questions
- A/B Testing
- Card Sorting
- Tree Sorting
- Web Analytics
Pros and cons
Both qualitative and quantitative research can help you discover usability issues and other aspects of the user experience, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Quantitative research is helpful for identifying and describing a certain phenomenon. What it cannot tell you is why the phenomenon occurs. This is where qualitative research steps in by providing insights on how user experience with the product. By interviewing and observing users, you can find out what their experience really looks and feels like, on a personal level. The issue with qualitative research is that it cannot provide you quantifiable data: how many users have trouble with a given usability issue, and how many have a totally different experience? Qualitative research is usually conducted on a shorter scale, with as little as five participants, while quantitative can require thousands. The two practices are complementary and together they can provide you with both the what and the why of user experience.