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Qualitative User Research Methods

May 25, 2020

What is Qualitative Research?

In User Experience, qualitative research is often used to gather insights or observations about users or products. Qualitative research methods are often used to discover problems or opportunities in User Experience or to find some ways to fix the problems. Simply our main goal for using quantitative analysis is to find the problem and research on steps to solve that problem. To achieve this we can test a small number of users with techniques like user interviews. While conducting qualitative research instead of gathering numbers, we are gathering some insights that describe some aspects of the user experience. In the qualitative method, we don’t need lots of people but we need the right people.

Quantitative Research is another important method followed in User research. Read more about Quantitative Research.

How to conduct Qualitative Research?

1) Quality over Quantity:
The main objective of qualitative research is the “Quality of the data” as the name suggests. Conduct qualitative research with 5-8 participants that represent your segment. The tricky part is they have to be the right participants.

2) Use multiple qualitative methods:
Rather than relying on a single method, use 2-3 different qualitative methods to get rich validated data. Using multiple qualitative research methods adds different perspectives to the problem and provides multiple ways to fix that problem.

When to use Qualitative Research?

A qualitative method used to collect data about user behavior, activities, experiences over a time when the user tries to accomplishes a task or goal. Qualitative methods are good when you don’t have a lot of information about the topic you want to research. It is used to quickly and cheaply learn so that we can iterate the design and improve the results as much as possible. This analysis can also be used in the very early prototypes even with just 2 users. Qualitative research methods are often used to get more exploratory or in-depth understanding of an individual user or user groups, their motivation to use a particular product/service, and their daily life. In this analysis, the results are not completely objective and reproducible because the researcher treats the users as one the co-creator of the process.

Types of Qualitative Research:

There are many types of qualitative research. The widely used methods are:

  1. User Interviews
  2. Field Studies
  3. Contextual Inquiry
  4. Diary Study
  5. Focus Groups

User Interviews:

User Interviews are the most common and widely used qualitative research method. User Interviews are a great method of getting insights into the way your user thinks. User interviews are carried out by one on one conversation with the focused set of participants. User interviews help to learn in-depth about the user’s experience, interests, and opinions about a product or service. User interviews can be conducted in-person or over the telephone. There are 3 different types of user interviews. They are:

  1. Structured
  2. Semi-structured
  3. Unstructured

Field Studies:

Field Studies take place in the user’s context. Field studies help to understand user behavior. We know what people say they do is actually not what they do. So we have to rely on something other than user interviews. To achieve this direct observation method is used. This helps to better understand the users in their environment on what they actually do. This will be useful in validating the data from the user interviews. Direct observation will be useful for design research and the user process. Field studies will be helpful in understanding user vocabulary, understanding business interaction with customers, and discovering common workarounds. This can also be carried by listening to support calls with the customers.

Contextual Inquiry:

Contextual Inquiry is also a different form of field study and carried out in a different manner. It’s a semi-structured process of direct observation and user interviews to better understand the context of use. Initially we ask the users a standard set of questions then we observe them and again we ask them questions based on the observation. All this process is carried out in the user’s environment not in our environment.

Diary Study:

Diary Study is a qualitative method used to collect data about user behavior, activities, experiences over a time when the user tries to accomplishes a task or goal. This is a longitudinal method for collecting user’s interactions and behavior as they accomplish a specific task over time. In this process users maintain a diary and logs about the activities and specific experiences as they use the product/service. Diary Studies will be helpful in two primary scenarios.

1) Habitual Usage: This is used to track the primary tasks and routines of the user. For example: What time the people engage with the product? How they are sharing the content? What primary tasks are they completing?

2) Change in attitude: This helps in better understanding the user about their perception of the brand, behavior motivation over time, how loyal are the customers after they make their 1st purchase and how do they perceive the company after they engage with the brand multiple times.

Focus groups:

Focus groups are an informal technique to assess user needs on both Interface Design or Brand perception. A focus group can have 6-9 users to discuss issues and concerns in a product or service. The group typically lasts about 2 hours based on the requirements. The group is run by the moderators to keep the group focused.


User Research is an important phase of any project. If you’re going to conduct user research, make sure you’re doing it right. Basically, the user research returns two types of data – Qualitative and Quantitative and there are multiple methods in both types of research to get different types of data. Understand the best practices of those methods before using them in real-time. Before deciding on the user research methods first ask yourself these questions, What goals are you trying to achieve? Why you’re running this research? What you’re trying to improve in the exiting solution?

Do you have a product idea in mind, want to visualize, and take it to the right audience?