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How to choose between qualitative and quantitative UX research methods?

It is important to clearly differentiate qualitative research (including user interviews, focus group or user testing) from quantitative research (combining surveys or Analytics methods), two approaches that can however be complementary.

This difference is often summed up in “open questions vs closed questions”, and above all in “few respondents vs more people”. In reality, things are a bit more complicated ...

Qualitative and quantitative research approaches will meet different objectives :

Indeed, while quantitative research aims to answer the question who or what, qualitative research will explain how and why.

Une étude qualitative est complémentaire d'une étude qualitative, elles ne répondent pas aux mêmes objectifs de compréhension de l'expérience utilisateur

Qualitative research therefore aims to discover, explore and understand behavior, and needs to be approached without preconceptions or bias.

Quantitative research will seek to measure. The objective is to validate, prioritize or even choose. This therefore requires having pre-defined lines of research to build an effective questionnaire.

Beyond the size or number of respondents, the rules to construct the sample will be different whether you use a qualitative or quantitative approach

How to compose the sample of a qualitative UX research method:

A qualitative UX research method will focus on a smaller sample, around 5 to 15 people depending on the target and the project, because it will require more depth. But it is also necessary to recruit your core target, with limited profile variations, in order to consolidate results. This will verify even more for a focus group than for user interviews.

The method to calculate the number of users needed is based on the number of usability problems found per sample size. It is not necessary to exceed a certain threshold of users, after which the problems become redundant and the results too difficult to analyze because too dense.

Courbe permettant de visualiser le nombre d'utilisateurs necessaires pour détecter au minimum 80% des problèmes, c'est à dire 5 utilisateurs. Courbe de Jakob Nielsen N (1-(1- L ) ^n ) avec  L = 31%

How to compose the sample of a quantitative UX research method:

On the other hand, quantitative research will of course require targeting a large, but above all representative, sample. The size of the sample will depend on several elements: the size of the targeted population, the margin of error and the wanted reading possibilities… but, for example, on a standard target of “English people”, a sample of 300 to 400 people may be appropriate.

Unlike the qualitative method, it is better to start with a broad targeting, while keeping the possibility of zooming the results on certain sub-targets if necessary. Restricting your study to your core marketing target would deprive you of a better perspective on your project and its overall potential.

Finally, it is above all very important that quotas are put in place within this sample so that it is representative of the targeted population.

Courbe permettant de visualiser l'évolution du la marge d'erreur de plus ou moins 5% en fonction de la population ciblée par une étude quantitative. La courbe atteint un plateau à 400 répondants pour une population ciblée de plus de 100 000.

In line with the objectives, the results from these researches will be different.

Quantitative rresearch will give figures, precise rates and mesurable results. Depending on the sample size, you can compare the results of different sub-targets. For example, did men score better than women? On the other hand, you will have fewer elements allowing you to explain and understand the results in depth.

This is precisely what qualitative research allows. It will generate a dense and rich amount of information to understand behaviors in depth. It is also for this reason that it focuses on a small number of individuals: the results must remain usable during the analysis phase.

Finally, research methods for qualitative and quantitative are of course different. To learn everything about their deliverables and process:

To summarize, here are some examples of goals that you can achieve depending on the approach you choose (non-exhaustive list):

Cases in which you can use qualitative UX research methods:

  • Understand behaviors
  • Identify consumer / user needs
  • Find new insights
  • User testing
  • Co-build your project with users
  • Have spontaneous feedback on your project
  • ...

Cases in which you can use quantitative UX research methods:

  • Identify my core target
  • Choose between 2 versions
  • Evaluate the potential of my project on the market
  • Define the priority characteristics of my project
  • Measure customer satisfaction
  • Measure the behavior of a population
  • ...