3 Preconceptions About UX & Qualitative Research

UX/MRX Preconceptions

Date: October 22, Sonya Shen

Sonya Shen is now a UX Researcher.  The following blog was written during her transition, based on her reflections of both industries and customer insights clients and practioners roles within them

As someone who has been working in the field of marketing research for 10 years, I’m used to introducing myself, telling people that I’m in marketing research / market research / qualitative research / UX research, and them asking, “what’s that?”. In the early stages of my career, I’ve found that long-winded explanations didn’t land and eventually I would reply with either, “surveys” or “focus groups”, depending on if I was leaning more quant or qual that day.

As I’ve focused more on qualitative research and UX research, I’ve struggled with differentiating the two (and don’t even get me started on explaining the differences between marketing research and UX research). The differences are not clear cut, especially as time has passed. I used to picture UX research and qualitative research as a Venn diagram with a small overlapping section in the middle. As we here at KNow have worked on more UX research projects (especially over the past year), I have seen those two overlapping circles come closer and closer together.

The following is my attempt to debunk some myths and preconceptions about the perceived differences between the two disciplines to show how our needs and goals are more similar than they are different.

Preconception #1: UX Research is more focused on the online experience; Qualitative Research is more focused on the “offline” experience

Over the past couple years, we’ve rethought a lot of things. For many of us, for example, the line between where we work and where we live has been blurred. So too has the line between online and “offline” experiences, especially in how we’ve been interacting with co-workers, clients, and friend and family. All our “real life” interactions went virtual!

As our lives shift, so too has our needs and the products and services that were created to meet those needs. Eating out at restaurants used to be an “offline” experience. Now, we may scan QR codes to order food from our phones while sitting in a restaurant. If I were to research the experience of a diner at this restaurant, I’d have to consider both how they’re ordering on their phone, as well as the physical location they’re in. It’s all part of this diner’s experience. Would this be UX research? Or qualitative research? Does it matter?

Preconception #2: UX Researchers work only with Product and Design teams; Qualitative Researchers work only with Brand and Marketing teams

We’ve seen here at KNow that the skills needed to work on a UX research project and a qualitative research project are very much transferrable. It’s actually surprising how little we had to pivot when taking on these more “user experience-y” type of projects.

One area of difference is the language around the partnership with our clients’ design teams. We’re used to iterating “brand messaging” in between “groups or interviews.” Now we work with “design teams” to iterate “prototypes in between user research sessions.”

The main connective tissue is how involved internal client stakeholder teams are. We use our virtual back room to stream all research sessions live so that clients (whichever team they come from) are able to watch in real time, absorb learnings, and make changes to messaging or prototypes (if needed) in time for our next research participant regardless of which team we’re working with!

Preconception #3: UX Researchers interview users or potential users; Qualitative Researchers interview customers or potential customers

Spoiler alert: “Users” and “customers” are the same thing. Potential users and potential customers are also the same thing. At the end of the day, they’re all people. This seems like a simple premise, but I’ve seen and been a part of many conversations about what to call not only people who we speak to during research, but also the names of internal client teams based on who they speak to (Should we be “User Researchers” or “Customer Experience Researchers” or “Consumer Researchers”?). For the record, we here at KNow refer to them as participants, as they are participating in our research no matter what the project is.

Language is important and while the debate rages on and names become trendy or go out of fashion, rest assured that we know how to talk to people, whether they’re design teams, CI teams, UX teams, users, customers, consumers, or participants.

The added benefit of working with a trained customer insights specialist is that we go beyond UX findings and listen for broader learnings during fieldwork, presenting a combined set of tactical and strategic findings. We like to review those findings in an Insights Workshop  that includes all teams within client organizations so that we can unpack the UX and marketing implications together.

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