Blending quantitative and qualitative research to create better products

Hybrid Research Inspires Impactful Outcomes

Blending quantitative and qualitative research to make stuff people love.
Sally Darby, Sam Haddaway, Kristina Phillips

As practitioners of human-centered design, we aspire to design products, services and experiences that people love unconditionally. To do this, we must build empathy for the users as they are, understanding what they think, feel and need. Doing the right research helps us make informed, evidence-based decisions throughout our design process.

Spend any time with product managers, entrepreneurs or designers and you will likely hear strong opinions and fierce debates about the merits of quantitative market research versus qualitative design research. At frog, we don’t view any one method as strictly superior. Instead, we take advantage of every technique we can find, regularly blending quantitative and qualitative methods to design, build and ship stuff people love.

How we tailor the right blend of methods for a particular challenge is an art form—it’s impacted by the challenge itself, what we’re trying to achieve in that moment, and who needs to love what we’re making. The following examples of recent work illustrate how we’ve mixed quantitative and qualitative research effectively for three different purposes: to inspire ideas, to inform design, and to guide execution.

 

Inspire ideas

Last year we published a study on business opportunities in the emerging legal cannabis market. Generally, the exploration phase of service and product design relies on qualitative research to uncover unmet user needs, but we began our research by doing a nationwide survey of American consumers. This survey enabled us to develop a foundational understanding of how the nation felt about cannabis. We asked people a wide range of questions about their lifestyles, from how they manage stress, to their likeness to adopt new technology, and even their perception of authority. One finding that really surprised us was that the biggest indicator of whether someone would support the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis was if they knew a cannabis consumer—more than age, wealth, region or even political beliefs.

When researching what people need in a completely new market (and especially one that is still taboo, like cannabis) we can’t directly ask people want they want. It’s our job to understand what users are trying to do and identify opportunities to help them get there. By beginning our study with a survey, we could indirectly observe users’ needs, motivations and values at a large scale. Our quantitative findings informed us of impactful opportunity areas, fueling our qualitative design research that followed.

A few tips for those blending quantitative and qualitative research to explore new market opportunities:

  • Go wide with your audience target to learn about nuances between populations. Don’t limit your scope to particular demographic and interest-based information, otherwise you might miss some of the extreme users.
  • Design questions with as much relatable language as you would in user interviews. Ask survey respondents to identify with emotive statements or opinions.
  • Approach clustering and data analysis with insatiable curiosity. Use a method like K Means to group different respondents together and identify patterns.

 

Inform design

We recently worked with a company that connects independent plumbers, electricians and engineers (i.e. service providers) with businesses like fast food restaurants and quick service restaurant chains. This client wanted to categorize the service providers in its network so they could better meet the needs of each type of service provider through new features and offerings.

We used a combination of survey responses and interviews to identify potential new features that our client could offer, as well as three distinct client types to target with these different offerings. The outcome was that our client was able to prioritize future business decisions, including which types of service providers to support and which new features to develop first. While qualitative research helped us identify what service providers need and expect from our client, quantitative research informed what design decisions would be most impactful to both service providers and our client’s business success. When you’re in the process of making something new, using a blend of quantitative and qualitative research to gain a deeper understanding of your customers can ultimately help you make better design and business decisions.

A few tips for blending quantitative and qualitative research methods to inform design and build momentum for business decisions:

  • Ground both your quantitative survey questions and your qualitative interview activities in the same initial research so that the results of both research methods are better aligned.
  • Refrain from viewing the results of your quantitative survey in order to avoid biasing your qualitative interviews, even if the survey is complete before you finish your interviews.

 

Guide execution

Our final example comes from our experience designing a workplace collaboration tool, which was an important leap into a crowded software space for our telecommunications client. We conducted in-person interviews with workers across the US and Europe to learn what they value most, and designed a product that we knew they would love. However, the workers who would use the product weren’t the only group that needed to love it—we also had to win over the IT departments that would buy it and the channel partners that would sell it.

To understand whether our collaboration tool would speak to these two groups, we conducted a global survey in which we presented variations of our product that emphasized different features. Through conjoint analysis, we learned the distinct selling points for each group: users cared most about functionality and ease of use, IT departments loved tools that were easy to test and implement, and channel partners wanted low-cost products that would integrate with what they already sell. Armed with this understanding, we designed a go-to-market strategy to ensure the needs of users, sellers and buyers would all be met, ensuring all three segments would love what we created.

As products like this get close to becoming a reality, we think not only about what users will love, but also what else needs to happen for the product to succeed. By combining quantitative and qualitative research, we help guide execution with our clients, evaluating last minute design tradeoffs, developing winning go-to-market strategies, and ensuring our products achieve large scale market success.

A few tips for blending quantitative and qualitative research methods to guide execution of new ideas:

  • Go wide (again) with your audience, so you can accurately predict how the market will respond.
  • Think about every group who needs to love your product – not just the end users – so you can ensure incentives are aligned.
  • Test specific hypotheses that impact the final decisions around what you build and how you sell it.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when blending quantitative and qualitative research to gain greater insight into your users. But the best advice we can offer is: don’t get hung up on methodologies. Instead, use the benefits of both types of research to meet the challenge you are facing. We explored three approaches above, but there are many more opportunities to blend research practices to get closer to your users. Bring your curiosity and appetite for empathy, and most importantly—keep experimenting!

Authors
Sally Darby
Strategist, frog San Francisco
Sally Darby
Sally Darby
Strategist, frog San Francisco

Sally Darby is as strategist with a background in architectural design. Based out of the frog studio in San Francisco. At frog, she has delivered value for people and businesses through design and innovative projects in the healthcare, retail, and real estate industries.

Sam Haddaway
Strategist, frog
Sam Haddaway
Sam Haddaway
Strategist, frog

Sam Haddaway is a strategist, a systems-thinker by nature, passionate about creating innovative solutions to complex problems by combining the powers of design, technology and business.

Kristina Phillips
Strategist, researcher and brand-builder
Kristina Phillips
Kristina Phillips
Strategist, researcher and brand-builder

Kristina Phillips is a strategist, researcher and brand-builder at frog. She has over a decade of experience bringing truly life-changing products and services to market, from white-space identification and concepting to campaign management and analysis. Kristina spends her time making sense of data and people to tell a compelling story. Bring on the ambiguity.

Illustration created in collaboration with Doug ChaykaDoug Chayka