Does data really reign supreme? The importance of qualitative feedback in product design

Annachiara Foschi

Business Designer

8 min read

There’s no doubt that the digital revolution has opened a whole world of insights with the data now available to us during product and software development. However, the importance of well planned qualitative research shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, it can greatly enhance your quantitative data collection methods to understand customer needs more deeply.

Here we take a look at the best methods for conducting qualitative research and how those all important findings can be translated into tangible results for your product. 

Gathering your core insights

As a business designer obtaining qualitative feedback you should always sit back and observe, but the best way to do this depends on the product you’re developing. 

 

Hi-tech or complicated products require the use of prototypes for users to test. For example, software that’s being designed specifically for nurses and doctors are generally highly complex due to the nature of MedTech products. It’s so important for users to be able to misuse the software during research to discover any flaws or shortcomings present in the product design. It only takes a few really empathetic interviews with the prototype to really understand the emotional side of the customer and any challenges they face when using the product. These could be simple discoveries, such as certain areas of information being difficult to access or input not being intuitive, but for healthcare the impact of these being carried through into the final product could be detrimental. 

 

For simpler products, questionnaires can be very helpful to get a sense of the trends. Interviews are an investment as they require volunteers and time to collect and transcribe the data, but they can be extremely insightful. Social media is another effective way to reach product users for broad questionnaires or diverse data pools, just be sure to be mindful of GDPR regulations when conducting any form of public data collection. 

 

With both methods, the types of questions and how they are phrased should be considered closely. Open questions encourage unbiased truths that get to the core of the problem but leading questions can often serve to support the answer you want to find. 

 

There are plenty of physical and digital tools that can help. Data collection is a breeze when using software such as Survey Money or Typeform. These digital questionnaire platforms are highly flexible and can even be personalized to match your company brand to create a professional experience for your users. For physical interviews a few simple tools such as a camera or dictaphone can be all that's needed to capture your data - don’t always go for the hi-tech option, but choose the right tool for your research method. 

Getting quantitative and qualitative research methods to work hand-in-hand

Once you’ve decided which method and tools are the best fit for your product the next step is to understand how to use all those valuable insights. To get the most out of qualitative data is important to create a feedback loop to your quantitative data. 

 

For example, if you release a new feature in your software, how do your users respond? If you add something to the front-end UX do people like it more or less? Do certain user groups find certain elements of the software more difficult? 

 

Gathering insights on these kinds of challenges allows you to deliver specific software iterations based on the information to dig deeper and understand exactly what it is about that feature that is resonating with your users. This is a great time to bring in A/B testing to nail whether changes are equally useful for different types of users.  

 

Compared to long-term quantitative KPIs, qualitative testing is the kind of data that you can quickly measure. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a one-time or short-term exercise. People change and your product changes so adaptability to the market is key. You need to understand what customers want, both now and in the future, so repetitive evaluations should always be conducted. 

A holistic approach to qualitative research

Even if your qualitative research was conducted for a specific product purpose, don’t be afraid to use these insights to support other areas of the business. Marketing and branding are key departments who might be able to use this intel to help build their Value Proposition Statements and Unique Selling Points. 

 

The ‘whole-business’ approach is undoubtedly the new mode of working. Collaborative team spirits and agile methodologies are not just cultural developments but are actually the best way to stay competitive in the extremely fast product cycles in today’s markets. 

Expect to have your assumptions challenged!

Sometimes you make an assumption about the value of a product feature and base your whole research framework on this. However, on conducting your research you may find that the data brings forth an entirely different finding. When working solely in numbers and quantitative evaluation it can, at times, be hard to spot these insights and challenge your expectations. 

 

Qualitative research allows you to look at your product from a different perspective and challenge your expectations on the market. If you do unearth an insight you mustn't be afraid to listen, even if it means changing your processes or long-term plans - turning those insights into a reality helps your team create the best possible product. 

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